Aaron James Draplin, Graphic Artist
If you go to the Draplin Design Co. “About” page, you will find a beautifully written recap of Aaron Draplin’s career thus far. It’s so well done, I decided to share some of it with you here; there is absolutely no way I could introduce him better:
“Bred from the loins of the proud Midwest, this little fucker was squeezed out in Detroit, in the year 1973 to the proud parents of Jim and Lauren Draplin. Growing up on a steady stream of Legos, Star Wars, family trips, little sisters, summer beach fun, stitches, fall foliage, drawing, skateboarding and snowboarding, at 19 he moved west to Bend, Oregon to hit jumps “Out West.” His career started with a snowboard graphic for Solid snowboards and took off like wildfire soon after. Everything from lettering cafe signs to drawing up logos to thinking up local advertising campaigns were manhandled under the ruse of the newly formed-and gigantically reckless-Draplindustries Design Co.”
Aaron has proved to be an exceptional designer, creating iconic designs which are both exceptionally clean and timeless. Aaron has worked with great brands like Nike, Ride Snowboards, Forum Snowboards, Grenade Gloves, Field Notes memo books, Burton Snowboards, K2 Snowboards, Bonfire, Snowboarder Magazine as well as all sorts of one-off logos, t-shirt graphics and whatnot.
But what I admire most about Aaron’s work is his thoughtful approach to any project. What makes his work unparalleled is the application and functionality of the design. You can tell each project in which Aaron participates truly becomes a part of who he is.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
A Lego set designer! I remember that being my first love. Of all the cool shit I had as a kid, from Star Wars toys to G.I. Joe guys, I kept all my Legos. I have a monster collection of them. Plus, I grew up drawing and sketching and making stuff, so I think I always took kindly to the idea of being an artist.
When I got out of college, I could have gone down a fine art road. I know I could have made it. That sounds pretty boast-y, but hell, if you put yer mind to something, you can figure it out. There was just something pragmatic and beautiful about graphic design. Like, you could actually make a good living on it, instead of suffering away with all the artistic pitfalls. I liked the “learning a trade” quality of design from the get go.
How did you get to where you are today?
A 2011 Volvo XC70 Supercruiser Station Wagon. That’s the technical answer.
The long-winded one goes like this: I worked my ass off, didn’t take “no” for an answer and did whatever the hell it took to learn to love this stuff like I do. It’s been a wild road. I knew what I wanted to do all along. In the mid 1990s, I was held down by that persnickety shit called “money.” I didn’t have a pot to piss in, but did have a season pass to Mt. Bachelor. And pens and pencils. And a house full of rotgut buddies who had my back.
I had to fight, claw and save my loot to get my first computer. I saw friends getting big machines and cameras and shit, and I had to wait. That sucked. I snuck into a community college to make my little business cards and stuff. Then in the summer of 1996 I went to Alaska and washed dishes for five months and saved $10,000 over the course of the summer, and promptly spent ALL of it on my first Apple. And man, that’s when shit took off. I had the tools I needed, and no one was gonna hold me down!
What is your process like?
It can start with a sketch or a couple shapes in Illustrator. I usually start with broad ideas in my Field Notes, and outline different directions, strategies or make list of shit I don’t want the thing to do. And hell, that shit’ll come to me while sitting in traffic or on the pot. Weird times. But you gotta act on it and write the shit down. My Field Notes are ALWAYS close. So is a pencil. Required gear.
Once I have some sketches, I’ll start digitizing the stuff, and then will push those. I keep track of everything I make, and dupe each variation, refining as I go. I like seeing where I started and what I invented along the way, or, blindly stumbled into. That’s kinda magical.
And hell, some elbow grease is always applied. Both when I’m on the clock for the folks in the big leagues, or for my buddies in some stinky rock band. I love both ends of the spectrum and fight hard to make cool shit, always.
Plus, I like to get the client involved. Fuck all the standoff-ish, “This is my creative endeavor and you better pick one” stuff. Work with people. Let them guide you as much as you guide them. That makes for ownership from all sides, you know? Designers are so good at bitching about changes, and how many hours they had to work, and all that shit. Whatever. Spend a summer trimming trees for a rural electricity company, and you’ll never lament another client change, ever. I don’t miss those bald-faced hornets that use to come after me.
Do you ever have a problem with creativity and not being able to turn it off. For example, not being able to fall asleep because the ideas are streaming?
I keep sharpened pencils close by the bedside, and bring my latest Field Notes up with me when I crash. It’s pretty commonplace for me to be dozing off, get to thinkin’ about something and then feel this weird itch to write it down. So I’ve trained myself to act on it. Sometimes, it’s my best shit. Kinda weird how that works. There’s like, this weird vulnerability lifted when you are falling asleep. All the guards are down. That’s a cool thing. Plus, I do that “flinch” thing, dreaming about walking off curbs or slipping or whatever. Sleep is a weird fucking thing.
What is something you had to learn the hard way?
It’s a pretty long list!
Don’t let your driver’s license expire. Especially in New Hampshire, those dicks!
Don’t speed in Wyoming. Those fucks make you pay on the spot.
The bigger the client, not necessarily better.
Sometimes a budget of “$0.00” is the way to go!
Always check yer “Overprinting” attributes. It’s easy to lose stuff that way.
It takes cash to make some of the dreams come true.
Don’t do a bad job. That’s bad advertising.
Say “yes” a little more than “no.”
What is one thing most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’d like to think it’s something simple like, “The guy second guesses himself a lot.” I do. I’m always questioning if I am making the right decision on something. I like to think that helps me make the best, most-informed decision. But I can drive myself nuts in the process.
This is a scary question. I mean, who knows what people really think, you know? And hell, who cares. You just gotta keep going. Stay away from “Comment” sections on blogs. That shit’ll wreck you. Ha!
Words to live by?
Syrup on shit doesn’t make it a pancake.
How do you think we can make the world a better place?
Donate some money to a homeless charity.
Make sure your parents are comfortable.
Talk to yer neighbor.
Don’t be afraid to go out of the way for someone.
Don’t be a dick, but know when to be one.
Aaron James Draplin:
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