Aaron Draplin


‘Aaron Draplin is a graphic designer, author and founder of Draplin Design Co. Born in Detroit, Michigan, he is now based in Portland, Oregon’ (wikipedia,2017). His work is very much based around the use of thick lines, taking inspiration from vintage graphic design for example from old railway graphics.

Draplin was born in 1973 in the northwest section of detroit. He was always a ‘sucker for details’ (A.J.Draplin,2016) which lead to him taking deep interest in everything, even to the point of asking his mother how he was conceived.

As a child he had an interest in skateboarding, he would wear a army jacket with a hole in the pocket ‘for the headphones cord to snake down into my headphones’ (A.J.Draplin,2016). His choice in music was punk rock, where ‘it wasn’t about the music or the T-shirt graphics as much as it was about the ability to think for yourself’ (A.J.Draplin,2016). His opinion of ‘punk’ at the time was to be completely drug-free because it was popular along with messing around and getting into trouble. His looks however lead to him being pulled over by the police one time whilst in his pizza delivery job where he said ‘”Search the car, man. You aren’t going to find anything. These pizzas are getting cold”‘(A.J.Draplin,2016). This can be something I can relate to with the common opinion of most people being about individuality although this makes most people just follow the crowd more (being a ‘sheep’) this may be something to include in the design around genuinely trying to be unique rather than looping a full circle and by trying to be unique ending up being another one of many.

‘Skateboard graphics were everything to me. Jim philips and his Santa Cruz decks were my favourite'(A.J.Draplin,2016) Draplin would emulate these art pieces in order to learn the basic art techniques for example inking. He would draw these into his sketchbooks which he ‘transferred into zines, grip tape art and homemade skate and snowboard videos’ (A.J.Draplin,2016).

Like Anthony Burrill, Draplin would hoard together a collection of every little scrap that he found interesting including his own work, these scraps heavily influence his work today often using them for inspiration in his work. Draplin calls this hoarding ‘junking’, he would hunt through garage sales in search of beautiful junk, just to save it. ‘As a designer, if you know how to look at the world, that’s a pretty special thing'(A.J.Draplin,2016). Aaron Draplin now has a whole library full of the ‘junk’ and design books he’s collected over the years. ‘Don’t let this stuff die. when you something cool, snap a pic of it and share it'(A.J.Draplin,2016).

His first job after graduating from college was with snowboarder magazine, which he gained from his trip to Bend, Oregon in 1993 where he went to a snowboarding camp there in 1995 where he met some representatives of the snowboarder magazine, Mark Sullivan. Through this he designed the magazines and organised the events for the magazine.

‘Chugging right along at Snowboarder magazine. I get a call from John “Goo” Phemister and he’s looking for new design hires for his portland firm, Cinco Design'(A.J.Draplin,2016). This was his second design related job after graduatingand also his last time working in a studio under someone else, after working there for 2 years he decided it was time to ‘go out on my own’ (A.J.Draplin,2016).


Jumping into freelance was Draplin’s next decision, which he says is what saved him from struggling along being paid as little as possible whilst dragging around debt.

Coal was the first large project Draplin got as a freelance designer, after a couple of unexpected meetings Draplin and Brad Scheuffele began discussing Scheuffele’s headwear company, which lead to Draplin working together with him to build up the brand, making ‘advertising campaigns, apparel graphics, trim details, catalogues, banner ads, hangtags and point-of-purchase messaging'(A.J.Draplin,2016).

‘One of the greatest moments in my snowboarding career was the first time I saw a board I designed whip by!'(A.J.Draplin,2016) Here’s where Draplin really started to get a buzz from his design, seeing his work being used by professionals in the sport he loves. ‘It’s one thing to see your art in a magazine, reproduced to the size of a dime. It’s another thing to see a whole line in a snowboard shop, with kids checking each one out. The type was big, and the stuff was built to last a handful of winters'(A.J.Draplin,2016).

One of Draplin’s favourite commissions has been the ‘Cobra Dogs’ brand identity, the company was being sued for using the G.I. Joe Cobra Commander logo and needed a rebrand to keep the shop surviving. After a ‘quick chat'(A.J.Draplin,2016) Draplin set out to design the logo, with the ‘loose brief of wanting a “Cobra eating it’s own tail”‘(A.J.Draplin,2016). The designs were flowing quickly, focusing on a colour scheme based on ‘”ketchup and mustard”‘(A.J.Draplin,2017). The final logo mark was finalised in 2008. In this commission Draplin was paid with a hot dog, because the company was struggling and couldn’t afford to hire someone. ‘Just be open to weird stuff. It’s super rewarding to help people with our talents'(A.J.Draplin,2016).

On top of Draplin’s freelance work he began his own one man studio, the ‘Draplin Design Company’ (AKA. DDC.) From this he began to sell his own merchandise both online and in his ‘pop-up shop’ in Portland, where he’d sell everything from pocket notebooks to clothing.

The pocket notebooks (commonly known as ‘Field notes’) have a separate brand identity, company and website on their own. They have become very popular, being the main notebook of choice for most designers and illustrators. The first few hundred books were made by Draplin in his basement. Having always customised the covers of his own sketchbooks through school, he tried making his own, eventually he began making them because of being frustrated that sketchbooks were all being imported into America, not many were made there. Field notes started in 2005 when Draplin started printing them on his Gocco printer. At first they were created to ‘populate my little annual trade showDDC Appreciation Kit I’d give to my clients and pals'(A.J.Draplin,2016). With everyone asking for more he began selling them.


Draplin’s method for design is something I have begun using within my work also. He creates a few basic logos (or whatever the aim is) starting on paper with rough sketches progressing towards a more finalised look from there he draws them all into illustrator and from there he copies the logo and tweaks the copy using the action verbs and making other slight tweaks. Then from that copy he copies that one and repeats this until he fill the artboard with logos ending up with hundreds of them, from there he reflects back through the designs and picks his favourite and the most effective ones where he experiments around with colour scheme and typeface pairings. Taking these he makes some basic mockups on T-shirts and banners trying to chose the one that works best. ‘Vectors are free'(A.J.Draplin,2016) is one of Draplin’s quotes and reasons why he uses vectors so much in his designs throwing onto the computer to save time with redrawing. After completing the logos he will layout different variations of the logo along with the mockup on a presentation slideshow to show to the client, ‘it’s my job to make them love it'(A.J.Draplin,2016).


My personal favourite of Draplin’s pieces of work is the space shuttle tribute made in 2013, it has a familiarity yet uniqueness about it. It was a design Draplin created because he was angry that the shuttle program was shut down and that the winning design for the shuttle program competition was so bad. After that the shuttle tribute design has been very successful and has been produced in various medias such as posters, pin badges and patches to name a few. I love the retro space feel of the piece and I initially wanted to get the design as a patch on my bag but they are a pain to get a hold of, with them being from America, and it’s just not worth going through all the hassle for something so cheap and small. I like how the thick black lines of the shuttle and the heading contrasts with the background being of a minimal shape and displaying what looks like fire. My favourite of all the products it was produced on was the patch and I haven’t found any patch that quite takes my interest as much as this little shuttle.

I can picture the ‘thick lines’ of Draplin’s fitting together perfectly with Burrill’s minimal mantra posters (though mine probably won’t contain mantras) along with the presentational skills and paper quality of G.F Smith to create a pulchritudinous outcome. I hope to incorporate all techniques used by these artists and amalgamate them together with bookbinding to make an outcome that portrays my point and problem at hand effectively and efficiently.





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