At the Desk: Debbie Ridpath Ohi
For each book that sits on our shelves or rests in our hands, a writer has spent countless hours researching, organizing, writing and rewriting. In Open Book’s At The Desk series, writers tell us about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them.
I'm Bored (Simon & Schuster Canada) is a children's book that features a little girl, a potato and that phrase so familiar to parents the world over: "I'm bored!"
Written by comedian Michael Ian Black of Wet Hot American Summer fame, I'm Bored is illustrated by Canadian artist Debbie Ridpath Ohi.
Today Debbie takes Open Book on a tour of her dreamy workspace, sharing with us about the virtues of working underground, the allure of Italian progrock and the inner workings of her creative process.
Unlike the rest of the house, my basement office is a riot of bright colors. I have painted a tree in the corner, the branches stretching out along the wall, and a red balloon on the door. One section of the entranceway is covered in magnetic paint so I can display photos and poetry. I have plastic tubs full of musical instruments and recording equipment, leftover cloth scraps from sewing projects, craft supplies and stickers and rubber stamps.
Despite his love of organizing and tidying, my husband Jeff has promised never to organize or tidy any part of my Office Cave. He knows how much I love being surrounded by creative clutter. He has even built me tables and shelves to fit my office space, and leaves it up to me to fill them.
Because I work mainly digitally, I don't have the lovely chaos of paint tubes and brushes and other art materials that some other artists do. My desk is a not-so-lovely chaos of power cords and USB hubs and tablets.
I admit to a momentary pang of envy when I hear about other writers and artists who have big office windows with gorgeous views, but then remind myself that it's the idea that appeals to me, not the practicality. Before we bought a house, Jeff and I lived on the 24th floor of a condo building in downtown Toronto. I appreciated the stunning view from my office window for a couple of months, but then started keeping the blinds closed because the sunlight made the room too hot.
When we moved into our house, I had the choice between a second floor office space that looked out onto our front garden or a corner of the basement. I immediately opted for the basement space. I loved the idea of a creative cave beneath ground level, a private sanctuary that did not have to blend with the rest of the house, a blank canvas I could fill with whatever I wished.
While I worked on the illustrations for I'm Bored, I taped all my sketches up on the ceiling as I finished them. Not only did it make it easier for me to scan for inconsistencies, but the growing collection of little girls and snarky potatoes kept me company during the many hours I spent on this project. When my part in the book process was finished and I took the printouts down, the empty space left an ache inside me until I started my next project.
At my desk, I work on a MacBook Pro with an external monitor. To one side, I have my iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard. Despite my digital tools, I also keep a blank pad of paper and ordinary ballpoint pen nearby. There's something satisfying and defiant about scribbling on a physical surface with real ink, without the safety net of a delete key.
I rarely listen to music when I am writing or in a creative stage of drawing, unless it is purely instrumental or Italian progrock (latter: I like the music but can't understand the lyrics). When I'm doing something repetitive in my art, like manually scraping away digital ink from my line work to create a woodcut effect, I'll listen to audiobooks. Most of the time, I prefer silence.
In the end, though, my surroundings are only window dressing. Every time I start to write or draw, the rest of my office fades from view. There's only the story waiting to be told, whether in text or illustrations.
— Debbie Ridpath Ohi