June 29, 2021

Let's Talk Illustrators #184: Derek Desierto

Derek Desierto's Oddbird is a special book for a few reasons, one of which is that it marks Derek's author-illustrator debut, and another being that the story itself is very personal for Derek. Needless to say, our conversation was truly a treat, and I hope you enjoy learning about this delightful and liberating book!

About the book:
It's SO hot outside. All the fancy birds are gathered around the water, wishing they could cool off. But they don't want to get wet and ruin their fine feathers.

Oddbird isn't worried about his feathers; he wants to go for a refreshing dip. But he doesn't fit in. He's not fancy, or colorful. He's just...different. The other birds don't want him around. How can he join them?

Let's talk Derek Desierto!

LTPB: Where did the idea for Oddbird come from? Why did you choose to explore this concept through color?

DD: The idea itself first came from a drawing I did. I imagined a bird with no colour in a jungle full of colourful birds. As I thought about the drawing some more, the story started to emerge. A lot of it came from my own experience of being part of an immigrant family and growing up closeted in a traditional household. When you're young, you want to fit in and you often act like someone you're not just to feel accepted. I'm thankful that I eventually found the courage to live an authentic life and to free myself from such disguises much like Oddbird did in the story.

As for using colour in the story, I think it’s what I gravitate to naturally. I like creating work that’s lively, happy and graphic and colour just adds to all of that!

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of your characters? As you got to know them, how did your illustrations evolve?

DD: Since I’ve been working on this story for a few years, the characters and the style itself changed. I think my own style changed throughout the years and therefore the characters changed as well. The story also influenced the characters. Initially, it was all about Oddbird but as I started illustrating the book and creating all the side characters, their personality started coming out which was influencing the story as I went along.

LTPB: What differences have you found between creating a picture book on your own (text and illustrations) versus illustrating someone else’s text?

DD: Well, it’s a lot easier because you can change the story or illustration as you see fit! That’s one of the pros of being your own author-illustrator. I think a big difference is also when I’m doing my own book, I'm often writing with the visual of the page already in my head. So I basically write words to match the image in my head.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? How does your process change from book to book?

DD: I use Photoshop for the whole process. I illustrate first then colour/collage in the program as well. It is currently my preferred medium, but I am looking forward to drawing/painting again one day.

As for my process, I feel it stays the same for the most part. I make rough thumbnails of the whole book then I continue to refine the images until I’m satisfied then I go on to colour.

LTPB: What are you working on now?

DD: I’ll be working on a new book about the life of the shoe designer, Jimmy Choo which will come out 2023. As for the other projects... stay tuned!

LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

DD: Well I’m a huge fan of Ludwig Bemelmans! I love his style and I love his Madeline stories so I would say him!

Thank you so much to Derek for talking to me! Oddbird published from Feiwel & Friends earlier this year!

Special thanks to Derek and Feiwel & Friends for use of these images!

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  1. Those birds are so appealing! I'm looking forward to reading Oddbird.