Creative Characters S3 E3: Getting into the ‘heavy stuff’ with Aaron James Draplin.

Creative Characters S3 E3 with Aaron James Draplin.
If you’re having a hard go, remember what made this fun in the first place and get back there.

Aaron James Draplin.

On Creative Characters, we meet the people and personalities behind the brands, campaigns, and designs we love. You can listen to the podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and wherever quality podcasts are available. 

We are thrilled to have Aaron Draplin on the podcast this week and to dig into the “heavy stuff” with him – existential musings on life and building a career, the importance of hanging on to your inner kid, and the “weird little spot” he’s in as he approaches 50 turns around the sun.

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On giving advice: “You gotta be careful because you can change someone’s trajectory with the three sentences that you share … I don’t have the answers to some of the scarier things, like, ‘how do I charge for my work?’ I mean, people will just walk right up to me and ask me that. I’ll just liken it to the way that I work in a way that is as real, as authentic, and pragmatic and healthy as possible. I am not gonna sell them some motivational bullshit that others are selling people.” 

On pulling yourself out of a rut: “If you’re having a hard go, remember what made this fun in the first place and get there. For instance, Leigh and I will go out to eat and I’ll sit and draw her while we’re sitting there and that just loosens me up, because I’m not thinking about it. I’ve done this all the way since I was five years old, right? As soon as we would sit down as a family, my mom would turn the place mat over and I’d be off to the races. And at, at 49 years old, it’s the same shit. But there is something to getting back to what you love to do, which is sketch or draw or make, and then when you see something that you dig pulling that thing aside.” 

On AI: “Maybe we don’t have to be afraid of this whole thing. Here’s the deal – with a pencil on paper, I just come up with better stuff. Now, that’s maybe me being old-fashioned or whatever. But maybe AI can make it easier for me to clean up my files, find them, connect them, all that kind of stuff. That’s what it should be used for. Less clicks mean more clicks for screwing around and making up cool stuff.” 

Draplin at 49: Aaron talked at length about the “weird little spot” he’s in as he approaches 50, which speaks to a larger conundrum many designers, writers, and like-minded people face: You don’t stop being creative when you hit a certain age, so how do you transition toward retirement or even semi-retirement? “I’m at some weird little spot here where it’s like, wait, I’m coming up on 50 years old. Do I have ten more years, five more years? And beyond that, what does it look like? So what we have been probably wrestling with a little too much is how to creatively downshift and to anticipate when that change comes and to be set up for that.” 

Hang on to that kid energy. Somehow the conversation turned to kids, specifically Aaron’s nephew, Oliver, and the often short-sighted or misguided rush to grow up. “I always say things to him like, ‘Hey man, there’s no race to become a 13-year-old because then you’re gonna be staring down 14. Before you know it, you’re Aaron Draplin staring down 50 years old! So when I’m around him, I just always try to remind him that the coolest people I meet in graphic design, they’re still kids, you know? Sure, they’re 48 years old or 41 or 37 or 34 or whatever, but they’re still a kid. Don’t. Lose. This.” 

Thanks for tuning in! You can find Aaron’s work on his website Keep up with his speaking appearances and news on Instagram.



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