Picture Perfect: Vancouver’s Derek Desierto Illustrates His Way onto the NYT Best Sellers List

By Rachel Rosenberg

It isn’t every day that your debut makes it onto the New York Times Best Sellers List, but that is exactly what happened to Derek Desierto. In the Vancouver-based illustrator’s first picture book, Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes, he collaborated with Eva Chen, head of fashion partnerships at Instagram and former editor-in-chief of Lucky. That would be a big deal for any debut illustrator, and Desierto’s collage art is a fitting embodiment for Chen’s popular heroine Juno. The pairs’ follow up, A is for Awesome, is a board book filled with feminist icons, and the simple text really showcases Derek’s unique, vibrant style.

Desierto lived in Toronto for a few years, but returned to his home-city of Vancouver because he felt like it resonated more with who he is as a person. “Vancouver has my network: family, friends. I really like visiting cities like New York, but here it’s busy enough that there is stuff to do, but small enough to take time to reflect.” He loves how close to nature the city keeps him, and some of his favourite activities in Vancouver include biking along the seawall and going on hikes like The Chief and The Grouse Grind.

Desierto’s ‘A Star is Born’ moment is a bit like a modern day being-discovered-at-a-soda-shoppe story: “I was working at an animation studio and feeling a bit creatively frustrated. I was already a fan of Eva’s and followed her on Instagram. One day she posted an image of her daughter, Ren, crying and I decided to illustrate a version with her smiling instead. I tagged Eva on Instagram and it led us to start having casual conversations. She eventually asked if I would illustrate her children’s book.

“I’m still shocked—I always knew that I wanted to do children’s books but this has been a dream come true. The Juno books have been put out by Fiewel and Friends, an imprint run by Jean Feiwel; she’s a legend in the industry, she’s worked with J.K. Rowling, so to work with that talent as my first editor is beyond my wildest dreams.”

His advice about how to get started in the illustration or children’s book industry is “Don’t wait until you’re ready. Just start doing it and give yourself the opportunities. If you love what you are doing, people can tell and they will come to you. Also, we live in a great time with a lot of venues where people can see your work, and the more that you do, the more you develop your own style.

Vancouver has a great community of illustrators, he tells me, and everyone is really supportive of each other. When I asked for some suggestions of local talent to check out, he suggested the Instagrams of @Magicalnarwhal and @AntonioCaggiano 

For more of Desierto’s work, the third Juno book will be coming out on November 5th, and then “I’m working on my own picture book, and then another picture book for another author.”

He advises that artists should only work when they are in a happy mindset: “Don’t force yourself to pander to other people’s styles, follow your passion. I do what’s fun for me and what makes me happy.”

For Desierto, it sounds like that includes continuing to work here in Vancouver.

Rachel Rosenberg is a writer and library technician who is a proud member of the LGBTQ2+ community. She writes for Book Riot and can be found on Twitter @LibraryRachelR

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