About: Co-founder and principal of two thriving design businesses – one client based, and the other product based. UNKL is his product business, with about 20 different toy projects happening right now in various stages of design and production.
Derek has been in the industry for about fifteen years. Although, if you ask him, it seems like longer.
"I think I probably worked 10 years worth within the first 3 years of my professional career. Back in those days it was all about just killin’ the design. No sleep. No eat. Just design. I like it better now. I can sleep, eat and still get plenty of design done."
We’re glad to hear that he’s eating and sleeping now. Luckily, not at the expense of his awesome design skills.
Derek is the cofounder and principal of two thriving design businesses – one client based (www.big-giant.com), and the other product based. We asked him what his greatest accomplishment was.
"Staying in business is as good an accomplishment as I could hope for."
UNKL (www.unklbrand.com), his product business, started as a hobby. Derek never expected it to take off like it has.
"A few years back someone asked me who my ideal client would be. My answer? Me. Doing work for myself is ideal. And so, I’m lucky enough to be doing that now."
Derek sees design beyond the awards and accolades he’s received. When he was younger, he thought winning awards in contests and magazines was what it was all about. He thought that winning that stuff would validate his talent or how good he was. As he’s matured, however, he’s come to understand that there’s great design happening that you’ll never see in a book, magazine or contest.
"As I’ve grown in design I’ve realized it’s all about making the client happy and being fulfilled in the work I do, not praise from ‘judges’."
Currently, there are several projects in Derek’s studio. UNKL has about 20 different toy projects happening right now in various stages of design and production. The client work is slamming right now as well. Derek says he can’t get into most of the projects specifically because they’re under wraps until the launch. What he can say is that many of them are collaborations. One such collaboration is with Ipecac Records. It’s a set of 12 UniPo figures set to launch in 2008.
"We created figures for 11 of their bands and one Ipecac branded version as well. One figure is releasing each month during all of 2008. That’s a cool project because we respect the hell out of Mike Patton and his projects, so for us to team up with him is beyond cool."
Derek has had experience playing around with Wacom tablets and thinks they’re pretty great tools.
"I got to experience the Cintiq and dug the hell out of it. It’s a merging of hands on and computer design. I was schooled in design before computers, so I did everything by hand. Since then it’s been mostly computers, but I miss the old days. The Cintiq is a great way for me to get back to that hands on approach while still enjoying the advantages of technology."
We’ll just have to see if Derek takes things back to the old school or wows us with something futuristic in his design. Whatever he does, we’re looking forward to it.
The characters in the artwork are called Smooshi Mooshi. They are mushrooms with the exception of "Dap" who is a droplet of water. Being mushrooms, they love damp, musty places, but they decided to go on vacation up into the hills to see the snow during the month of December. Even Dap likes it although she is hardening and turning into ice the longer they stay there.
Why December? December is my favorite month because that’s when my birthday is and also with the holidays, I love experiencing the excitement and anticipation of the month with my kids. The illustration features the Smooshi Mooshi in a setting in the foothills of the coastal range of Oregon. Snow falls at higher elevations here, but most of the hills remain green. Keeping some of the green of the land was important to me because green means growth, life and health, but adding the snow to it brings that element of wintry excitement. This all sounds pretty serious for such a simple illustration, but hey, that’s what the thinking was behind it anyway.
The tablet worked great for drawing the forms of the characters and the background landscape. I wanted the Smooshi Mooshi to have an organic but finished look to them. The forms were simpler to create with the pens and pad vs. the traditional mouse click and drag. The forms were initially sculpted with clay, then I thought about translating them to 2-D. The tablet allowed me to retain the original sculptural nature of the characters while at the same time simplifying them into a flattened form.
This process for me has been a great way to get back to the hands on approach to design that was such a part of my life years ago when I was just starting as a designer.