Black Futures: Nurturing the next generation of artists

Editor’s Note: Nugget is honoring and highlighting the work of Black artists and creatives — as well as educating ourselves on the barriers they’re facing in creative industries. Join us in Celebrating Black Creativity this month — and all year long!

Meet Derrick Whitfield Senior! He’s a graphic designer and the owner of Whitfield Designs. He works on projects such as logo design, portrait artwork, apparel, and brand design. 

He formerly served in the Navy, and he’s a father to Amaya and Derrick Junior (the latter was very disappointed when some boring grownups showed up to hang out and interview his dad. “I thought you’d be actual Nuggets,” he told us, clearly underwhelmed).

Derrick’s clients have included huge brands like House of Blues, BET, the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, TBN Christian Network, the Grand Hyatt San Diego, Hyatt Regency San Diego, and Peloton Instructor Jess Sims. We caught up with Derrick to talk about what it means to raise a creative child — and how to help nurture that young artistry.

Derrick and his son Derrick Jr both drawing on couches

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Nugget: We’ll start at the beginning. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Derrick: An artist. I did alright! (Laughs) As a kid, I woke up Saturday mornings, watched Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera cartoons, like most kids. I fixed a big bowl of cereal, and I’d just draw. My mom saw that, and she thought, this kid might have a gift. So my family made me practice. They made me draw at the table every day. 

Collage of various pieces of artwork

Nugget: Is your family artistic?

Derrick: Not at all, oh my gosh. I just know that my family was really instrumental in making me create, especially my aunt. She had some businesses back in the day — and she’d be like, Derrick, draw me a logo, or Derrick, draw me this or that. In hindsight, now that I’m doing what I’m doing, you look back and you’re like, oh gosh, I was being groomed for this the whole time.

When I was in second or third grade, I was kind of withdrawn — social issues, mainly, but I excelled at school. The teachers called my mom and they’re like, “The kid is smart, but he’s just so withdrawn. We notice he does all of his homework, but he just draws in class so much. That’s all he does.” My mom asked, “Is that a problem?” And the teacher said, “No, but you know, we want him to stop doing that.” And my mom said, “Do me a favor. Why don’t you just test him? See if he has any issues.” It came back that I was smart enough to skip two grades. Instead of doing that, my mom sent me to a magnet school for art to hone my craft. 

Artistic drawing of several people from the various military branches

Nugget: You’re a veteran of the U.S. Navy — thank you so much for your service. You’ve shared on Instagram that serving wasn’t your first choice, but that it was the best choice for you. Is it a path you’d recommend for young people?

Derrick: It worked for me because as a teenager, I got into a little bit of trouble. But I think that helped a lot with structure and focus and moving past obstacles, you know? It helped me a lot. It’s not for everyone. But it can help with things like paying for college — it paid for my design degree. 

Nugget: In 2019, an industry survey showed only 3% of graphic designs were Black. By 2021, that number had grown to 4.9%, but Black designers are still vastly underrepresented in the industry. They’re 12.6% of the overall labor workforce. What’s holding people back?

Derrick: Sometimes there's not a lot of support from parents to children of minorities trying to get into design and art. Luckily my family was very supportive, but I know that can be a barrier.

Collage of various artistic projects that Derrick has worked on

Nugget: What have you found are helpful tools for getting your son thinking creatively and using his imagination? 

Derrick: We just let him create. I do give him some pointers in drawing, but I just haven't sat down and really structured it out. I've talked to my wife about whether I should start teaching him. And she says, well, we want him to find his own creativity. 

He loves Legos. He loves to build. He loves to just sit down and draw, and we let him do that. If you see a couple of pen marks on the walls, that's him. We try not to get too upset about it. We say, “Hey, man, you're drawing on the walls, dude.” But it's all good. You know? Anything for him.

Nugget: There’s a lot of his art and drawings hanging up on the walls here in your home. Does he use your professional art supplies?

Derrick: (laughs) I gotta take him to the art store. Because now he’s found my mechanical pencils and stuff. He’s using them! And he’s just like — whoa. I want my own stuff now. (Laughs) I’m like, this stuff costs money! 

Nugget: What creativity tools are available now for your son that you wished you’d had as a kid?

Derrick: There’s a thing on YouTube with a father and son who draw together. Derrick Jr. was like, “Dad, I want you to watch this YouTube video with me.” And I was like — oh, you want me to draw with you? Okay! I love that there’s stuff out there for him. At his age, I didn’t really know how to use the computer. He’s just very resourceful as a kid.

A collage of various logos that Derrick has created

Nugget: What does celebrating Black creativity mean to you? How do you do that with your son?

Derrick:  To me, I think it's just all wrapped up in fatherhood. The creativity, teaching him things — I just try to give him what I didn't have. That's it. It's simple, you know? That father role, that relationship. For me, I grew up as a creative. I did have some guidance with my family, but, you know, with an absent father? That's tough. If my son doesn’t have to do that, if he could just go straight out of the gate and say, hey, I wanna be a creative, great. Or even take over for his old man one day? I love that.

An interpretation of T'Challa (Black Panther) created by Derrick

Lightning Round: Nugget Style

Derrick’s dream build: A fort! “I’m pretty sure we’ll build a fort and get under it and probably watch some cartoons or a movie.”

Derrick’s ideal Nugget pairing: Coco and Brightside. Yes please to this cheerful combo!

What Derrick’s son thinks of the Nugget: “He immediately jumped into building as soon as we unwrapped it. He loves to build. This thing isn’t going anywhere.”

Collage of various logos that Derrick has created