John Derry: Creates tools for digital artists

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By Amy Finn, Contributor

Art isn’t always about painting a picture or drawing something. UNO alumnus, Mike Derry believes sometimes art isn’t even about the end result; it’s about getting started in the first place.

Derry works in Photoshop to create the tools that make photos mimic paintings.

“I was always the scatter-brained artist type,” he said. “Even from a young age.”

Derry began as an art major at UNO, where he studied painting.  After he graduated, he began working on a program called “Painter”. That was the beginning of his career in Photoshop. The program, which was one of the first of its kind, began when computers first became popular, Derry said.

After he took computer programming classes, Derry quickly learned the technical side was not something that interested him. He moved to a more creative aspect of working with technology. Instead of formatting programs and making codes, Derry worked toward creating a program that would turn pictures into paintings. Because he was familiar with the tools artists use, he was able to approach the program in a different way than programmers had before.

“Once I got that hook in me, I knew I would never be able to be a satisfied tool user, I also wanted to make tools,” Derry said.

Painter, the program he went on to create for Fractal Design in Santa Cruz, Calif.; was then sold to a new company located in Canada. The sale felt like sending his ‘kid to college’, he said.

When Derry left the program, he came back to Omaha and worked on similar tasks creating tools for Photoshop. Derry continues to work in his own studio in his basement, where, he said, he’s quite content.

“I love my job,” he said.

He smiled as he worked his way through the tools he’d created, carefully explaining each one’s purpose. But then he swiveled his chair and paused in what seemed to be a hesitant manner.

“Making tools is great, but my favorite thing about my job is making an artists’ job easier,” Derry said. “Knowing that I’m a big part of everyone’s work is a great feeling.”

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