The Artist's Process: An Interview with ADG Staff Illustrator Derek Anderson

The Artist's Process: An Interview with ADG Staff Illustrator Derek Anderson

No two artists are the same, and while Anderson Design Group has worked with several of the industry's best creative people—who all appreciate vintage poster art and an illustration style reminiscent of the Golden Age of Illustration—each artist has mastered their craft in a unique and compelling way. Everyone on Team ADG has developed their style, talent, and signature abilities in ways that stand out in their work, ways that empower us to create award-winning poster art collections that weave the talents and inspirations of several artists together.

Today, we sat down with staff artist and illustrator Derek Anderson, a familiar face in the Nashville art studio and a talented designer whose work is on display in many of ADG's poster art collections.

Derek's Studio Artist Bio

Born and raised in Kansas City, Derek Anderson (not actually related to ADG founder Joel Anderson) eventually made his way to Nashville, where he studied graphic design and illustration at Watkins College of Art.

During his senior year, Derek was an all-star intern with Anderson Design Group, producing several posters that have been published in ADG's various collections. His stellar work earned him a full-time staff position after he graduated in the spring of 2017. Derek enjoys creating ideas from a narrator’s point of view, deciding what perspective tells the story most effectively.

In his free time, Derek enjoys exercising his creative muscle through multiple outlets, such as skateboarding with friends and playing music on his guitar. Derek is a sci-fi nerd at heart and lately has taken to creating fictional movie and video game poster art. Derek’s drive and passion for making poster art are fueled by the inspiring people he works with at ADG.

A Q&A with Derek

ADG: Can you tell us a little bit about your artistic background? How you became an artist? What inspired you?

Derek: I always tell people it’s just like with most artists; I always loved to draw ever since I was a little kid. It's that classic thing, you know, the little kid who loves to draw. I was fortunate enough to have a family that spotted my love for the craft and supported me. I hadn't really thought about art as a job though. I finished high school and got into graphic design. I came to Nashville, went to Watkins College of Art, and graduated in 2017. That experience really helped me hone in on what I wanted to do. I’ve always loved traditional drawing and painting. The classical works and vintage art really appealed to me. I got into illustrating in that style as a result of seeing others do it here at ADG during my internship.

ADG: Very cool. How did you come to work for ADG? Did it start with the internship?

Derek: Yep! ADG was looking for an intern. I applied and got the gig. I started by creating the line art for a coloring book that Joel, our Creative Director, was working on. Then Joel asked me to make a poster, and I guess he liked my style and work ethic because he just kept assigning me poster art projects, and he hasn't stopped yet! I think Joel could tell art isn't just a hobby for me. It's a lifestyle. Most people do other things when they get off of work. I go home and make more art! And if I'm not doing that, I'm studying other artists' work and looking for inspiration in the works of great artists from the past and present. Below is one of the first posters I ever did at ADG.

ADG: That's awesome! Any estimate as to how many illustrations you've worked on for ADG?

Derek: At least 500. Probably more by now. And each is its own incredible experience. I learn something new with each design I work on.

ADG: Amazing. What about artistic influences?

Derek: How much time do you have? We could be here awhile if I listed them all! But to name one, I’ve really been inspired by Alphonse Mucha. He was a Czech artist. He popularized the art nouveau movement at the beginning of the 20th century. In a lot of ways, he was the grandfather of graphic design. You know those iconic designs they used to put on biscuit tins? Below are a couple of examples of classic Mucha illustrations.


Whenever I’m in a rut, I’ll look at his work. I've also been really inspired by movies. Especially the classic Sci-Fi films. I'll start watching a movie, then fifteen minutes in, I get an idea, then I have to stop the movie and draw the thing or at least make a note of it. Below are some of the Sci-Fi illustrations that I've done on my own time, just for fun.

ADG: Would you say movies are a part of your creative process?

Derek: Oh, totally. I almost always have a film playing in the background while working. Something about beautiful art being expressed near me in the form of film while I'm working really seems to put me in a creative spirit. I can't tell you how often I've put 2001: A Space Odyssey on in the background while making a poster. Much of my inspiration for our Space Travel collection came from that film.

ADG: How else would you describe your creative process? How do you go from an idea to a finished piece of art?

Derek: I’ll start with a sketch first. Even before that, I’ll collect a lot of reference material, and I’ll study the reference material while sketching. I pay close attention to how light affects areas of the landscape and subject at certain times of the day. I try to choose the time of day for when light hits the area of the illustration that is really important for the viewer to see. Then, I’ll go into Adobe Illustrator and start blocking out visual information. Sort of like putting things where they need to go for the main focus.

Once that’s done, I’ll go in for the detail. And this is really the most important part of the piece because the detail nails down the composition of the piece, and it guides the viewer’s eye and how the viewer looks at the piece. I’m essentially trying to create the art in such a way that the art actually guides the viewer to view the art in a certain way, a way that emphasizes the subject being highlighted, whether it’s a popular feature of a National Park or perhaps an animal, building, or monument. The goal is to get the value of the things being depicted done right, so there aren’t different aspects of the illustration competing for the viewer’s eye.

ADG: Amazing! Love the level of detail that goes into your process. And what advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Derek: The main thing is to keep making art. Keep doing it. Seriously. No matter what, keep making art. Younger artists may get discouraged by seeing other artists who have spent more time developing their skills. But never say, “I will never be that good.” Don’t worry about your style when you're young or new and just learning the fundamentals. Your style will emerge as a result of simply making art.

You can study styles and what goes into making art, and that’s key. But the most important thing for aspiring artists to follow is to simply keep making art and not get discouraged or bogged down. Stick to why you fell in love with it; stick to the things that inspire you. It’s more about doing it than thinking about it. It’s communication on a visual level.

ADG: That makes perfect sense! Last question: What projects are you working on now?

Derek: I am currently working on a series of travel posters to celebrate lesser-known parks, landmarks, historical sites.

I recently finished turning the monsters from our Legends of the National Parks collection into a coloring book! I'm also working on a series of posters to celebrate travel destinations, state parks, national monuments, and points of interest in Missouri. 

ADG: Sounds like fun! Thanks for chatting with us and giving us a peek behind the curtain!

Derek: My pleasure!

The Craft Lives On

Art is timeless, and Derek embodies that by creating hundreds of original illustrations that live in the homes and businesses of people all across the country and the world. To see posters Derek has worked on, type his name into the search bar.

Until next time,

-Ren Brabenec
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer

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