Debbie Ridpath Ohi: Inspirational People Series


If I were to design and own a café, I'd love for it to be something like an Inspiration Café. It will be a place to sit down and be surrounded by beautiful art, amazing music, reading materials... while sipping one's favourite beverage. A place to gather and chat - to hold workshops and performances. Somewhere to be inspired every day.

My Inspiration Café, however, has to stay fictitious at the moment. Or, virtual - as the closest I have to it is this place - my blog. And, when I shared the 52WoC Task, Interview Time, I knew that I wanted it to serve as my impetus to start a series of interviews here. Interviews with people who I'd love to invite for a cuppa in my imaginary Inspiration Café.

You see, I've been meaning to approach people who inspire me and to ask them some of the questions that I've been itching to ask them. To reach out and to let them know that they've influenced some of the things that I do. And, to thank them for being who they are!

As I started to prepare for the interview series, I knew immediately that one of the first people that I'd like to feature is Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Debbie is one of the first people that I've come across when I first went online over ten years ago. I became an immediate fan when I found her then-project - a popular website/newsletter for writers called Inkspot. And, even after she sold it and moved on to other things, I continued to follow her work on her personal site, Blatherings. I read about her camping trips, her hikes, her experimentation with photography and painting and sewing... her stories about playing the harp, canoeing, composing music... of families and friendships... love and loss... her ventures in to illustration and comics... her love of Macs...

We've never met - and yet, I've been inspired by how she lives her life with such passion over the last decade. I knew I just had to interview her one day. And, I'm so happy that she said yes.

So, here's how our virtual meeting went...

Debbie Ridpath OhiHi, Debbie. Thank you so much for taking the time to take part in this interview. If you don't mind, I'd like to start this off by asking: In recent micro-blogging fashion, can you please share 140-character bio/description of yourself (or thereabouts)?

140 characters, hm? Let's see...how about this: "Was a computer programmer/analyst, once upon a time. Now I'm a Toronto-based freelance writer and illustrator. Married, with no kids. Abysmal at writing bios." That's 135 characters not including spaces, 158 including spaces.

You're someone who's very much in to different things - can you tell us some of your current interests/jobs/occupations?

I consider myself mainly a writer. It's something I could never give up. In addition to writing a daily publishing news column for Writersmarket.com and some other nonfiction endeavours, I'm trying to get a fantasy novel for young people published. My fiction works-in-progress include a graphic novel for young people and a new sf/fantasy novel for young people.

I also draw. I'm not formally trained so I don't pretend to be an expert, but I do earn money with my cartoons and illustrations. I used to draw just for fun, but then more and more people started offering me money for my drawings so I figured heck, why not do that as well? I also have several webcomics online, and have recently started to sell paintings done in acrylics. All my other artwork is digital, however.

Musician and songwriter - I write songs for and perform with my music group, Urban Tapestry. We're friends as well as music partners, which makes everything much more fun. We have some CDs out there, and have been flown to Germany, England, Winnipeg, California and other places to give concerts and be guests at conventions. Some of the songs I've written have aired on national radio, which was pretty exciting for me. I play a number of instruments (I used to teach piano and flute) and have done studio musician work on various recordings.

Photographer - I've always been an avid photographer, originally with film but now completely digital. My work has appeared in The National Post, some textbooks, among other places. I love doing portrait work.

So, when people ask you what you do for a living, what do you usually say? Do you find it tough to explain your varied talents? Why or why not?

When people ask what I do for a living, I say I'm a freelance writer and illustrator. I don't mention my other interests unless it's relevant. The music stuff's just for fun, though in an alternate life I think I'd enjoy being a fulltime songwriter. I also don't tend to put emphasis on my photography because I don't have professional equipment or the experience.

How do you balance your many interests/talents? And, how do you nurture them?

The balance is tough, especially between my writing and illustrating. The illustrating tends to bring in quicker money because of the number of short-term assignments, but my passion is in fiction writing. I try to set aside regular time for the fiction writing but sometimes it's difficult, especially when cash is tight.

Debbie Ohi's Works
Debbie's Sample Illustrations/Artwork

Who inspires/encourages you? Do you have someone that you consider your mentor? Who are the people that you look up to?

I'm inspired by anyone who is passionate about what they do. I tend to be drawn to people who have multiple creative interests, and especially those who are both technogeeky and artistic at the same time (like you!), and who embrace life wholeheartedly.

My husband Jeff has been encouraging and supportive throughout all my creative endeavours.

My sister Ruth is also a huge inspiration. Not only is she an active mom who devotes a great deal of time to her young daughters, but she also works VERY hard at her children's book illustrating and writing. I feel lazy compared to her.

For my writing, I lean heavily on my online writing critique group (MiG Writers). We all encourage and support each other. I also find that reading some of my favourite books always inspires me, including:

  • Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
  • The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

You've often mentioned on your blog the different ways that you've used various web services/social networking sites (Facebook, Flickr, etc) to help you with your work. Which ones do you find most useful - and why/how? Can you share a story or two on how these things helped you?

Debbie Ridpath OhiI participate in various online writers' communities for inspiration and tips... and also for company. Most writers work in isolation and though I have no trouble working alone all day, I like being able to network with other writers online. We encourage each other, ask advise, commiserate over each other's rejections and celebrate over successes.

The challenge, though, is to be aware of how much time you spend on social networking sites; sometimes it's too easy to justify the time as 'networking' and therefore work-related time. There's nothing wrong with participating in an online community for the pure fun of it, of course, as long as you know that's what you're doing.

I wouldn't be a freelance illustrator were it not for Flickr. Sometime after I started posting samples of my artwork and cartoons online, people began to ask me how much I charged for custom illustrations. Some artists avoid posting their work online anywhere because they're worried that people may swipe or copy their art. This does happen, but so far I've found the risk worth it.

I ended up designing a line of letterpress cards for Blush Publishing, for example, because they happened to come across some illustrations I had posted online.

How would you encourage other people to pursue their interests/passions? Do you have any special tips on how to get people to do what they love to do?

Be brave, be willing to take chances. Suppose you knew you were going to die in a week...would you be happy with how you've lived so far? Or would you be looking back with regret, wishing you had done something different? If the latter, then it's time to pursue your passions more aggressively.

Is there anything else that you'd like to share?

You can find out more about my writing, webcomics and other work at DebbieOhi.com. Also, Beckett Gladney and I have been posting about our graphic novel progress (with sample sketches) at http://www.debbieohi.com/milo/ .

Thank you so much again for taking the time to do this interview, Debbie. I'm glad to finally have had the chance to chat with you about these things. I look forward to more one day. 🙂

Other Places To Find Debbie:

Top 5 Things That Debbie Inspired Me To Do:

1. Participate in Illustration Friday.

2. Experiment with comics/cartoons.

3. Buy a Wacom Tablet!

4. Fully embrace my YA/Kids Lit loving self.

5. Be fearless about trying new and different things!

I can probably keep going... 😉

Image Credits:

  • Inspiration Café - Graphic by Shai Coggins
  • Debbie in Frames - Photos by Ray Vankleef
  • Debbie Whistling in the Snow - Photo by Jeff Ridpath
  • Illustrations Mosaic - All illustrations in the mosaic are by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
  • Debbie Laughing - Photo by Beckett Gladney

About the Author Shai Coggins

Shai has been managing and blogging here at ShaiCoggins.com for 17 years. Here, she writes about creativity, productivity, and how to recharge for a better, happier lifestyle. She is the author of Today: Life Journal, Colour Bliss: Kaleidoscopes, and a little known children's book. A serial entrepreneur, Shai also currently runs Vervely.com, a boutique digital media agency offering online content, community, and conversion marketing services. Her blogging experience and digital work have been featured in various media, including being listed in Fast Company's "Most Influential Women in Technology" list. Originally from Manila, Shai lived in Singapore and the USA before moving to Australia with her British husband. They have two children, a pet bunny, and a rambunctious rescue Labrador.

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