Hey Aaron, tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you call home and how long have you been a designer?
My home is Cleveland, Ohio and I've been working professionally as an artist and a designer since 2000. I graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 2002, I was working and earning my stripes at a local animation studio called Knock-Knock Studios for a wonderful animator, producer and guy named Gavrilo Gnatovich on and off during my last couple years at CIA. I was surrounded by 3 animators that drew for entire days at a time in total silence insanely well. Gavrilo castled it “monk work” and he was right. I learned a lot about discipline as an artist from him. I kept gravitating back to print design. After getting my BFA in digital media I got a job at a local alt-newspaper designing ads for bars, clubs and “back of the book” adult clients (massage parlors, escorts, etc). I spent way too much time beating my head against a wall going about learning how to be a designer the wrong way. You can only learn how to not do things a certain way so many times. I mucked around in that gig and a string of others—some good and a lot of them terrible—for the next 7-8 years until I’d had enough and struck out on my own as a freelancer.
What affects the way you work? Where do you take inspiration and what keeps you excited about design?
Deadlines affect my work, self-imposed or otherwise. iCal is my leader. I'm always trying to improve my process and work in general, but the nuts and bolts of it remain intact: research, development, execution, tweeting the crap out of it. Repeat. I derive a lot of inspiration from my clients, a lot of whom work in creative trades themselves, such as chefs or comedians. Seeing someone else getting it done in a different field and how they interact with their peers & audience and learning their stories brings me a lot of energy and different perspectives. Comedy is a very fascinating thing to me. Kyle Kinane and Patton Oswalt are the funniest people in the world to me. I'm honored to be able to call them both clients. I really feel like I soak up a lot reading their interviews and having been able to interact with them. I find a lot I can apply to my own path in their stories. They’re artists and brilliant thinkers in every sense of the word.
How does where you live impact your work and style?
I've been here my whole life and developed an bond with it at a young age like a broke and overweight Bruce Wayne. Cleveland is my Gotham. Neither of my parents were murdered. They're still alive btw. Both of my folks are very hard workers and instilled that work ethic in me as well. They supported my pursuit of this way of life at every turn. The only condition was that they wanted to see me bust my ass at it. Cleveland has been downtrodden for a long time in terms of economy, sports, everything pretty much. the weather in general SUCKS here about 9 months of the year. It teaches you to just deal and move forward and not be a crybaby. Living here has forced me to view life in a very lighthearted way. The upside of that downturn is it has produced some great creators. Derek Hess came into his own in the 90s as I was growing up and he really laid a blueprint for me to follow and showed me you can make a living making art in Cleveland. I got to know him through the years and do some work for him as well. He probably didn’t realize it but he’s been a great mentor to me. CLE is currently undergoing a renaissance and there's a positive attitude washing over. Independent and creative businesses are popping up everywhere. The city’s not as held hostage to giant companies anymore that used to uproot themselves on zero notice and ruin people’s lives. We’ve become way more self-sufficient and entrepreneurial because of that. There's a strong art community. I was here and worked downtown when the streets were so barren not even homeless people hung out. I started a whole brand around my love for my home. It’s a good time right now.
Could you tell us a little bit about Okpants? Where does the name come from and what does the future hold for the next few years?
I have a nickname that’s followed me since art school. It's dumb. It's "Pants". When I went freelance and needed to secure an LLC and a domain for myself a few years back I wanted to maintain that part of my identity and move it into a professional sphere with me. (When grown adults will call you Pants and give you money, there's no turning back, I guess.) This will surprise some people but the URL "okpants.com" was available. If you have a wacky name you can ensure yourself of never being bored by what kind of business and clients your brand attracts. Right now I'm very into making my own branded stuff: t-shirts, pins, jackets, stickers, screen prints etc. Things I've always wanted to see made my way. I want to continue building that and as I learn more and more about being a business owner I find I need to have that to counterbalance the client work I've been doing which is the base of my brand. The two sides feed each other. Also, most importantly; it's fun. Ultimately I want to build a larger studio that can have a gallery and storefront.
Tell us about what you do in your spare time away from the computer. How do you disconnect from the digital world?
Gig poster design by Aaron 2014
That's been a problem for me. I can't lie. I'm far too hitched to this phone which I'm replying to your questions on right now. I understand that's a choice and I'm getting better at leaving it at home or in the office and actually experiencing the real world. I suffer from back problems as a result of sitting too long at work. I'm the only dude who's ever gotten injured from being lazy. I try to lose myself in physical activity as much as I lose myself in work, it's a struggle; as my social media accounts have documented I'm not quite an athlete. For a while I was doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu and getting twisted into a pretzel by men half my size regularly. I couldn’t stick with it. Currently I like lifting weights. I try to ride my bike as much as possible. Anything that keeps me upright and moving are things that I'm trying to incorporate into everyday life.
What kind of design legacy do you hope to leave in the future?
I don't think about that stuff, I focus on who and what's in front of me and connecting with people and expressing myself right now. I obviously get a lot of happiness and satisfaction out of knowing people enjoy my work and I hope that only continues to grow. Getting emails from places like Denmark inquiring about my work and products is a very great feeling. I'm very grateful for all of that. I think that the legacy stuff sorts itself out when you're gone. And when I'm gone and part of the universe maybe I'll be lucky to experience that somehow but who knows. I think at 34 years old that's a silly thing to worry about.
What’s inspiring you right now? Tell us some designers, artists or musicians who inspire you.
My favorite band is American Werewolves. While like anyone I listen to a lot of music but I find myself listening to a lot of comedy and podcasts. Adventures in Design, Kissing Contest, and Desus vs Mero are amongst my favorites there. Besides Kyle Kinane and Patton Oswalt, I really love the comedy of Hannibal Buress, Ramon Rivas II, and Eric Andre My favorite contemporary designers and artists are Oliver Barrett, Brandon Rike, Clark Orr Aaron Draplin … I'll probably remember a lot more after I send you this but oh well. Those guys definitely keep me working harder to get better.