If you know anything about the design world, you’ve heard the name Aaron Draplin. And if you’re lucky enough to live in Portland, you’ve probably encountered one of his pop-ups at the Night Market or around town. Known for his bold aesthetic and personality to match, Aaron lives here in Portland and we were lucky enough to have him on board to design some accessories for our latest Danner x Timbers release.
We wanted to get inside Aaron’s head a bit to learn more about his process – check out the interview below.
DANNER BOOTS: What inspires you most about Portland?
AARON DRAPLIN: That you can make it in the little leagues. You can have a regular car, regular job and regular life, and that's perfectly enough. I spent 22 months in Southern California. It oozed this odd sense of "You'll never own any of this." It terrified me. I love how you don't have to keep up with the Joneses in Portland. You can just be.
DB: Favorite design example in Oregon?
AD: The Tri-Met logos on the buses. It sucks to get caught behind a bus on Sandy Blvd., but that logo you are staring at while waiting for it to move always kind of makes up for sucky bus moments.
DB: What got you started in graphic design?
AD: It was right out of high school. 1991. And I knew I wanted a life in art but was a bit lost. There was a bit of a sense of dread where I lived. How was I going to carve out something for myself in art in a small town? Graphic design? That's only in big cities, right? Maybe. There was this odd, pinpointed understanding that if I was to pursue art, it had to be in a pragmatic form. Commercial art fit perfectly for me. It was just creative enough to be fun, but also practical. One could make a living in it. I've never lost this fascination with what I'm so lucky to do.
DB: Who’s your inspiration?
AD: My mom, my sisters Sarah and Leah, my nephew Oliver, almost-brother-in-law Jacob and my dame, Leigh. I know you are supposed to answer these questions with big, grandiose answers, but that's what inspires me the most. I work hard and take care of them the best I can. Family is job number one. The rest? Icing on the cake. Trying hard to bake a good cake. My dad did the same for us. Now that he's gone, I'm the "Patriarch in Training" in the Draplin family.
DB: Wildest experience on the road?
AD: Had an old-timer shoo me off his property in Kentucky this one time. He had an old shotgun at his side. That was fun. I was looking at an old drive-in theater, pulled around the back of it to investigate and I guess he lived there. Big fun in Kentucky!
DB: All-time favorite flea market acquisition?
AD: A bona fide 1776-1976 Bicentennial Administration logo sign! Got it in Canton, Texas, and saw it from a couple hundred yards away as we were walking in to the flea market. One of those goose bump moments where lightning goes off in yer head and you just KNOW you are taking the thing home with you. At any price. I think I paid $50 for it.
DB: Advice to aspiring designers?
AD: I gotta be careful how to answer this one. I have a bit of a problem with these design charlatans out there selling this idea to young kids that they can quit their jobs and just freelance their lives to financial glory. That's so rare. Or that they can charge tens of thousands of dollars for jobs. That just doesn't happen when you are starting out. Or some wishy-washy motivational narrative to soothe frustrated kids who are taking it on the chin from some shitty boss. We all deal with that shit.
Here's what I'll say: DON'T QUIT YER DAY JOB. That shit pays the bills. Be a good worker on the job, and when you get out, get to work on yer own shit. You are going to have to put the time in. Sometimes, for nothing. So what? This stuff just isn't that rough. Don't forget that.
Here's some more half-baked advice: Never, ever lose sight of how lucky we are to do this stuff. Ever. The suckiest day on the suckiest of design jobs is still better that the coolest day at your pizza job in high school, you know?
DB: Favorite city to give a talk?
AD: I've always had killer shows in Omaha. Those people just come out of the woodwork for the shows there. The first one in 2013 was 250 people. The last time in 2017 it was like 300-plus! That's AWESOME. And man, Nebraskans ARE NOT AFRAID to buy some merch. Whoa! Thank you, Omaha! I'd move to Omaha. I love that town.
DB: Give us an idea of your headspace while you were designing our collaboration pieces?
AD: Simple, clean forms that any fan could tune into. We all know Mt. Hood. It's in our backyard! There's such a dynamic quality to have Hood towering over the views around town. I'll never get tired of it. It's a spire. And in a lot of ways, so is Danner. Ballistic boots! A peak in the footwear world, but in such an authentic, burly way. And of course, so are the Timbers. I have friends who go APE SHIT for the Timbers. That's another peak in town. So, I tried to tie 'em all together, these cool things we're so lucky to have in Portland.
DB: What’s the best part about partnering with local Portland companies?
AD: So many times, I make stuff that gets sent off to somewhere far away, or lives on a phone. My favorite stuff? Seeing something I made on a kid at the airport. That's the best. To work for a company that makes cool stuff in your own town? Such a cool privilege. Thanks for letting me take a shot, Danner!