Thursday, May 10, 2012

Catching up with Debbie Ridpath Ohi

For those new to our blog, Debbie Ohi is one of our contributors and was a recipient of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2010 Summer Conference. We’d like to catch up with Debbie and ask her a few questions about the Mentorship experience and about what she is up to these days.

KidLitArtists: Did the feedback you receive during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?

Debbie: Yes! I found the feedback from my mentorship critique immensely useful and illuminating. Some of the advice which had an immediate impact on my work or which I've been trying to put into practice as much as possible, including:

Advice #1: "Your business card needs a revamp."

Actually, Cecilia Yung (Art Director at Penguin) hated (yes, HATED) my biz card. She said later that she disliked my card so much that she had to go back and look at my portfolio again at end of the judging session because she wanted to remind herself about why she had picked me for the Mentorship Program.


My biz card the Mentors hated was WAY too cluttered. So I had a graphic designer friend of mine revamp it to include a lot more white space. The writer half of my brain rebelled ("what?!? but but but you have to include more info!!") but I pushed her down.

Advice #2: "You need to show a story sequence."

The Mentors all liked the story elements implied in my single drawings, but I had no story sequences in my portfolio. They were all just one-offs, like greeting card images. So for my next portfolio showcase, I made sure to include sequences of images that told a story.

Example: Here's the robot image I had in my original portfolio:

For my revamped portfolio, I turned this into a sequence instead:

Advice #3: "Don't try to be too polished."

I should point out that this piece of advice is specific to my style of artwork. Or styles, that is. I have multiple styles, but the one that seems to attract the most attention is my very rough and sketchy style.

And I am once again grateful to my friend Beckett Gladney for helping me put together that portfolio. She chose images I would never have chosen myself -- I would have opted for what I considered my more polished pieces.

One of my Mentors (Cecilia Yung) even advised me against taking art courses or getting critiques at this point, since I might lose the "pizazz" that was so appealing in my current work.

Justin Chanda felt similarly about my work during the I'M BORED creation process. My early sketches were too tight and he encouraged me to loosen up, to recapture the spontaneous look in my portfolio drawings.

The challenge, I found, was to keep my drawing style spontaneous-looking even if I had to redraw the same image many times.

KidLitArtists: Getting such specific and direct feedback on your work, did you find the experience enlightening? Affirming? Confusing? Conflicting? _______ (fill in the blank)? Why?

Debbie: During the Mentor critique sessions, I did notice that some of the advice contradicted, but this was mainly about particular aspects of specific pieces.

Most of the overall critique comments overlapped, however, and that was advice to which I paid the most attention.

KidLitArtists: Have you seen a shift in your work since you were mentored?

Debbie: Yes, definitely. Another influencing factor: I was offered a book contract around the same time that I participated in the Mentorship critique sessions, so I was also learning a great deal from working on I'M BORED with art director Laurent Linn and editor/publisher Justin Chanda at Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

Other changes in my work that I haven't already mentioned above:

I've been drawing a LOT more, not just for work but also for the fun of it. I try to post a Daily Doodle on every day as well as do more drawing just for myself.

The Illustrators' Intensives at the SCBWI Summer Conference in 2011 inspired me to do much more life sketching and experimentation with different techniques and styles.

KidLitArtistsWhat kinds of projects are you working on now?

Debbie: I'm writing AND illustrating a picture book for Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers! Very excited about this!!! Plus I also have a contract to illustrate another book for them; the particular project is still to be determined.

For those interested, I'm going to be blogging about the whole process in Inkygirl.

KidLitArtists: Is there anything, looking ahead, that you’re excited to be working on?

Debbie: See above. :-)

Recent work I'm excited about:

Cover of I'M BORED

Illustrating I'M BORED, a new picture book from comedian/actor/writer Michael Ian Black, coming out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in Sept/2012. I'm posting about the process (with photos, sketches, interviews, comics, etc.) in my I'M BORED Scrapbook at .

Also, my illustrated YA short story KODAMA was included in teen fiction anthology TOMO: Friendship Through Fiction (Stonebridge Press, Mar/2012).

KidLitArtists:  Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

Debbie: In addition to picture book illustration work, I'd love to do illustrations for chapter books and novels.

Meanwhile, I'm also working on my middle grade and young adult novels.

KidLitArtists: Last, please tell us where we can find you online.

Debbie: Jumping-off point for all my projects as well as sample art:

My blog for children's/YA writers and illustrators:

MiG Writers (middle grade and YA author group)

Pixel Shavings (children's book illustrator/writer group)

Thank you for sharing with us Debbie!

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