Portland, OR-based designer Aaron Draplin is the upshot of a stubborn dedication to chasing dreams. A role model for anyone with uncompromising passion who refuses to let social norms interfere with their goals, Draplin started his current career path from very humble beginnings—with a single graphic for the company Solid Snowboards. For the 19-year-old Midwestern refugee, landing the gig was a shock to his system. “Let me tell you, I lived off that $300 for months,” he told CH. “It was the first building block in this new world that suddenly became clear in front of me. You can actually do this. For loot. For fun. For cool people.”
The logistics of turning a distinctive vision into a paying career eluded Draplin for awhile, including one memorable summer in which he worked at a carnival. But a few years later, he packed up his gear and moved back to the middle of the country, obtaining a degree from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Soon after graduating, he was hired as the Art Director of SNOWBOARDER Magazine in what he refers to as “Shithole, Southern California.” Soon after, he moved to the much more accommodating climate of Portland, OR, and in 2004 began Draplin Design Company as an umbrella for his freelance projects.
Since then, he’s cobbled together an impressive array of clients, including Burton, Ride, Forum Snowboards, Coal Headwear and Absinthe Films. With friend Jim Coudal, Draplin launched the now-ubiquitous Field Notes notebooks, modeled after the simple memo books he uses on the road. The productive designer also gives talks on contemporary graphic design and produces innumerable one-offs for events like this past weekend’s “Push: Skatedeck Art Show” in Bend, OR.
Draplin’s designs are characterized by a clean, bright, street-smart aesthetic that looks equally at home on a skateboard deck or letterhead. Besides a fearsome work ethic—”It only feels like work if I’m under the gun,” Draplin says—he attributes his success to a simple philosophy: Do good work, for good people.
“I like to think of my target demographic as ‘adventurous motherfuckers who love what they make, and are willing to roll the dice on the DDC’,” he says. “That’s been the goal all along: Work for the people you love. Nothing sucks more than hating the chump on the other end of the project. And I’m proud to say, there’s only been a few of you over the years. You know who you are, fuckers.”
Check out Draplin’s work and online shop on his website.