Cardboard creativity and childhood imagination with Derek Douglas

February 19, 2018

Canada-based children’s illustrator Derek Douglas has been visiting schools to “inspire the next generation of young artists, showing them that if you love to draw, it’s actually a real job that you could have one day”.
It’s not only his message that inspires – Derek´s incredible props made out of cardboard are a fantastic way to demonstrate the tools of an artist. Using cardboard boxes, he created to-scale models of his 24” Cintiq, 27” iMac, Apple keyboard, magic mouse, as well as a 6’4” Wacom pen that stands just a little taller than the artist himself!
We recently contacted Derek to ask him why he made these props, what inspired him, and what his advice would be for the next generation of creatives.

Who or what inspired you to start working as an artist?

As a child, it was cartoons, children’s books, and comic books… in that order.
I used to redraw my favourite characters as a way to learn, but as I got older it was my High School art teacher that saw some talent in me, who pushed me in the direction of art as a career.

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Derek´s art studio and in the center a Wacom Cintiq 24HD

What is your favourite part of visiting schools to tell them about your job?

I love visiting schools to inspire the next generation of young artists, showing them that if you love to draw or paint, it’s actually a real career that’s possible to obtain.
I believe that all students, whether they choose to become an artist or not, will benefit from learning how to develop their creative thinking.

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Derek teaching kids

Why did you decide to make a cardboard pen and Cintiq, and what has been the most memorable reaction to your props?

So many reasons! I originally created the props for a series of presentations for the Telling Tales Festival in Hamilton, Ontario because they’re a great gag. Seeing me pretend to draw with a gigantic pen is just plain ol’ ridiculous and fun. It gets laughs, screams, and sometimes really silly behaviour from the students (sometimes much to the chagrin of the teachers – but they love it too).
Using props are also a really good teaching tool. Rather than just explaining with words, it’s a visual demonstration that makes the concept of how I make my art easier to understand. Finally and probably most importantly, cardboard is one of the most accessible household materials that all kids can find in their own home.
By using cardboard, the goal is to appeal to children using a totally familiar medium and to inspire them to build their own sculptures and works of art at home.

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Derek´s cardboard collection


What would be your best piece of advice to aspiring artists?

  1. Be dedicated
    By choosing to be a professional artist, you’re choosing an extremely competitive field. Arm yourself by practicing (LOTS), learn it inside, outside, backward and upside-down.
  2. Be Bold
    Find your own original voice. Truly strive to be different and be yourself in your own work. A good chunk of the most successful artists is fearlessly original. Which leads me to…
  3. Be fearless
    don’t be afraid to take risks or to make mistakes. Mistakes are actually just lessons masked as a failure.
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Derek out and about

How do cardboard and sculpture fit into your illustration style?

In my illustration work, I like to explore and push the boundaries of new ideas. The first time I introduced cardboard into my work, I created a miniature cardboard diorama of a library, where I placed my hand-painted, cut-out, 2-D characters inside the set to take photos of them. See examples here.
Pushing the idea a bit further, I then explored by creating flat, 2-D illustrations that were cut out and separated, and then by layering them on top of each other, the final photograph of the work captures a 2-D, 3-D hybrid complete with shadows between the spaced out layers. See examples here.

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Paper Cut Paris (c) Derek Douglas

What are you currently working on? What’s next?

On top of meeting the demands of ongoing freelance contracts, like creating digital illustrations and animations for this amazing church using my 24” Cintiq.
In the off hours, I’m writing and creating concept art for my own graphic novel. But my number one goal this year is to illustrate some more children’s books!

Right Side Studios

Derek has been working in the creative industry since the turn of the millennium and owns a freelance illustration company called Right Side Studios, based in Ontario, Canada.

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Derek and his weapon of choice

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