The Great Discontent

Aaron Draplin with an American flag behind him

Aaron Draplin

Photo by David Nakamoto

About Aaron Draplin

Located in the mighty Pacific Northwest, the Draplin Design Co. proudly rolls up its sleeves on a number of projects related to the Print, Identity, Web Development, Illustration and Gocco Muscle categories. We make stuff for 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. We pride ourselves on a high level of craftsmanship and quality that keeps us up late into the wet Portland night.

Our Proud List of Services: Graphic Design, Illustration, Friendship, Clipping Pathery, Garying, Jokes/Laughter, Campfire Strummin’, Gocco Dynamics, Road Trip Navigation, Trust, Guitar Tuning, Gen’l Conversation, Culture Critique, Color Correcting, Existential Wondering, Bounty Hunting, Heavy Lifting, Advice, A Warm Meal, Simple Ideas, and Occasional Usage of Big Words.

Introduction

Disclaimer: This is Aaron Draplin, uncensored and uncut—we wouldn’t have him any other way.

Normally we use this space to share a bit about the interview, but we’re going to save that. Really, how can you sum up an interview with Draplin? You’ll just have to read it. We will say that we were completely stoked to talk with Aaron, a fellow native of The Mitten—that’s Michigan, folks. After speaking with him, we can assuredly say that he’s one of the most sincere, humble, hard working, and grateful guys we’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Sure, he’s kind of a badass and we like that about him, but we gotta say, he’s a pretty big softie too, which we also really like—sorry to let the cat out of the bag, Aaron! We hope that his story—with all of its twists and turns, ups and downs, and straight, hard truths—will enourage you to ask the tough questions, blaze your own trail, and make the things you love.

You might’ve noticed something awry this week—that’s right, there’s no type across the header image. That’s because this photo was just too awesome to deface!

Interview date: May 30, 2012

Interview

Describe your path to becoming a designer.

I was always into art and drawing when I was growing up. I liked to make my own logos and would redraw pieces of type. There was a graphic quality to reproducing things and I loved the idea of redrawing stuff to see how tight I could get the lines.

I remember getting out of high school and kids were going right to college—if they were lucky enough—but some of my friends weren’t. I had this instant conflict; I wanted to move West to be a snowboarder along with all my buddies, because the guys who weren’t concerned with what state school they were going to were just going to start living. I had an equal foot in that as much as I had my mom and dad saying, “Please go to school.” When I got out of high school, I had to wrestle with that. I did two years at a community college and then when I was 19, I took off out West. That’s when my life began.

This path has been very convoluted, but that was the first big obstacle—to really throw everything away and decide I was going to go, selfishly, and be a snowboarder. I would snowboard during the day on the big mountains and make a living at night by doing pizza jobs and shit.

Those first two years out of high school I had learned to use PageMaker and some of this other shit to make business cards and logos, but for the next five winters, I was basically analog. I was sneaking into community colleges to use their machines to make goofy little business cards for myself in Bend, Oregon. Then I would go up to Portland to see some band and my friends would go have drinks and I’d go to Powell’s Books to look at all the cool design books and magazines. I was interested; I was teaching myself. Guys like House Industries and T.26 from the mid-’90s were this outlet for me to learn how to use these machines, even though I didn’t have one yet.

In the summer of ’96, I went to Alaska for the first time and spent the summer there washing dishes. I brought $10,000 back to Oregon and spent all my money to buy a computer that fall. Suddenly, I was a designer. It opened a couple more doors for me in that little town. I finally had a sense that I could make a living and didn’t have to work at pizza places or take a futon logo and transfer it to someone’s banner. I mean, I was lettering chalkboards and shit. I could make logos now, right?

That was another step. I did that for a few years while fuckin’ around in Bend, OR, but there was a bubble—it’s a small ski town. So, I applied to art school and went to Minneapolis and got a big art and design degree. It was a big deal that I even got myself in. It’s art school; those are smart kids with big talent, right? What a bunch of bullshit. I was so scared and had no idea if I could cut it. There, I learned how to weld, screen-print, and really craft what I had started to teach myself. I was proving myself amongst my contemporaries and learning the language of how to talk about my work.

What a fuckin’ wreck the mid-’90s were with this discombobulated, puked-out David Carson garbage. Design had to go there and there was a method to it, but I was more interested in the grid. I was interested in the strength of one font—Helvetica—across the board. That was yet another set of restraints. I had just taught myself how to draw, illustrate, and build whatever the hell I wanted to build on my new machine the last couple of winters, then I had to go and see if I had the chops.

Fast forward to 2000 when I got out of school. I moved from Minneapolis to the hellhole of Southern California to work as a designer at a snowboarding magazine for two years. Then I got rescued and moved back to Oregon to work at a big design firm for two years before I went out on my own in 2004.

I’ve been documenting everything along the way; I’ve had my blog since 1998 and have been sharing on that. There were bumps, peaks, valleys, and bullshit to get to the point where I was able to go out on my own and put my foot on the gas. There was a decade there where I really had to scrap, but I’m proud of my path. And I like telling my dumb, little story. Thanks for reading all of this crap.

Was creativity a part of your childhood?

Yes, thank God—er, thank whoever! My mom would weave baskets and my dad would make wonderful, wood-working creations. I remember when my littlest sister, Leah, was born; I’ve got a decade on her, so I was nine years old when she was born. My dad made a wreath for Christmas that year and it was twenty feet wide and then a couple weeks later, he added a sign above it that said something to the effect of “It’s a girl.”

Some dads were fuckin’ boring and worked all the time. My dad worked a lot, but he was cool and he was warm; it was the same with my mom. My mom raised us on Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills & Nash—all the stuff she grew up on—as much as she allowed me to listen to the Dead Kennedys or Dinosaur Jr. or Detroit’s MC5, which she explained to me was a band she used to go and see at peace rallies and stuff.

My girlfriend is on the couch here, squirming in pain. She can’t believe that I’m saying all this bullshit, but it’s true.

I was raised around all that. It wasn’t just “work your job and hate it.” My dad was a salesman and he loved his job. It was an art form for him. He’s funny and creative and he has the gift of gab, which I think I got. I don’t know when to shut up.

I’m really proud and thankful that my mom wouldn’t let us get video games. It didn’t make us the coolest kids, but we had great colored pencils, a monster Lego collection, and Star Wars shit. You gotta use your mind a little more than just sitting around playing ColecoVision. I would go to friends’ houses and be bored with that. I had way more fun drawing.

So, the answer to your question is “yes”. That would be my one word answer.

Was there an “aha” moment when you knew that design was what you wanted to focus on?

Yeah. It’s called having no money in the bank. That has happened a lot of times (laughing).

Remember those tests they give you in high school? It was like, okay, “In the state of Michigan, Aaron Draplin, based on your height, weight, IQ, and shoe size, you are destined to…pick up trash on I–75.” Or whatever the fuck it said. I was going to be a mechanical engineer or some sort of draftsman. The tests were dated, but there was an art angle and I was hoping that’s what would be recommended for me. I remember this divide between knowing I wanted to make a living with art, but fine art was a little scary even though I was inventing myself in that realm a bit. There was something about commercial art that was pragmatic; it was different than me trying to sell shit at an art fair. Commercial art made sense. It’s the things that we need to live and there’s a beauty in that stuff.

My dad raised us around tool packaging and the industrial tools that he would sell. From a young age, I would look at those things and think, “Man, that looks tough.” It is tough; it’s diamond tipped end mills and shit. I had a respect for that and it was cool seeing what my dad did.

I don’t know if there’s a date, but maybe that “aha” moment was the first time I got paid some money for it. I’ve worked a lot of shitty jobs. When you make $200 bucks after trimming trees all week long, shit sucks, but that $200 bucks tastes so good. It’s bittersweet; you beat yourself up because you had to go suffer with a bunch of hicks in the summertime while your friends are camping all summer long. My friends were off skateboarding and shit and I was in the woods with a bunch of hillbilly dudes fighting some trashy foreman pecking order.

The first time I made that same amount of money doing something where I didn’t physically have to hurt my hands or get stung by bees or get threatened by some fuckin’ hick, it was really moving. It was moving to realize that kind of magic existed. I was told that I would hate my job and that that’s just what you do. In the Midwest, there’s an art form to learning to deal with shit you loathe.

“I don’t know if there’s a date, but maybe that “aha” moment was the first time I got paid some money for it [design]. I’ve worked a lot of shitty jobs… The first time I made that same amount of money doing something where I didn’t physically have to hurt my hands… it was really moving.”

Posters by Draplin
A selection of state posters.

Did you have any mentors along the way?

Well, Mom and Dad. When I left the Midwest and moved to the West, it was more my buddies that were this fuel for me: Eric, Derek, Bry, Chad, Johnny, Robbie, Jay, Travis; it’s a big-ass list from those old days. I don’t know if I really had any mentors. A few teachers I had at MCAD were really cool—Santiago Piedrafita, Jan Jancourt, Jerry Allan. These are professors I took classes from and I was just so hungry for someone to say, “You can do this. You haven’t been fuckin’ off too much out West. You’re gonna get good at this and here’s how you do it.” I needed to hear that.

I don’t know if I had any one person. This is going to sound so stupid for the sake of an interview, but fuckin’ Mike Watt—seeing him carry his gear up onstage. There’s this really beautiful quality to my favorite bands growing up. Like Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers. That guy scared me; he was a total fuckin’ weirdo, whatever, but he exuded complete creative control. I didn’t know him, but I loved those records. I think back now about the guys who I would read every single word they put out, like Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips or David Yow from that Jesus Lizard. I looked at those guys as representing this total creative freedom. It’s not just about design or making a living or being in some indie band. It was about going and doing shit and it being cool. Maybe somewhere along the way they made some money, but it was beautiful to me to see things so raw and wild and visceral.

Back to Mike Watt. What he meant to me was that you don’t need a manager to book your tour; you just book your tour. You can shake hands with everyone you meet before and after the show. You’re just one of them. Punk rock is so fuckin’ democratic, you know? Punk rock wasn’t about a bunch of Crass or Black Flag patches all over you; it was more about the ability to say, “I’m gonna think for myself.” Or, “I’m gonna make my own world.” That was our version of it in stupid, little Traverse City, MI.

Was there a point in your life when you decided to take a big risk?

Yeah, it was the summer of 2004. I had a good job here in Portland and like a good Midwesterner, I was going to quit my job, give a month’s notice, and walk away with glowing colors. The West taught me that you can just walk away from a job—fuck it, it’s just wild out here—but the Midwesterner in me would never do that because your name would be tarnished. If you get a bad name in my hometown, you become known for that. Out here, you can get away with it and fall through the cracks.

I left and went out on my own that summer because I wanted to see if I could go do it. I’m proud to report that I didn’t have to work as much, I tripled my wage, and I didn’t have to wear pants. I love what I work on and no one is going to mess with that anymore. I can find the projects and weed out the right from the wrong. I can do two months on the road if I want and go visit my mom and dad. I have it in me to work hard when I’m in town and then I can go do shit, even though I still work hard when I’m out on the road. It was scary at the time, but now when I look back, I’m so thankful I went out on my own.

It’s not like I even worked in some big shop. I worked at Cinco and it was cool as hell, but my next job, wherever that might’ve been, it might’ve been bigger. And that scared me. This sense of chasing carrots on sticks for some monster brand—no thanks. I don’t care how much loot they are offering. Imagine waking up twenty years later, still working for people or some big entity you hate, and having played the game all those years. I can take $50,000, which is great money, and stretch it so far in this new life. When you start adding some ones and zeroes in front of that, your life changes, but you are still frugal. That was the change for me when I realized I could sit my ass at home and still get rewarded for doing this job.

“To me, it’s been a triumph just to make a living; it’s been a triumph to save money; it’s been a triumph to love what I do along the way.”

Field Notes
We love Field Notes. Watch this fantastic video from Coudal Partners about their "National Crop Edition" and see Aaron’s impressive memo book collection—we’re jealous!

Are your family and friends supportive of what you do? Who has encouraged you the most along your creative path?

Man, you’re pullin’ out the hardball shit. Well, of course. My mom and dad have always been cool and open to me going to find what I want and then going to do it. There were a few carrots dangled in front of me to “get a little school done first and then go live while you can and while you’re young.” As soon as I had a few years of living under my belt, my mom started on me again to go back to school and be one of the first Draplins to get a degree. And I did it.

Out here in Portland, my girlfriend, Leigh, is on my shit all the time. Before I had her, I worked all the fuckin’ time. Now it’s a balance of figuring out how to get a proper meal in and how to not work all night long. Everyone around me is really supportive and now they’re becoming skeptical of how much I do work. I had the freedom to put my foot on the gas and now I have to learn how to put it on the brake a little bit. I gotta slow my shit down or I’m gonna die at my seat. Then they’ll have a big yard sale and Dale will go through my record collection and snag all the fuckin’ gems. That’s been something new and pretty wonderful in my life—to have Leigh and my mom and sisters telling me to slow down. I don’t use the “B-word” too much…balance!

Now is the time to earn and make as much as I can while the phone is ringing so I can stock it away and then quit. Then I’ll only work on Field Notes and only make records for bands who aren’t gonna sell shit, but their records are great and I love ’em.

That’s a good answer, right? Leigh, does that one get a pass? I’ve got a thumbs up from her. Yep. We’re good. She’s heard this so many times. She’s on the couch while we’re shooting the shit.

My two partners that I work with, Goo and David, have also heard my racket so many times because kids will come into the shop and want to meet me. But I know that deep down under that hardened exterior crust that’s around those two little shits, that they’re soft inside and they love having me around. Print that! They’ll get a kick out of that because Goo reads all this shit even though he says he doesn’t.

(all laughing)

“When I die, I am gonna die so broke; I wanna go out helping somebody and not with a big fuckin’ bank account and a mountain of work that’s gonna end up in some landfill.”

Logos by Draplin
A selection of logo and brand identity work.
Bigger logos by Draplin
More awesome logo and brand identity work.

Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself?

What, like a manatee (laughing)?

Yeah. I don’t really know how to think that way. To me, it’s been a triumph just to make a living; it’s been a triumph to save money; it’s been a triumph to love what I do along the way. There are so many great things that I don’t know how to one-up all the things I’m still high on. Where else could this go? I don’t care. I get a life where I get to go look at garbage at estate sales—

Leigh, what were you going to say? Oh yeah, she’s reminding me that I want to help people with this shit instead of talking people into buying some shit they don’t need. Could we take design as a tool to make it easier for someone to get health care or use a bike path or enhance their life in a small way? I think about this stuff and how I could use what I know to help people.

For example, if you go to downtown Portland, the missions that house homeless people are beautiful; they’re these modern buildings. Yes, it’s housing the harshest of the harsh situations, but they deserve something beautiful too. Who built that? Was there money to be made? Who cares? It’s helping people and it’s beautiful, and that’s powerful stuff.

Leigh has to remind me of this stuff because I get so cynical. I’ve been on this little tear about retiring in a year and a half when I turn 40. And “retirement” would mean a new life where I’m not going apeshit for the next $10,000 logo job. I can do that in a couple weeks and that’s a lot of money. You stack a couple of those up in a year and you have an incredible year. Sometimes those logos are used to sell a bunch of bullshit. What if I was to be selfish and do a job because it feels good to help someone? I spent my 30s going apeshit just trying to get away with it. I could spent my 40s in a big agency, making more and more money, but I don’t want to. Am I idealistic or naive to think that way? I wonder about that. Could I make a little life where people come to me because they can’t afford a big design agency? You know those micro-loans? It’s like micro-design; let’s go design for regular people. If I had enough money in the bank, maybe I could do that? And I’ve been saving!

I’m just glad to be working, but I have to ask if there’s a smarter way to apply the bullshit I’ve learned? I think there might be. I won’t be getting interviewed about it and shit, but who cares? I could sleep at night knowing that I helped someone and that I defied some fuckin’ model of “more, more, more; bigger, bigger, bigger”. When I die, I am gonna die so broke; I wanna go out helping somebody and not with a big fuckin’ bank account and a mountain of work that’s gonna end up in some landfill.

I don’t care; print that. I hope I don’t mess up your beautiful fuckin’ site with this stuff!

No way, man. Don’t worry about it. We get to do what we want; it’s our site. Alright, are you satisfied creatively?

Next question. Just kidding. Fuck yeah, I love what I do. I worked all weekend on a logo, like a dumb-ass. I got to go in and present it today and I couldn’t get in there fast enough. You sketch and sketch and sketch and come up with something. I am proud of what I came up with and I hope they pick it. If they don’t, what are you gonna do? You fight to make something better that they’ll love the next time you present.

There are not enough hours in the day for the projects I want to do. When I’m done with this tonight, I am going to go dig into making the next piles of shit I’m making. For instance, I’m making t-shirts for large men because, hell, it ain’t easy locking down a good t-shirt when you are a “man of size”. Guys come to my site and they want an XXXL tall shirt. I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m kinda rotund. I’m gonna make shirts that are XXL and up. I might only sell a few, but it’ll be cool if some dude can get to that and it speaks in his language so that when he turns the shirt inside out it says, “Get your ass outside and move a little more, otherwise you’re going to die. But for now, we made you a t-shirt that you’re comfortable in.” I’m gonna source some good threads for the bigger brothers out there. That’s my next project.

I got Field Notes knocking on my door to work on the next thing that we’re doing this summer. I’m not getting into it, but it’s gonna be incredible.

Yeah, I’m too satisfied. You know how you eat too much and you’re too full, like at Thanksgiving? I feel that some days. I’ll leave work and go home so full and exhausted. I’m so proud of that shit.

If you could give one piece of advice to another designer starting out, what would it be?

Stay out of Portland!

Number two would be…

Make this shit fun. You got your whole life to work and you’re going to go in and someone’s gonna “big league” you. What that means is that someone who’s a pay grade above you is gonna push you around. They’re gonna tell you “it’s perfect”, but then give you a list of things to change. Be gracious about that kind of back and forth exchange. Learn to stand up for yourself, but also to take it and then get out as fast as you can. I didn’t know about design’s laments when I first started—clients compromising shit, projects going bad with budgets, all the bullshit. I didn’t know about that for the first couple years because I was loving making all this stuff.

That was another long-winded answer. The short answer is keep this fun. There are enough fuckers out there who make this not fun and they don’t even know they’re doing it; you can’t fault them. They’re just chasing another carrot on a stick. You just kinda have to feel bad for them.

[Tina] Speaking of Portland, we just interviewed Kate Bingaman Burt.

That woman—press record! That woman is an explosion of wonderful, hand-done typography, color, and good words to help and make shit fun and awesome and better. I just love her for that. I loved and collected her work before I ever met her. She is filled with joy. Even if she didn’t make anything, you know she’s high as shit just helping those students. That is a vocational calling right there. You know she could go work at some hot-shot agency and be the little wild card for all that hand-done bullshit she does, but she’s passing her knowledge along. And that woman is fuckin’ incessant with the invites to go be a portfolio reviewer!

I see her and Clifton once a month at an event or she’ll invite me to a portfolio review or I’ll go talk to her kids—I do as much as I can. I always say to them, “I know what a lot of output looks and smells like and you’re doing a lot, so how do you do it?” She’ll give a little shitty smile and say, “Well, I work late.” And shit, I love Clifton too. I need to call him. That guy is fucking brilliant.

Kate does not exude that design is a job. She exudes that design can be a life of fun; of making friends; of teaching and passing it on; and of totally sucking and getting better. Thumbs up from the Draplin Design Company for Kate Bingaman Burt. We got a real fuckin’ love-fest going on here. Gross me out!

How does living in Portland impact your creativity?

Well, I don’t go outside a lot. I’m serious. So, hell, I don’t know how the city has an impact on me. I’m not going to say anything stupid like there’s good coffee here or mention VooDoo Doughnuts. Fuck all that predictable Portland shit.

I love Portland because it’s always been the kind of place where you can put three different people together and start a coffee shop or a record store or a little boutique and it’s completely acceptable. There’s a sense that no one is going to tell me I can’t make a life doing what I want to do here. Portland is supportive of every kind of weird person. All the Portlandia skits, as painful as they are, are always a reminder to me that it’s really cool here. You’re not going to be ostracized here. How does it affect my design? I don’t know. It’s comfortable here; I love Portland for that. And you can find a place to park.

There are days I don’t even put on pants when I go to work. I will just go right out to my car, drive down to work, snake up the fuckin’ elevator, and I got my pants in my bag. Would that matter if I was in Traverse City, MI? Well, no, not really.

Anything goes in Northern Michigan.

Yeah. Leigh loves Michigan. She’s from Traverse City too. I like to go visit. I go home and there are people sunning themselves in the bay and it’s beautiful. Then you think about what there is to do at night and it’s a big zero. I just stay at my parent’s house and eat and chill—no pants. It’s wonderful. They’re going to be out here in a few days and I can’t wait to see them.

Is it important to you to be part of a creative community of people?

Yeah, as much as I can be. Some of the stuff becomes painful because, straight-up, some motherfuckers should quit going out so much and just work a little more. My favorite guys—it’s hard for them to get out and go do that stuff because they’re so busy.

I didn’t have access to this stuff when I didn’t live in a big city and I know that if I would have, I would have been hungry for it. I’m that kid that stood in line to get Paul Westerberg’s autograph at some record signing. So, for a kid to come up to me and say they like what I do—I get high as hell on that stuff. I try to get out and be part of stuff as much as I can. I think it’s important, but sometimes you just can’t go do it.

“…I’m too satisfied. You know how you eat too much and you’re too full, like at Thanksgiving? I feel that some days. I’ll leave work and go home so full and exhausted.”

Album covers by Draplin
Album covers

What does a typical day look like for you?

I roll out of bed and I can’t get down to the shop quick enough. Either I’m on the clock in a weird way because I have a deadline to hit, so I’m down there as early as possible to go after that properly, or I’ve got a list of fun shit to do and I am down there as fast as possible to start tearing into that shit. I’ll be down there by 9 or 10am and then have a little lunch around noonish. Usually, I can finagle Goo or David into getting me something to eat either by gambling or throwing down a credit card. They’ll bring me something back and then I’ll work until 5, 6, or 7-ish. I’ll go home and bring my laptop and work a couple more hours at night. It doesn’t sound cool, but that’s the deal. There’s just too much stuff going on.

Then, when I go on the road to talk, I lose a couple days fuckin’ around in airports. I’m getting better and better at working on planes and making good use of any time I have free. It’s kind of a sickness. I should be exercising or taking a load off or going record shopping, but I still look at that hour and think about knocking out that one little thing that still needs to be knocked out.

Last summer, I worked all summer. That’s not the best way to go about your 37th year, but fuck it—I paid my house off at Christmastime. I wouldn’t have been able to do that fuckin’ around from paycheck to paycheck. I did it because I said yes to every job; they were all good jobs and I just put my nose to the grind for three months. Sometimes you gotta do that.

Any current albums on repeat?

That’s so hard to answer. There’s just so much shit. Every week I’m bringing five new albums home. There’s stuff you listen to in the summer and stuff you listen to in the winter.

As of today, it would be:

  1. King Tuff - King Tuff
  2. Guided By Voices - Class Clown Spots A UFO
  3. Spiritualized - Huh?
  4. Jay Farrar/Jim James/Will Johnson/Anders Parker - New Multitudes
  5. Richard Buckner - Our Blood
  6. Mastodon - The Hunter
  7. The Men - Open Your Heart
  8. Dirty Beaches - Badlands
  9. John Moreland and the Dustbowl Souls - Everything The Hard Way
  10. Red Fang - Murder The Mountains

Do you have a favorite movie?

Awww, Shawshank Redemption.

[Tina] Yeah!

Is that your favorite movie?

[Tina] I love that movie!

It’s easily the best. It just covers all the mysteries of the world: age, relevancy, sadness, loss, compassion, longing, nose to the grind aesthetics of that fucker weathering a long, unjust sentence. My favorite moment is—sadly—when Brooks takes his life; he can’t handle it on the outside and that’s just so bittersweet to me. There are so many lessons there, from the horror of our prison systems to accepting people who stray. It’s such a beautiful movie.

Uncle Buck is another one. Also, Time Bandits, My Bodyguard, and Papillon.

I love movies. Holy shit! A couple years ago, I got to work for John Hughes. I loved all of his movies because they were real. I got to know him through happenstance. He hired me for a job and I didn’t know it was that John Hughes; a few weeks later, I found out it was that John Hughes. His movies were really high on my list and he commented on that. He said, “I knew you were a good guy when you had Uncle Buck pretty high on your list.” Fuck yeah, that’s a Midwestern epic. When in doubt, ask Uncle Buck.

Favorite book?

Papillon by Henri Charrière. I loved that book when I was little because it was a big kid book. There’s something so sad and so human about that book. And then my buddy, Arly—that fucker got the thing tattooed on his chest before I could. Now what? What am I going to get now? Some Back to the Future logo? I was actually considering getting that butterfly on my girth because I just loved that book as a kid.

A close second was any of the Bigfoot books I was getting into. To this day, I remember the magic and mystery and complete terror of going camping. Sure it’s the Au Sable River, but those woods are dark like any other woods and my mind was racing. I was seven years old in the late 1970’s reading these books. Sure it’s a big load of bullshit, but it was enough to make me think there was still magic in the world.

I had already found out about Santa—fuck! At 38 years old, I still can’t help but get excited about whatever bullshit’s out there. It’s so formulaic, but I miss that. I remember being a little kid and asking my parents how Santa’s sleigh would rest on the roof because of the pitch of the roof. I was debating the physics of it with my parents when I was seven years old. They would say, “Aaron, it’s magic.” I would say, “But mom, if he’s here for 15 minutes, that’s only four houses in an hour.” What is my fucking problem? We used to leave Santa a beer, a sandwich, and a note. My dad would eat it and leave a few crumbs. It was the coolest. That shit’s crucial. We need more of that in the world.

Do you have a favorite food?

I can put a fuckin’ hurt on a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel. When I’m back home, I love my mom’s spaghetti. In Portland here, I love Pad Kee Mao at Chaba Thai. I love a piece of pepperoni pizza from Sizzle Pie, Hot Lips, or Sparky’s. But there’s just something about my mom’s spaghetti that tastes the best. When I visit, I will live off that shit for days. It’s incredible.

One year when I lived out West, my buddy, Bryan Moore, came to visit. He lived in Traverse City and flew out here. He had this big board bag and in his bag with all his gear was a saran wrapped tupperware container from my mom that was full of a frozen block of my favorite spaghetti sauce. That thing thawed and exploded in his bag. That night, we sat with bread and ate the sauce out of his bag—honest to God. It was “mom-love” from 3,000 miles away.

That’s amazing. We have one last question for you. What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?

Oh my god (laughing). Who are you people, man? First off, if anyone can answer that quickly, they’re just sorta fucked up. Legacy? Who’s even going to see it?

Right now, it’s this weird arc where people are into me and they’re asking about what I’m doing. A decade ago I didn’t get any of those questions and I still charged ahead as hard as I do now.

Who cares? Just go for it. Try to do good. A lot of motherfuckers are doing bad. “Aaron Draplin tried to do good and loved it along the way”—that sounds pretty good. God, I don’t even know if that sounds right when I stop and think about it. Do I want them to say, “He made great logos?” It’s like, fuck, who cares? Maybe it’s like, “I met that motherfucker and he was cool as hell.” And by “cool” I mean, he was fun to talk to, gave a shit, and had the guts to go for it. There you go. That’s what it’s been about. Some of my favorite guys were cool as hell to me when I met ’em and I’ll never forget those moments.interview close

“Right now, it’s this weird arc where people are into me and they’re asking about what I’m doing. A decade ago I didn’t get any of those questions and I still charged ahead as hard as I do now.”

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Credits

  • Interview by Ryan & Tina Essmaker
  • Header photo by by David Nakamoto
  • Layout by Ryan Essmaker
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