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Dundas couple blends business, family, and teamwork

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."

Roll out angel food cake with summer berries

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 co-wrote 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."


Published by Thespec