Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
We’re chatting with Debbie Ridpath Ohi, illustrator of
A girl, a flamingo, and a worried potato star in the third book in New York Times bestselling author Michael Ian Black and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s series about feelings—and why they’re good, even when they feel bad.
Potato is worried. About everything.
Because anything might happen.
When he tells his friends, he expects them to comfort him by saying that everything will be okay. Except they don’t. Because it might not be, and that’s okay too. Still, there’s one thing they can promise for sure: no matter what happens…they will always be by his side.
Let’s talk to this fantastic creator about her amazing books!
This is Debbie. Everyone say, “Hi, Debbie!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Debbie! Tell us about yourself!
My name is Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and once upon a time I used to be a computer programmer/analyst. Now I write and illustrate children’s books for a living! I still pinch myself every so often, to make sure I’m not dreaming.
I’M WORRIED is your third collaboration with Michael Ian Black. What’s it like collaborating with an author on a story? What’s your favourite part of the process?
For picture books, or at least the ones I’ve worked on so far, I don’t really collaborate with the author during the creative process. The author works with our editor to polish the picture book manuscript, and I only tend to receive it when it’s ready for me to start illustrating. Sometimes after I start talking to my art director and editor about illustrations, we find that the text needs to be tweaked a bit. If that’s the case, this discussion is between the author and editor, not me and the author.
Not all publishers work like this, but this has been the case with the picture books I’ve worked on so far with Simon & Schuster, Random House and HarperCollins.
Depending on the book and situation, I will occasionally reach out to an author for some input. In an I’M WORRIED spread showing things that Potato is worried about, for example, I asked Michael Ian Black for some ideas and ended up incorporating a bunch of these into the illustration:
Who are some of your artistic influences?
Just to name a few of my illustrator influences: William Steig, Bill Watterson, Jules Feiffer, Charles Schulz, Edward Gorey.
You also have written and illustrated a number of your own picture books. How is that experience different for you?
Yes, mainly because I felt more free to change things around as well as to experiment. I come from a writing background (I got my awesome agent because of my middle grade writing plus I worked for years as a nonfiction freelance writer) and have waaaaaaay too many story ideas for picture books and middle grade than my current work schedule can support. Oh, for Hermione’s Time Turner! I’m constantly striving to find the right balance between contracted book projects, work-related events and working on my own writing projects.
I will always enjoy illustrating other people’s stories (especially Michael Ian Black’s stories), but I am also finding myself yearning to get more of my own writing out there: picture books, chapter books, graphic novels and middle grade.
Oh, my goodness – the things we could get done with a Time Turner!!!
What artistic tool could you never live without?
My favorite sketching tool: Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.
I love the variable ink line! Learned about this from David Small at an SCBWI Los Angeles Illustrators’ Intensive session.
My current obsession, though: CRAYONS.
Why were you drawn to illustration?
I’ve always loved to draw.
As I grew up, I especially enjoyed making comics for myself, family and friends. I’ve always loved the challenge of conveying a narrative through sequential art.
I’m hoping to do graphic novels someday! I already have some ideas. One of the challenges is streamlining my process. One of the reasons I opted for sequential art format in my contribution to Colby Sharp’s THE CREATIVITY PROJECT is because I wanted to test this. What I found: my current process takes way too much time. I’ve been talking with other graphic novel illustrators about their process in hopes of improving mine.
Any hints about your next book project?
I’m having so much fun illustrating Linda Sue Park’s new picture book story, GURPLE & PREEN! It incorporates photographic elements (crayons!) as well as illustrative, and it’s been exciting to experiment with new techniques. This new book is scheduled to come out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2020.
I’m also working on a middle grade novel, and am also excited about my next illustration project: I’M HAPPY, the next picture book in the I’M… series written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by me (Simon & Schuster).
Exciting! Can’t wait to hear more!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
Like many in the industry, I consider myself an introvert. When I first began working on my middle grade novels, I remember thinking how I much I enjoyed that part of the creative process, and how terrified I was at the idea of having to go out and TALK to strangers (in the process of networking and promotion).
What I found, to my shock: that despite my utter conviction that I could never learn to do it and would always hate it, that I COULD learn how to get out there and meet people in person. It drives me a little crazy whenever people tell me how lucky I am, that I’m so natural at talking with people at work events, etc., because they don’t realize how scary it all was in the beginning, and how hard I’ve worked at improving. It’s still scary, and I continue to need improving! But it’s easier now, and I even (*gasp*) have fun doing it, especially when I’m talking to young readers.
To other introverts out there: I highly recommend QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN’T STOP TALKING by Susan Cain. I discovered her through this TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts
What are you reading right now?
I usually have a bunch of books on the go in various formats (print, digital, audio). Right now, it’s:
THE MAGPIE’S LIBRARY by Kate Blair (Cormorant Books)
TRACE by Pat Cummings (Harper)
M: THE MAN WHO BECAME CARAVAGGIO by Peter Robb (Henry Holt)
THE POPE’S DAUGHTER: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF FELICE DELLA ROVERE – by Caroline P Murphy (Oxford University Press)
The latter two are the result of a recent vacation in Rome. 🙂
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
Resist comparing your own progress to others, especially on social media. Focus on enjoying your own journey at your own pace.
Also: if you are considering writing picture books for publication – READ MANY, MANY PICTURE BOOKS FIRST. So many new picture book writers assume that writing picture books is easy because they’re so short. Yes, it’s easy to write a picture book — the challenge is writing a picture book that will sell.
Both very excellent points! Thank you so much for joining us, Debbie!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out I’M WORRIED!
It’s on shelves now!
Add I’M WORRIED on Goodreads!
Click here to win a copy of I’M WORRIED!
Contest closes Saturday, October 19th at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!