If you’ve shopped at Honest Weight Food Co-op (HWFC) in the last few years, you’ve probably noticed the unique chalk signs advertising products at the ends of the grocery aisles. The man behind the artwork is Derrick Forget, a 41-year-old Capital District native who has attained some measure of fame and accolades for his various forms of artistry (music, drawing, painting, and leatherwork, among others).
Expressions of Derrick’s gratitude and appreciation for family, community, values and ideals (closely aligned with those of the Co-op), and the HWFC itself consistently peppered our hour-long discussion in preparation for this article. I came away thinking that Derrick could easily be HWFC’s poster child (albeit, a nearly middle-aged one), but get to know him here and decide for yourself…
Derrick’s Early Life
Derrick doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t drawing and “making noise” musically. With great affection and gratitude, Derrick recalls one Christmas when his mom took on extra work to buy him his heart’s desire—a bass guitar. “My folks were always encouraging; they cheered me on and didn’t put a ceiling on anything.” His dad (who used to do electrical work for the HWFC’s Central Avenue store) once gutted Derrick’s Star Wars toys and installed “cool, little lights where there were supposed to be jets on the spacecraft.” Early experiences like these inspired and encouraged Derrick to follow both his creative instincts and his dreams. To this day, Derrick plays bass guitar and enjoys taking things apart and seeing how they work.
When asked what inspires his artistic expression, Derrick primarily credits “necessity.” One day, as a high school student at Christian Brothers Academy, Derrick arrived unprepared for a routine inspection (including a requirement that hair be cut above the ears) and made a beeline for a pair of scissors in the school’s art room. Not only did Derrick pass inspection, but he became sought after by classmates for haircuts. “This is kind of how everything works,” he says, “people ask [me to do something], and I try. And that’s turned into a couple of careers, including music.”
In addition to necessity, Derrick is fueled by challenges. While studying at the University at Albany, a professor noted Derrick’s talent in a wide variety of artistic expressions except painting. In response, Derrick changed his major to include a concentration in oil painting and graduated with “really good grades.” After graduation, when a friend expressed doubt in Derrick’s musical potential, he packed his bags and moved to Los Angeles to pursue what would become a successful career in music.
Derrick describes his college-era work at a kids’ camp based in Warrensburg as positive and formative. His inherent musical talent and outdoorsy skills gained during years as a Boy Scout served the camp well; eventually, for Derrick, this early camp experience would bolster his qualifications for a coveted teaching job.
Derrick’s Early Career
For several years, Derrick toured worldwide with successful rock bands as a bass guitarist and backup singer, most notably with the band TSAR, which was featured in a 2005 Rolling Stone Magazine article. Derrick also appeared in a few films, most notably the short film, The Green Room (2006). He also voiced the character Dallas for the 2009 video game, “inFAMOUS.” While Derrick enjoyed performing and the perks of fame, he found the lifestyle largely at odds with feeling content and fulfilled personally and with maintaining good relationships with family and friends.
While performing musically, Derrick was thankful to have witnessed a friend and fellow musician who seemed grounded and happy pursuing a teaching career. “When you see the emotional return on an investment of your time to something that’s doing good in the world and you see how your heart’s full all the time, you go, ‘Okay, I should probably do that.’” About that time, Derrick again worked for the same Warrensburg camp he had worked for during college. Over the course of a six-week camp he learned how to produce music and made a 10-song record with the camp kids. “It wasn’t easy,” he says. “It stretched me so much as a human being. I loved it. It made me decide to go into teaching.”
Derrick’s musician/teacher friend soon recommended he apply for a teaching position in music at a school for learning disabled kids. Derrick’s experience as a professional musician, his experience working at the kids’ camp, and his personal experience with a learning disability (ocular convergence insufficiency, which he describes as making reading challenging but facilitating artistic expression) made this teaching job a particularly good fit. Following this early teaching experience, Derrick later headed a music program at a private high school, teaching music theory and recording arts.
While Derrick was “having a blast” teaching music on the west coast, his childhood Boy Scout and professional musician experience qualified him to lead cross-country summertime backpacking trips to supplement his income. Derrick speaks fondly of leading small teams of young campers and their counselors through State Parks across the country—camping, hiking, white water rafting, rappelling off stone faces, climbing mountains, and scaling Yosemite Falls (the tallest waterfall on the continent). As one of these trips ended on the east coast, Derrick sensed how much he missed the change of seasons here in the northeast and the company of his family and friends. So, Derrick decided to stay.
Though he was concerned about the job market here in Albany at the time, opportunities quickly presented themselves. First, long-time friends offered him a part-time bartending job at Junior’s on Madison Avenue (you can still find Derrick at Junior’s bartending most Thursday and Friday nights and performing live music some Wednesday nights), providing private music lessons at a music school, and later playing solo acoustic gigs. Former HWFC member and college classmate Sondra Sweeney soon encouraged Derrick to fill the HWFC’s need for a chalk artist.
Since his return to the Capital District nearly four years ago, Derrick has been pursuing a variety of creative and rewarding endeavors—painting, drawing, leatherwork, designing logos, and more. Derrick limits his artistic expression to things he’s interested in. “I wouldn’t want to make weapons, but if it’s art or music or functional cool fashion, yes. I like making things look cool, I like design, I like making things functional and taking stuff apart and putting it back together.”
Derrick’s Chalk Ads
Through his artwork, Derrick continues to meet those “necessities” that both reveal themselves to him through requests from others and speak to his desire to do good things. Thankfully for HWFC, Derrick’s work at the Coop falls into both of these categories.
Derrick’s first thought as HWFC’s potential resident chalk artist was, “You’re going to give me a discount in exchange for drawing? I am on board!” Since joining our Co-op nearly four years ago, he has come to deeply appreciate the Coop’s mission and the food and products available at the store. “I like [working for the Coop] because I know I’m doing something good. I’m promoting [food and products] that are locally sourced [that] help our community financially. With Honest Weight, I do it because I believe in it.”
Derrick regularly receives emails from the Co-op indicating the 8-16 products to be advertised on the chalk signs each week; the products themselves provide the “necessity” that fuels his artistic expression. Derrick enjoys incorporating puns, jokes, riddles or double (even triple) entendres “to make people think or laugh or stick around and talk about things.” Derrick says his favorite work “mixes base humor with something intelligent and bridges generational gaps so parents and kids alike can talk about it…I don’t consider the chalk signs work; it’s actually really fun for me.”
Derrick’s inquisitive nature and love of reading and popular culture are evident in his signs. He says he draws inspiration from anything. His mom’s affection for Dom DeLuise’s comedy and cookbooks provided inspiration for a pasta ad. The Godfather movies are a popular inspiration for Derrick’s Italian-themed chalk ads—like “make them a pasta they can’t refuse,” accompanied by a sketch of iconic actor Marlon Brando. In advertising products, Derrick notes that he “likes to use the powers for good and not evil.” He says, “If you’re asking me to hawk sodas or something that could eat the rust off your car battery, [I’m not interested]. But if it’s Zevia®, I’m into that. I can’t use that stuff to clean my sinks and toilets; it’s not corrosive and terrible. I can drink it though, and it’s delicious.”
Derrick’s chalk art reveals a little something for everyone. His awareness of popular culture, humor, and seemingly effortless artistic rendition of nearly everyone and everything bring a little something special to HWFC. Take a close look at some of his in-store chalk work and you’ll find references to lots of popular culture figures—The Muppets balcony hecklers Statler and Waldorf; Seinfeld’s Newman, featured with actor Paul Newman as Jerry Seinfeld exclaims “Newmans!”; The Monkeys’ “Wake Up Sleepy Jean” to advertise coffee; The Hardy Boys for hearty soup; Snoop Dogg for kettle corn (diversity fo shizzle); Detective Sergeant Joe Friday asking for “Just the Juice, Ma’am,” rather than the facts; Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta circa Grease, belting out “Summer Snackin’…had me a blast,” instead of “summer lovin’;” Welcome Back Kotter characters for school supplies; Mick Jagger belting out “Stock Me Up” instead of “Start Me Up”…the list is endless and entertaining.
Derrick posts pictures of his Coop chalk signs on Instagram and Facebook. Some of his followers now include Coop suppliers (Annie’s®, Food Should Taste Good™, Zevia®, Honest Tea®, and TERRA® Chips…to name a few). Derrick’s work has also drawn the attention of chalk manufacturers who sometimes offer their products. If you shop HWFC on Thursday or Friday mornings, you might see Derrick in action creating the chalk ads.
Favorite Co-op Products
Derrick’s favorite HWFC product by far is Chandrika® Ayurvedic Soap.
“When I returned from California, I was happy to find [that] same soap at the Coop.” He says finding his favorite soaps at HWFC are what made him decide to start shopping here for other things. “The co-op has everything I need—organic fruits and vegetables, organic everything, ethically treated meat. I know it can be unpopular, but I’m an omnivore; and I’ve got to know it’s grass fed, free range, ethically treated. I understand and respect the cycle of life, and I believe in the Native American tradition of using all parts of a [sacrificed] animal. This is one of the reasons I try to [re]purpose leatherworks; it’s part of the process.”
Derrick is particularly fond of dogs and enjoys treating his puppy Maybell (named after the Chuck Berry song Maybelline but spelled differently, as Derrick is wont to do with his own name) to “cool stuff she can play with or eat.” Of Maybell’s name, Derrick says, “I like to complicate my dog’s life as much as mine. My parents gave me the middle name Algernon and that complicated my life but also prepared me for being an artist. Life is always difficult, but in a good way—I like it.”
Derrick’s Goals as an Artist
When asked where he’d like his artistic expression to lead, Derrick replied, “to happiness, to helping people, to knowing that I’m doing something good and people are benefiting from it—not financially, but emotionally. I want people to feel good from what I’m doing.”
“The co-op thing, I enjoy doing. At the end of the day, your legacy isn’t some digital print out of how much money you made in your lifetime. It’s your impact on people—positive or negative. People [often] ask me to paint [something], and sometimes I say ‘no’ if I don’t think it’s cool. I’m happy to paint portraits of dogs because I like dogs and they make people happy.”
Today, Derrick seems mostly content. “Nothing makes me happier than knowing that what I do—[drawing, making leatherwork, playing music, etc.]…fits into some kind of puzzle of positivity.”
“It Takes a Village”
While Derrick expresses gratitude for his ability to contribute in positive ways today, he also consistently acknowledges the support of others throughout his life, most notably his mom, Christine. “I was a difficult child,” Derrick admits. Through both good and challenging times, Derrick describes his mom as “a rock star”—consistently and demonstrably supportive, never wavering. In one especially fond recollection, Derrick describes playing a gig with his band TSAR in New York City to a crowd of several hundred. As the fog machine wound down and Derrick’s surroundings became more visible from the stage, he was thrilled and surprised to find his mom in attendance, “smiling like I’d never seen in my life. That was when I knew she got [my love for music and performing].” To this day, he says, “I feel 13 or 14 every time I interact with her. She is my rock.”
Of people like his college friend Sondra, who led him to HWFC, and the friends who first offered him bartending and music gigs upon his return to the Capital District, Derrick says, “I owe [them] so many thanks because I haven’t always recognized my talent as beneficial.” He recalls feeling like a “notorious waste of talent…goofing off, then drawing something at the last minute and getting good grades [in school]” or getting last-minute gigs or jobs through friends and acquaintances to support himself as a young adult. Derrick is especially grateful for influences that continue to help direct his talent in positive, community-based ways. “Sometimes I volunteer my time if it’s a function I believe in. I still do music and art, but it’s got to be directed toward something good, something positive, something communal, something I believe in.”
Derrick’s heart, cooperative spirit, and sense of duty to community and the world are at least as big as his talent—and that’s saying something. In a few minutes exploring Derrick’s social media accounts, I found lots of proof of Derrick’s do-gooding—including helping a lost dog in Washington Square Park find its owner. For me, it was a pleasure getting to know Derrick. (And, by the way, not that Derrick asked, but maybe someone at HWFC can hook him up with one of those fair trade handmade hats—he’d love one in his favorite color, chartreuse, and that’d be really nice.)
More Information on Derrick’s Music and Visual Arts
The best places to find information on Derrick’s occasional local musical performances are his Facebook pages—“Derrick Forget musician” or “Derrick Forget.” Derrick is happy to friend anyone who is interested in following him. Samples of his music are available on Sound Cloud.
Visit Derrick’s Instagram account— “theartistalgernon” to see examples of Derrick’s chalk work from the Co-op, his leatherwork, and other artistry…as well as more personal expressions like his love for dogs and stand-up comedy.
Anyone interested in hiring Derrick (painting, leatherwork, logos, etc.) can contact him at theartistalgernon AT gmail.com. When Derrick’s schedule doesn’t allow him to take certain jobs or when a better fit is available within his network of artist friends, Derrick is happy to make referrals.
My sincere thanks to Derrick for his time and candor and for making this article possible!
This article is the first in a series of profile pieces to be featured in The Voice. Look for Stephanie’s upcoming profiles on Plant-Department-turned-Cheese-Department Manager Linda Donegan, and on Chief Cooperative Officer Rick Mausert.