Get on the Tour, An Interview with Aaron James Draplin

As I headed into the studio of Aaron Draplin, I really had no idea what to expect. You see I missed the two back to back Creative Mornings he spoke at earlier this year, which people are still talking about. Sure I know the guy is a big deal and all, but why all the hype about Aaron James Draplin?  Why do so many people love this guy? I can now attest, it’s not just the work that makes him special. However, his work is mighty awesome, with a style that’s simple, bold and somewhat nostalgic. For me though, it was his sincerity and the way he spoke with conviction about design. It was heartfelt and suddenly clear to me why he has a way of pushing so many inspirational buttons!

I have to say, when I first saw the Design Week Portland video by Paul Searle, with Draplin casually saying, “Fuck I’ll be in Buffalo”, I yelled WTF?! Yet another fine quality… fucking joker. Look even writing about him makes me want to drop f bombs….check out his @draplin sometime, you’ll see what I mean.

Aaron has a great studio, it’s like walking into a curiosity store filled with ephemeron. Hell he gave me a nail file, some field notes, a toothbrush and a guide to fang hygiene!  There were drawers filled with odds and ends, collections and assortments of just cool things, plus neatly stocked shelves piled with t-shirts and Field Notes! I LOVED it…and my toothbrush, or “cuspid cleaner”.

We had a pretty casual talk. He worked on a sweet logo design for his little sister’s Etsy store, we talked about music, family, his new heavy metal inspired “TOUR T-shirt, (which WeMake is proudly featured on), and how he would rather work everyday in his underwear if he could. He also played a little acoustic then I was a Draplin groupie. Check it out-

Yvonne: So what are you working on right now? 

Draplin: Toy packaging for Mattel, icons for Ford, two logos for software developers, a logo for a company that makes mobile sites, a shoe brand poster and kinda whatever else I’m scheming up. I’m also making a fuckin’ tour t-shirt. I’m going to do a t-shirt of me ripping a dachshund in half!

Y: Ahh, thats your dog!

D: Oh, it’s okay. He’s dead as shit. I’m never going to be in a band, so this is as close as I’m going to be to making a heavy metal t-shirt of my own. It’s going to be cool.

Y: So what’s up with the touring, how did that come about?

D: In 2009 I got a call from a friend to replace David Carson at an event he asked me if I could come down and if I had something to say.  I thought, I do have something to say!. I can serialize my talks and make them about the place I’m visiting. I go and celebrate something or some dumb thing I know about the town, like Iowa….I love Iowa! It’s fun to go to these places, there is no sense of entitlement, it’s my opportunity to go and tell stories and I get to go to a record store there. That’s my treat. I have a monster record collection at the house. Growing up, I didn’t spend on the usual bullshit, I spent my loot buying records. 

Y: How do you balance tours with graphic design.

D: I don’t use the “B” word too much. This is about how much can I pull off…this isn’t just a job…in the end I’m out entertaining kids but, I feel so lucky to go to that place. I’ve tried hard to be available for all these things around Portland. I just remember those guys when I was in college, and how cool it was. It’s an obligation. Least I can do.

Y: You know we are opening up sketchXchange to 100 people just for you, do you know what you signed up for? 

D:  Oh the pressure! Yeah, I know. I’ll be flying back in town at 4:00pm to go. 

Y: What?!

D: No, the plane lands at 2:00pm. I’ll be there, the show must go on!  Besides I’m glad I can help with the event, it’s a good cause. 

Y: It’s clean and orderly in here with all the stuff you have.

D: The chaos that’s behind you is just my little way. (It’s totally tidy.) Hopefully the work looks good. I really take pride in that I can take my pants off and relax in here. Why does it have to be any different from home? My dad never had pants on when we got home. 

Y: You’re a family man. When is it your turn, are you married?

D: Oh no, I have a serious girlfriend… I give her a lot of credit for dealing with my hours, and my face. She’s tough and she gives me a run for my money. She’s a beautiful specimen of girl-ness!

(It was hard to sit still in his place, too much cool stuff to look at.)

Y: What’s this Canada poster?

D: Cool stuff from up there! 95% of these are old dead logos, some of this is still kinda going, but I just put it out there. It’s more just to celebrate my humble dipshit opinion when design was just better.

Y: When design was better?

D: Yeah because there was restraint. We didn’t have a hundred million colors and fonts. (Pointing to a logo.) It has thick lines. It looks good, small and big. This was how they used to have to think. It had to be legible. We have lost those principles of design. In the past, there were limitations, and you weren’t going to make something with a digital print. You would spend your time with it. I try to respect that stuff in my own work.

We are super stoked to have Draplin for our next sketchXchange and to help us celebrate Design Week Portland. The event will take place before the Put A Bird In It auction at Union Pine, from 4:30-7:00pm. If you’re lucky you can grab the last remaining tickets!

Some of Aaron’s Client work includes:  Coal Headwear, Union Binding Co., Richmond Fontaine, Field Notes, Esquire, Nike, Wired, Timberline, Chunklet, Red Wing, Incase, Giro, Cobra Dogs, Megafaun, Burton Snowboards, Ford Motor Co., Hughes Entertainment, Chuck Prophet, and even the Obama Administration, if you can believe that.