Derek Desierto sees the world through a slightly different lens than his peers.
The illustrator navigates his professional and personal life based on what he says is a firm belief that everything will work out.
“I believe that life is for you, not against you,” he says. “Some people sometimes see the decisions I make in my life and think I’m crazy. It may look crazy, but I’m guided by my own intuition, and I know that as long as I follow my passions, things will fall into place.”
Desierto’s philosophy has not led him astray. He’s found success as a glasses designer, at a children’s animation studio, and in 2018, he helped launch a sustainable eyewear brand. Today, Desierto works as a freelance illustrator, known for his pop culture-inspired sketches. His distinct, collage-like style earned the interest of Eva Chen, head of fashion partnerships at Instagram. Desierto illustrated her debut children’s book Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes, which was released in November.
But make no mistake — while Desierto may believe in fate, he’s earned the success he’s achieved. A determined work ethic and positive demeanor led Desierto to go from customer service to the design department at online retailer Clearly Contacts. At 23, Desierto launched his own line of frames, which sold more than 100,000 pairs in three years.
Despite his success, Desierto decided to change course to pursue a long-time interest in animation. He left Clearly in 2013 and took a year off to refine his personal portfolio, eventually being accepted into Sheridan’s Animation program. During his time at Sheridan, Desierto completed multiple internships and was recognized by the Ottawa International Animation Festival, the National Cartoonist Society and 9 Story Media Group, earning a job offer from Corus-owned animation studio Nelvana before he graduated.
At the time, Desierto thought that he had made it: he would climb the corporate ladder at Nelvana; eventually animate his own show, and maybe illustrate a children’s book down the line.
“Don’t think that you have to wait — you’re ready now. I’ve always acted like I was ready, and the opportunities have presented themselves.”
His job as a junior designer was demanding and fast-paced, meaning he couldn’t be too attached to anything he was producing. To help stretch his creative muscles, Desierto would often come into the office early to work on personal projects.
“My art director would come into the office at 9 a.m., so I would rush to finish a sketch before the day started, often posting them to my Instagram later,” he explains. “They say that necessity is the mother of creativity, and part of being an artist is exploring and testing your capabilities. This gave me the time to do that.”
A long-time admirer of Instagram’s Chen, one of the warm-up illustrations Desierto posted featured the fashion icon and her daughter. He tagged Chen, who reached out to express her admiration. The pair kept in casual contact, until Chen asked Desierto to illustrate her debut children’s book, Juno.
Juno surged in popularity after its November release, earning spots on the New York Times bestseller list and in Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Ray’s holiday guides.
The project has prompted Desierto to shift away from animation for the moment. Having moved back to his hometown of Vancouver, Desierto is now fully focused on his art, taking on freelance illustration assignments and pursuing personal projects. He’s also finishing up illustrations for the Juno sequel, set to be released in early 2019, and is working on a children’s book of his own.
“As students, we think we have to graduate and amass all these followers and accolades to warrant merit, but that’s really not true,” he says. “Don’t think that you have to wait — you’re ready now. I’ve always acted like I was ready, and the opportunities have presented themselves.”