Q: Your illustrations capture children’s expressions so brilliantly. Do you take inspiration from any real children? Do you do research beforehand?

A: Thank you for the kind words!

I don’t really research expressions based on specific real-life children, but have always loved the challenge of getting across an emotion with as few lines as possible. Part of this comes from my lifelong hobby of drawing comics.

When I’m having trouble capturing a certain expression, I will often get a mirror and make faces at it. 

Q: For the illustrations of Mitzi Tulane, you began with a photograph of a real person, my daughter, Adelina. Have you done that before? Did this limit things for you in any way?

A: I did this when coming up with the character of Spencer for WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? (I used a photo of my nephew Spencer) as well as the character of Ruby Rose for the Ruby Rose picture books written by Rob Sanders (asked Rob for photos of his niece Madi). In both cases, I was the one to suggest it.

As long as I know I don’t have to make the character look EXACTLY like a real-life person, I find it often helps inspire rather than limit me. 

Mitzi was especially fun to draw because, like Adelina in the reference photos I was sent, she has a wonderful head of curls.


DebbieFKO-SueJeffers-1000Q: You’re also a picture book author. Did you find the process of illustrating your own text different from illustrating another author’s text?

 A: I enjoy both and will always want to continue to do both! I do find an extra freedom when illustrating my own text, however, because I can take extra liberties in the early stages and not be so worried about whether the author is going to be okay with it.

Once the layouts and early sketches have been approved and settled, however, I find the process is very similar.

 Q: You’ve said that you write and draw for fun every day, in addition to your actual work. Do you ever feel the need to take breaks from writing and drawing?Does the well ever run dry?

A: I love writing and drawing, but I do find that I need to take breaks to keep my creative well from running dry. I make time to get outside for fresh air and exercise, to socialize, to explore new places, to make music, to READ. It all goes into the melting pot in terms of creative input.

Mitzi manuscript


Q: In any picture book, only some of the moments in the story are actually illustrated. How do you decide which ones?

A: Great question! Figuring out which moments in the story is usually one of the biggest challenge because so many factors are involved and I also know how important this is.

 I usually read over the manuscript many, MANY times before I start to do any sketching. Then I start going through the manuscript and figure out where page breaks should go, and start coming up with thumbnail sketches. Through it all, I’m trying to also be aware of pacing and page turns, doing justice to the story and maximizing reader enjoyment.


2014-06-04-MT01-ThumbnailSketches-1500I also need to keep other practical factors in mind when picking moments, like the number of pages, amount of text on each spread and where/how the text fits with the illustration.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m finishing up the art for the second MITZI book, which (as you know) is called MITZI TULANE, PRESCHOOL DETECTIVE: THE SECRET INGREDIENT. Such a great story!

I’m also working on my second solo picture book and writing a middle grade novel.

Meanwhile, of course, I’m working on fun bonus material for the Mitzi Tulane Bonus Page ( Thanks again for your wonderful interview about how your inspiration and process for Mitzi (!



Debbie Ridpath Ohi –  Twitter: @inkyelbows –

Author/illustrator of WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? (Simon & Schuster). Coming in 2016: RUBY ROSE, OFF TO SCHOOL SHE GOES (author Rob Sanders, HarperCollins, June 21, 2016), MITZI TULANE, PRESCHOOL DETECTIVE: WHAT’S THAT SMELL? (author Lauren McLaughlin, Random House, July 12, 2016). My illustrations also appear in books by Michael Ian Black & Judy Blume.  I blog about reading, writing and illustrating children’s books at Inkygirl.