Aaron Draplin • DDC

POSTED June 11th, 2018 UNDER News, Photography, Portraits, Visits

Aaron Draplin • Draplin Design Company

Aaron Draplin.  Graphic Design God. Thick Lines. Weiner Dogs. Field Notes.  100% Awesomesauce.

Aaron is currently the hottest thing in the world of design.  You might have seen his book.  You’ve very probably seen some of his work, somewhere.  You might even jot notes down in his Field Notes branded notebooks.  I’ve been a big fan of his work for a while now, and when my wife Sara told me she booked him for an appearance at NHIA as part of his cross-country tour, I knew I had to make a portrait of him.  Read more about this quick session with some behind-the-scenes images after the cut:


Draplin believes in a simplistic design method.  Thick lines and good colors and harkening back to the design of the past; make things that will last well past colors and fads and make simple, solid, thick, bold designs.  His work pays homage to all the great stuff that was made long long ago, and it’s retro yet modern at the same time.  His work is awesome.

Sara booked him during his tour across America and as soon as she told me it was locked in I asked if she could introduce me to him via email so I could ask him if I could make a portrait of him on the day he would be at the college.  He had a fairly full schedule for the day: first he would be working with a design class for a few hours, and then he had a break before his evening lecture that was open to the public via ticket sales.  I asked him if I could grab him for a few minutes after he was finished with working with the design class and he said sure, let’s do it.

I didn’t want to do something with little effort.  I didn’t want to take a picture of him standing outside or near a window or anything like that.  I wanted something special.

Aaron is all about the color orange.  Specifically Pantone Orange 021. He loves that shit. I knew I couldn’t paint a wall in the school orange, and I started thinking about shipping pallets painted orange.  They are square, and they are mostly mobile, so I could paint a few of them and move them in and attach them to each other and make an orange shipping pallet wall that he could stand in front of.  A friend had some extra pallets, and after a little research and with the friendly help of Nashua Wallpaper & Paint, I ended up with a pint of orange that was as close to Pantone 021 as possible.

An empty pail of Pantone 021-ish paint for the pallets. In the snow, because it was still winter when we started this project.

We took the pallets over to Sara’s parents house and spent a fairly chilly afternoon painting the pallets orange.

Painting the pallets.


With the help of my good buddy Jeff, we loaded things into NHIA and attached the four pallets together by brackets on the backs of each one.  We carefully walked it up until it was upright and we rested it against the wall on the auditorium stage.  Once that was all set, I started getting lights and stuff setup.

At first, we did some tests with Jeff standing right up against the pallets and I lit him with a strobe with an orange gel over it.  I kinda liked the overall feel, and I kinda liked that it would feel like everything was bathed in orange, but I didn’t like the shadows I was getting and I wanted to show more of the background.

Test lighting right up against the orange pallets with an orange gel. Meh.


Totally not feeling this, but ya gotta start somewhere, right?


I pulled Jeff away from the wall and had him sit on a apple box and we shot a few tests.  I had a primary light up and above him in a softbox, and then I took a second light that had an orange gel on it and used it as a rim-light off to camera right.  I liked the little bit of spill that was going on in the test shots:

Jeff sitting. I was happy with this setup. I liked using the top edges of the pallets as a way to show me where the frame would end.

But then I remembered that Arron is a … pretty husky guy, and having him sit down might not be something he would want to do (or very flattering) so we pulled the apple box away and I had Jeff just stand up.

Jeff bathed in orange light

Looked good.  Keep it simple.  Let the orange do the work.  I had what I wanted and we grabbed a seat and some lunch and waited for him to arrive and finish working with the design class.


Draplin and his pantone orange touring van. Nice!

Aaron finished working with the students and he hopped up on the stage of the auditorium and I had him stand for a few minutes.

Aaron Draplin • Draplin Design Company

I got a few shots of him with different compositions, but I really liked the vertical shots head-to-toe.

He struck a facial expression that he’s become known for:

Aaron Draplin • Draplin Design Company

And that was it – I knew I had my shot right there.  I got his attitude, I got him surrounded by Pantone 021 orange and I even got a little bit of orange light spilling onto him at camera right.  He’s sharp and in focus and it’s exactly what I wanted it to look like.

I also brought Muppet Sid so he could meet Aaron:

Aaron Draplin & Muppet Sid

Aaron Draplin meets Muppet Sid

If I had to nitpick, I would have painted the inside of the pallets orange as well.  You can see in the image the rear pallet pieces that the light is hitting.  I should have painted them, or I could have stuffed some black fabric down inside the pallets but I ran out of time and I wasn’t thinking about that. But I’m happy with the image and really happy that I got a chance to make a portrait of him.

Jeff and I attached ourselves to him for the remainder of the day and we ended up going out to eat with him and a small group and it was fantastic.  His passion of art and design is infectious and he put a really long, full day at NHIA.  I think we all parted close to midnight.  He’s a pretty intense and special guy, and if you ever get a chance to spend a little time with him, it’s very much worth it.  He’s one of the good folks out there trying to make things better one design at a time.

Thanks to NHIA and Sara for letting me set up and make a portrait of him.  Thanks to Jeff for being a great friend and assistant.

Hit up Aaron’s website.  But some of his awesome stuff.


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