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Meet Derek McDonald of Golden West Sign Arts. When Derek isn’t busy playing music with his band the Melancholy Babies, you can find him hand-lettering and pinstriping for Disneyland, or making hand painted signs in his small desert town of Yucca Valley, California.

As the sole sign painter & shop owner of Golden West Sign Arts, Derek prides himself on working with only traditional sign painting techniques, just as a sign shop would have operated 50 or more years ago: utilising paint, brushes and pencils, instead of opting for computers that played a major role in the death of this once blue collar profession. Derek's skill and passion for his craft has led him to work at the original Disneyland in Anaheim, CA within their department that maintains the look of the entire park, hand lettering and doing artwork on a number of different signs and rides around the iconic theme park that are seen by millions of eyes per year.

Derek's other creative outlet is music, with him being the drummer in The Melancholy Babies, a three piece swing/jazz band that plays traditional American standards from the turn of the century to the 1930s. With his love for tradition, combined with his passion for music, we thought who better to invite to create the next Surfa Sam playlist.


Where are you based
I live in the Mojave Desert in a small town called Yucca Valley just minutes from the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. Clean air and open space.

At what age did you paint your first sign
I was in my twenties. I’d say 24 or 25.

What inspired you to pick up a brush and letter your first sign
I was interested in pinstriping from being around old cars and car shows and then I saw the work of a local sign painter in Oakland California, where I was living at the time. His name was Jimmie The Saint. I saw his lettering on some windows and right then and there I was hooked.

How long have you been painting for
If you count the really clunky beginning times of pinstriping on the top of my vcr and whatever else I could grab and practice on, it’s been 17 years now.

Who are some of your favourite sign painters current or from the past
Current favs are Mike Meyer out of Iowa for his confidence, speed and go getter abilities (we get along great!). Gary Martin in Austin Texas because his designs and colors are unparalleled, Pierre Tardif in Canada for his era correct old school design sense. My favorite non living sign painter of all time is EC Mathews.

Where can we see your lettering the next time we visit Disneyland
I specifically do lettering on anything that moves, trains, boats, submarines, pretzel carts etc. (that’s what my specific shop deals in). I love the popcorn cart I got to do in Fantasyland, it has tons of hand lettering and gold leaf. The gold leaf signs on the horse drawn street trolleys are pretty special. We paint them exactly how they looked in the 1950s. There’s a picture of Walt Disney standing right by one in the 50s and if you look at them today they look the same. Lots of loving detail work on those!

What advice would you give to anyone looking to ditch the computer and pick up a brush
You know, the computer is a great tool. I personally don’t own or use them. I love my smartphone though! Haha! I’m not in denial that technology is useful. But a sign painter that works a sign project from beginning to end with just pencils and brushes will definitely get a special feel and look to their work. Just really focus on the fundamentals of sign painting. Base your work on the fundamentals in layout, lettering and brushwork and you can go anywhere with it.

What have been some of your favourite projects to work on
I love to work on anything related to history, restoration or preservation. I got to restore the original neon sign can for the iconic Los Angeles hot dog stand called Tail O The Pup. I love projects like that. It’s not easy picking a specific highlight, I’m just a little guy doing little things for small business. I’m not a big shot doing big fancy jobs or anything. So I guess my joy is that I get trusted to design things how I please and I get to contribute to other people’s dreams in enhancing the look and feel of something for them, whether it’s their storefront or their old pickup truck or whatever. I can say I’m happy making signs out in the Desert for smaller communities. I used to operate in a big dense urban metropolis and that was really a great experience for a time. Now I love the idea of doing signs out in rural southwest America, small desert towns, Route 66 etc.

What is your favourite song from the playlist
My favorite is the 1928 recording of Basin Street Blues by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five. It’s been a favorite of mine for half my life now. It really gets me every time.

What are your three desert island songs
Rambling Man by Hank Williams, Basin Street Blues by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, Waiting For A Train by Jimmie Rodgers.

Favourite place to dig for records
I only really collect 78rpm records these days, so mostly 1920s - 1950s music. My favorite is a place called Keynote Books in South Lake Tahoe. They have lots of 78rpm records in complete disarray. If it’s a record store that has all 78 rpm’s organized by genre and all tidy and clean I probably won’t go haha!

To view more of Dereks work visit or follow him here