We caught up with Derek between fishing trips and art shows to have him share a little of his personal story and exhilarating fishing adventures and experiences in Montana, Alaska and the Florida Keys.
In The Beginning
“I can remember sitting next to my brother Nick in church on Sunday mornings. We would draw crazy faces, creatures and muscle men on the donation envelopes. When we were finished we would pass them down to my parents and my oldest brother for them to judge who drew the best picture.
Ever since I can remember, my connection to the world and the people around me has been through my artwork. I was an average student at best in a family of overachievers academically, but my ability to draw and paint always kept my mom from worrying about me too much.
From the very beginning I was known as “The Artist”. When I’d meet someone new at school, I’d say, “I’m an artist”, and they would say, “Oh, I know who you are, I’ve seen your artwork hanging in the hallway.
It was that way in 1st grade, and it was that way as a senior in college at Kendall College of Art and Design. The first compliment my wife ever gave me when we met at a party was that she liked my artwork.
Strange how you can become what you do, but that seems to be the case here. It has been a good thing for the most part, but with it comes with some suffering too. I’m tortured by my paintings that don’t go well. I toss and turn in my sleep when things aren’t going well in the studio. On the other hand, the satisfaction I get from finishing a great painting is immeasurable. It keeps me working hard, striving to grow as an artist.
Many people are surprised by the success I’ve had so far running Canvasfish.com, as it is a struggle for most artists to create artwork and run a good business. My secret is the people around me. I find supportive people in every direction, and they are there to help me in the ways I need it most.
My wife deserves most of the credit for giving me the drive to work hard and to build a future for us. Without her encouragement, I would probably be satisfied having a few paintings hung up at a local coffee shop, and spend the majority of my time chasing trout and steelies.
“My Dad, Gordy has been the biggest fan any kid could have. He took great pains to come down to my early summer art shows and teach me the tricks to being a good salesman. And although if he had it his way I would be running my art booth like a seasoned car salesman (not my style), I did always appreciate all of his effort and help.
My father-in-law John had me working on custom commission paintings at all times for the first few years of business, just keeping us afloat as we were starting things up. He was always there to give us great business advice and loaned us the start up funds to get our first art booth, display walls and supplies to start in the art show circuit.
My mom, being the most academic minded in our house, had a hard time sending her youngest to art school knowing how tough this world can be. But she was right there for me in college, insisting on helping me with gas or groceries when she thought I needed it. Her role as the devil’s advocate drove me to work harder. I credit her for getting me to be very serious about my goal to become an artist and working so hard to acheive it.
The Turning Point
My career as an artist has had a couple big turning points that has brought me from the stereotypical “starving artist” to having a thriving art career that both my wife and I work full time at.
During my four years in art school, it seemed apparent that they might want the student body to be prepared for failure. The professors would refer to the one or two that might make it as an artist in the real world. They described the jobs out in that real world as few and far between with all the artists competing for it and willing to do it for very little money. It seemed like they might be prodding us to consider a plan B.
A couple nights later I made a phone call to my Dad. I told him that I was reconsidering my degree and that it might be wiser to get a degree in something more practical than Fine Art. What he said that day I still consider to be one of the most important conversations in my life. He told me “You’ve known that you were going to be an artist since you were a little kid, Derek, this is all you’ve ever wanted. Now is the time to take a chance on making that dream come true. You’ve got your whole life to take whatever job you need to and take care of all your responsibilities. But now, while you’re young, is when you have got to go for the gusto! You have to go after your dreams and do your best to make it. If you don’t try now you will always wonder what if for the rest of your life.” When I hung up the phone my entire outlook had changed. I no longer felt the weight of the world on my shoulders to make it as an artist, I knew I had to get out there and try. And that’s just what I did.
After a few years of spending my summer weekends doing local juried art shows, I started branching out a bit and did the Midwest Fly Fishing Show in Warren, near Detroit, Michigan. Although it was very expensive for us to do at the time, it was far and away the best show that I’d done.
I started to understand that my main clients were in the fly fishing world. The next big show was the retailer show in Denver, Colorado and I decided to put every penny into getting there and making it happen. I shipped all my paintings out and flew across the country, so excited for the new opportunities that the show held for me. Once there on the showroom floor my excitement turned to dread! The rest of the show was being filled with these elaborate, professionally built and beautifully lit booths from some major companies. I didn’t see any other artists with a shabby little booth like mine. My booth was essentially one easel and four chairs which I leaned my canvases on. No lights, no carpet, no professional lighting…the ugliest booth in the convention center by far. I remember being overwhelmed with anxiety that I had not only wasted so much money to be there but that I was really out of my league.
I walked away from my booth and called my Dad back in Michigan. I remember him cheerfully asking how the “big show” was going. I could barely speak through the frog in my throat, telling him how foolish I felt being at the show. I told him that it might even be best for me to forfeit my booth fee and start packing up my paintings and get out of there before the show started. He listened quietly and then gave me a pep talk. He said “This is what you are going to do, you are going to do this show, you are going to smile and shake hands and meet people. No matter how the whole thing plays out, I’m proud of you for having the guts to put yourself out there the way you do.
When I got off the phone, I didn’t feel much better, but I had made peace with the fact that I was going to go through with exhibiting my work at the show. Even though my booth was the most rag tag one there, the show was a complete success! I had people coming in and out of my booth all day long for the three days of the show. Magazine publishers, owners of famous fly fishing companies, and other top level executives. People seemed genuinely interested in my unique way of portraying fish and fly fishing. My work was voted “Best of What’s New in Fly Fishing”. I walked away from that show feeling more confident than I ever had.”
“Derek’s art directly reflects his joy and enthusiasm for fishing and the outdoors. He studies his subject matter and gets inspired when he is in nature. Then he comes back to the studio and tries to capture it all on canvas.” -Janell DeYoung