Being Dad: Donald Robertson

Even if you don’t know Donald Robertson by name, chances are, you own a beauty product he helped to make. Or maybe you know of his whimsical illustrations, under his pen name, Drawbertson – adored by the likes of Beyoncé and Pharrell Williams, no less.

Donald’s story is pretty amazing – the art school dropout began his career working for a fledgling cosmetics company – that became MAC. There, he helped build the brand and create the Viva Glam campaign, which has made MAC the largest non-pharmaceutical donator to HIV/AIDS causes. From there, he went on to work at Condé Nast and Estée Lauder. A few years ago, he started uploading his sketches to a little app called Instagram, and now receives commissions from magazines, designers and celebrities all over the world. Oh, and did we mention he has five kids?

“I live in a busy, busy house. There are five kids – I have a twenty-year-old daughter, a seventeen-year-old son, an eleven-year-old… and then accident twins, who are two. They threw the whole balance out. It’s been crazy.”

DonaldRobertson-thetot-full-size
A peak into Donald’s colorful world.

“I had never really thought about having kids that much, to be honest. I spent the first half of my life trying not to get pregnant, and then the rest… it’s just a write-off. You’d think that the older kids would help us out with the twins, but they don’t. That’s a fairytale. It’s nice when everyone is together, but it’s not like The Waltons where you’re handing the youngest to the oldest.”

“The most surprising thing about having kids is that they have really good ideas that you can steal. I had no idea they were such great sources of material. The fact that they’ve become a resource has been a huge surprise. I thought they’d be a drain! I mean, I’m old, so I rely on them to tell me about cool, young people things. A few years ago, I was on my Blackberry, just happy as a clam on my Blackberry. They were like, ‘Dad.’ So they convinced me to get an iPhone and sign up for Instagram. Any success I have had with this, they’re responsible for it. My daughter will be like, ‘I love that FKA Twigs.’ So I Google her, I do a little sketch and upload to Instagram, and seconds later, FKA Twigs has regrammed it and I look like the coolest person ever. And I have it built in for years, because the twins are so young. College to cribs, I know it all.”

“When I first found out I was going to be a Dad, I just thought it was so bizarre. I had to literally say to myself, ‘It’s OK. You’re old enough. You’re married, you have a job, it’s OK.’ I had that thought of, like, ‘Oh God, we’re going to be so busted.’ Then I remembered, ‘No, we’re grown-ups. This is perfectly acceptable.’”

“The thing that has changed in the past twenty years of parenting is that the screens have multiplied. With the first one, it was VHS tapes. With the second one, we had PS3 consoles with wi-fi consoles so you can play against a kid in Germany. The third one, he has to have his phone and laptop on while he’s watching TV. The babies? I don’t know what’s going to happen. Apparently the next thing is five screens. What does that even mean? It’s the evolution of the screen pile-on. I blame Steve Jobs.”

“I get inspiration everywhere. When you start to look, it’s all around you. I came up with an idea for my children’s book because of Anna Wintour. I worked at Condé Nast for the first half of my career – I rode the elevator, I knew the magazine world. As that world became kinda shaky, I realised I had to split, so I went to Estée Lauder. But I was still very immersed in the world of magazines, and still interested in it. So when The Devil Wears Prada came out, and everyone was talking about how Anna Wintour’s assistant had written it, I thought, ‘Who are they going to get to assist that woman now?’ I thought, it’ll have to be, like, a giraffe or something. Like a silent giraffe, someone who just couldn’t speak, wouldn’t speak. I started sketching this very fashionable giraffe and it became this idea I couldn’t let go of. I had to think of the most fashion-y name possible, which was Mitford. I came up with this whole back story about how Mitford, the incredibly stylish giraffe, had been Stella Tennant’s pet as a child. Next thing you know, I’m standing in Colette signing Mitford at the Fashion Zoo. I just handed in the second book, which is about Mitford moving to Hollywood.”

“I’m always sketching. I work quite quickly, I don’t like labouring over things for too long. But I have a lot to pack into a day, so I’m up at 4am. Right now, I’m working on a new makeup line, so I’ll start working on that and send it off for approvals to New York, because they’re already awake at that stage. Then I’ll do all my groovy collaborations, my art commissions, that sort of thing. I work out, and then I go to my actual day job. I’m working with GlamGlow at the moment and so I head over there and I put in a corporate day. At night, I get home and we rally, compare notes, eat dinner and go to bed so I can do it all again. I’m sketching throughout the day, of course, and posting to Instagram. Coffee and wine help me through. My day goes: coffee, coffee, coffee, then wine, wine, wine. If you saw my day as a graph, it would be mugs, mugs, mugs, followed by glasses, glasses, glasses.”

“My wife, Kim Gieske, and I love to plot our kids’ futures. We go out to dinner quite a bit – the upside of having twins is that you don’t feel bad leaving them to go out, because they have each other – and just plot where the kids are going to school, what they’ll do next, how to make money out of their talents, basically. Kim is really creative – she’s an interior designer and a writer. We met at Condé Nast when she worked at Martha Stewart Living and then Glamour. We bounce off each other really well, but she’s very different to me. Kim is a hardcore minimalist, and I create a ton of work. You can imagine how much she loves that. When we moved to LA, we got a house that has a smaller house at the back. So that’s my studio, and it’s crammed with stuff like a hoarder, and she has her beautiful house up front with nothing in it. It’s a good solution. Before, in New York, we’d go to friends’ houses for dinner and I’d see one of my paintings and I’d be like, ‘What? Where did you get that?’ They’d say, ‘Oh, Kim gave it to us. She said you wouldn’t mind. She’s so generous.’ I’m like, ‘She’s not generous! She’s throwing my stuff away!’”

“My kids have varied opinions of my work. My eleven-year-old thinks I stink. He thinks my work is really loose, really messy. He feels sorry for me because he thinks I want to do anime, something much more precise. He really thinks I’m kinda sad. But you know, my kid might not be into it, but Beyoncé likes my stuff. I do these pop-ups at Bergdorf Goodman sometimes and I did one and Beyoncé’s stylist turned up and bought a bunch of stuff. She took it back, gave it to Beyoncé, and the next morning, she’s taken a photo of the work and posted it to Instagram. I thought, ‘Oh, someone must have Photoshopped Beyoncé into this picture of my work and somehow posted it on her Instagram.’ I thought that was a more logical explanation than just the fact that Beyoncé posted it herself. It was surreal, completely crazy. So my son who thinks I stink… well, I do like to remind him about that.”

To see more of Donald’s work, go to donaldrobertson.com, and follow him on Instagram at @drawbertson.