In the Studio with Derek McDonald of Golden West Sign Arts

Derek McDonald of Golden West Signs Arts has been hand painting signs all over our high desert community for the past four years. Before we opened our Desert Market, Derek was on our wish list of local people that we hoped would help us create the look of our shop. Over the past few months Derek has been painting our exterior signage, in store showcards and even shop fixtures. Derek's work adds the extra layer of detail to a space that makes it feel special and we love the nostalgic quality of his work. We are so honored to have so much of his artwork in the store, so we were excited to get to know him a little bit more. He is a true desert rat!
Derek of Golden West Sign Arts
Derek of Golden West Sign Arts

How long have you been a sign painter?  

I’d say 17 or 18 years ago is when I started learning.  I’ve been supporting myself full time as a sign painter for 15 years now.

How did you get into it? 

I was interested in pinstriping on old cars fist but also noticed sometimes the pinstriped would add a name in script or something on a custom car or motorcycle tank…it intrigued me! Then I saw some hand painted sign work by a local old timer name Jimmie The Saint and my mind was blown.  All of that combined with the love I’ve always had for learning about history and my growing interest in vintage style and design got me going.

Are you self taught or did you learn from anyone?  

I’m mostly self taught/book taught.  I learned a lot of important things from a friend who became a mentor for a while.  He went to sign painting trade school in the late 70s or early 80s so there were some great things he was able to pass along to me.

You just finished working for Disney for the past 4 years. Tell us about what a typical day was like working for Disney?  

I would start at 5am.  I worked primarily inside a shop environment as opposed to being out in the park itself.  Most things I worked on were signs, graphics and lettering on ride vehicles and even popcorn carts and things like that.  So a typical day could be me starting off by lettering the name on a Pirate’s of the Caribbean boat first thing in the morning, which only would take about an hour, and then spending the rest of the day maybe lettering and pinstriping a Thunder Mountain Locomotive (those usually took me 9 to 10 days).  I loved it there and I loved my coworkers.  It’s an experience I’ll cherish forever.

Your family history goes deep into the desert - tell us a bit about your connection to the desert. 

My great grandpa Clyde hurt himself while working as a ranch hand in the Ventura hills.  He suffered nerve damage so to relieve his pain a doctor recommended he move to the Mojave desert for the dry climate.  He did so in the late 40s.  He lived there until he died with my great uncle Bill in a little pieced together homestead house on a dirt road.  I loved going there as a kid and hearing his stories.  My Uncle Larry has lived in the Mojave nearly his whole life and I grew up in semi rural high desert Nevada where my immediate family still is.  So I guess we like it high and dry!

I love following your instagram because you not only post your work, but you also share desert history, great music and your camping travels. History is so linked to what you do, and I know you have a pretty large vintage magazine and ephemeral collection. What is inspiring you the most lately?  

I love collecting  anything that will inspire my own layouts and designs.  I guess my focus is kinda 1930s-1950s art deco to mid century.  But I’m so into the mid century take on the Wild West.  I think where we are here in this part of the world has so much to do with that.  This area was coming to life in the late 40s to the 60s so there was tons of western theming but with that mid century flare.  It’s a combo I can’t get enough of.  Matchbooks, coasters, placemats, casino souvenirs, travel/vacation souvenirs, old water slide decals…there’s just so many little things with great design and lettering that inspire me!

You are also a musician too. What type of music do you play, and how long have you been playing?  

I started playing drums when I was 10…so 32 years!

Where can we see you play? 

The Copper Room every other Tuesday with my little early jazzy/swing trio the Melancholy Babies

What is your ideal sign project to work on?  

I love the variety BUT if a shop opened up here in the high desert that wanted me to just go crazy with the mid century/western stuff I’d be thrilled.  Like a cafe, or a cool vintage shop.  If they just said, design it all, use whatever colors you want, go wild…windows, walls, sidewalk sign, interior signs and ever updating sales and promotions with temporary posters (showcards). 

Are you open for commissions? Where is the best place people can find you or contact you?  

I’m always taking jobs!  There’s a bit of a wait but yes!  Instagram or  I travel all over!

Do you have any upcoming news or recent projects you want to share?  

Just happy to be painting!  Always looking for new places to go, historic places to help restore or recreate.  Have brush, will travel!


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