Blend­ing busi­ness, fam­ily and team­work

Derek and Char Dou­glas find a way to make it work

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - EMMA REILLY ereilly@thes­ 905-526-2452 | @Em­maatTheSpec

Derek Dou­glas has taken some twists and turns on the road to his dream job.

The 38-year-old Dun­das res­i­dent has worked as a com­puter an­i­ma­tor, a fu­neral home em­ployee, a barista, and an art di­rec­tor at a school for adults with spe­cial needs.

But each of these jobs, as var­ied as they may seem, led him to where he is to­day: a ris­ing star in the world of chil­dren’s il­lus­tra­tion.

Derek is the illustrator of two books pub­lished by Hum­ber Press: “Canada: Our Road to Democ­racy” and “Canada: Our Home and Na­tive Land.” The books, writ­ten by Alis­ter Mathieson and Mar­i­anne Ilass, out­line Cana­dian cul­ture, gov­ern­ment, and ge­og­ra­phy in a fun and in­no­va­tive for­mat geared to­ward 7- to 11-year-olds.

“There was a windy trail that led up to this point,” he said. “But in hind­sight, if you look back at that wind­ing trail, if you know the story very well, you can see all of the dif­fer­ent things that I needed to get to this point — all of the skills, and the peo­ple, and the con­fi­dence that led up to get­ting that first gig.”

Derek and his wife, Char Dou­glas, both man­age to bal­ance non-tra­di­tional jobs with their busy life at home. The par­ents of three chil­dren — Wy­att, 9, Aloha, 7, and Josephine, 4 — the cou­ple have made a life for them­selves that al­lows both of them to turn their pas­sions into pro­fes­sions: Derek as an illustrator, and Char as a wardrobe con­sul­tant and per­sonal shop­per.

Derek, who grew up in Stoney Creek, kicked off his ca­reer as a stu­dent at Sheri­dan Col­lege in Oakville. He was ac­cepted to both the an­i­ma­tion and il­lus­tra­tion pro­grams, but ul­ti­mately chose an­i­ma­tion.

“I thought it was, at the time, more in­ter­est­ing, and they seemed like bet­ter artists,” he said.

It wasn’t un­til his son was born that Derek re­al­ized he wanted to cre­ate chil­dren’s books.

“I got in­spired as soon as he was born to write my own sto­ries and do my own il­lus­tra­tions,” he said. “Hope­fully, sooner rather than later I’ll have my own sto­ries pub­lished, as well. I’d love to be an au­thor/illustrator.”

Mak­ing the leap from an­i­ma­tion to il­lus­tra­tion wasn’t easy. Derek would of­ten work two or three jobs to make ends meet be­tween con­tracts.

It was his job as an art di­rec­tor at a school for adults with spe­cial needs that landed him his first big break in the world of il­lus­tra­tion — Alis­ter Mathieson, who cowrote the books Derek il­lus­trated, has a daugh­ter with spe­cial needs who was en­rolled there.

While Derek was launch­ing his ca­reer as an illustrator, Char, 35, was plant­ing the seeds of her own busi­ness.

Char de­cided to launch a wardrobe con­sult­ing and per­sonal shop­ping busi­ness af­ter re­al­iz­ing she had a knack for find­ing clothes that flat­tered her friends. Now, she has clients rang­ing from young moms to se­niors to re­tirees, from size 4 to size 24 — all of whom are re­ferred to her by word of mouth. With a back­ground in so­cial work, Char says she likes feel­ing like she’s pro­vid­ing help in a very hands-on way.

“For me, it’s less about the clothes and more about how they feel,” she said.

Char, who has taken the lead on child care over the past sev­eral years, plans to of­fi­cially ex­pand her busi­ness in Septem­ber once all three chil­dren are en­rolled in school (their youngest starts kindergarten this fall).

“We’ve been jug­gling our en­tre­pre­neur­ial pur­suits and new busi­nesses and kids at home. Septem­ber is the bright spot on the hori­zon,” she said with a laugh.

The pair of­ten work to­gether on their re­spec­tive projects — Derek helped Char with set­ting up her blog (, cre­at­ing her busi­ness cards, and other mar­ket­ing projects — while Char helps Derek with the book­keep­ing and man­age­ment of his busi­ness.

The cou­ple also some­times take on other jobs — which Char calls “crack-fillers” — in be­tween projects. It may sound over­whelm­ing, but the cou­ple say they make it hap­pen with a lot of team­work. “We work re­ally well to­gether,” said Derek. “We buddy up,” said Char. One project on the hori­zon that blends their tal­ents is a jointly-au­thored chil­dren’s book that Derek plans to il­lus­trate. It’s about a lit­tle girl — loosely based on their el­dest daugh­ter — who goes to an amuse­ment park, only to find that she’s too short to ride the roller-coaster.

“She’s a fiercely ca­pa­ble kid, and she’s so ex­cited, but then she’s too lit­tle to ride,” said Char.

One of Derek’s ma­jor projects this year has been il­lus­trat­ing the poster for the Telling Tales Fes­ti­val, the an­nual lit­er­ary bash at West­field Her­itage Vil­lage. For the poster, Derek hand-painted a colour­ful scene in­cor­po­rat­ing snip­pets of Cana­di­ana, in­clud­ing the Rock­ies, light­houses, the North­ern Lights, a gui­tar-strum­ming Justin Trudeau, and, of course, a game of ice hockey.

Derek, who is also a pre­sen­ter at Telling Tales, says he’s been grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity to show­case his work at a mar­quee lo­cal event. Af­ter years of work­ing along­side Char, he says it’s ex­tremely ful­fill­ing to see their ef­forts start to pay off.

“I’m start­ing to see some of the fruits of all of the work I’ve put into it.”

Chil­dren’s book illustrator Derek Dou­glas and wife Char, in his Dun­das stu­dio.

“Wedgie,” by Derek Dou­glas, was re­cently ex­hib­ited at a show at the Carnegie Gallery called “The Art of Par­ent­ing.”

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