Aaron Draplin | The Inspiration Behind Field Notes

badass |ˈbadˌas| informal |ORIGIN 1950s: from the adjective bad + ass.

adjective: formidable; excellent: this is one badass memo pad.

Aaron Draplin.

Not only is Draplin an ACL Hero and American Icon, he’s also half of the wildly popular “pocket material” empire Field Notes. In a follow-up to Draplin’s other famous videos (what’s the status of that documentary?), the native Michigander spends some time “talkin corn” and showing off some of the farmers promotional memo books that served to spur the creation of Field Notes. The more video of Draplin I see, the more he continues to inspire and entertain. Respect must be paid to him for sticking to what he loves and for making great stuff.

Comments on “Aaron Draplin | The Inspiration Behind Field Notes

    vanderleun on May 14, 2012 1:16 AM:

    Well, hell, I’m sold. I have to confess I started watching this vid thinking “Field Notes? Yeah, that web based notebook company. Feh.” But I have to say that this turned out to be one of the most fascinating and informative vids I’ve watched all week. And as for Draplin? What a great, solid American. Thanks for putting this up.

    Ramalhoni on May 14, 2012 5:51 AM:

    I had no idea where Field Notes came from! And I already liked it.
    After this, and seeing the passion that goes into those little note books. I buying a hell of a lot more of them!…

    Noble County Gold on May 14, 2012 6:33 AM:

    ‘We are the 1%’, yes we are. He from Ohio?

    Tom Hemphill on May 14, 2012 8:23 AM:

    Being a transplant from Iowa – this was like coming home. I was already a Field Notes guy and now I know why. Thanks for this.

    Richard Williams on May 14, 2012 9:38 AM:

    I’m a Field Notes customer and appreciate his zest for life and real labor. He should replace Howard Stern as the new judge on America’s Got Talent.

    Ross Evans on May 14, 2012 10:16 AM:

    I saw Aaron speak for the first time in person last week in Burlington, VT. What an amazing storyteller and just all around great person. His approach with Field Notes, like his other endeavors, is filled with knowledge of history, understanding of use and appreciation for craft. Can’t wait for the documentary…

    Michael Williams on May 14, 2012 10:26 AM:

    I don’t think that documentary is ever going to be happen to be honest. I just always like to reference it…

    Chris on May 14, 2012 11:17 AM:

    Spent some time in Aaron’s hometown of Traverse City Michigan this weekend, beautiful place. Definitely a grounded dude. Love the appreciation of history and honesty.

    randall on May 14, 2012 12:06 PM:

    Well. They’re no $200 notepad, but I guess if you’re just looking to write something down, they’ll do in a pinch.

    Rick on May 14, 2012 2:30 PM:

    Can’t wait till there is a Field Notes iPad app. But, I’m not holding my breath.

    Coleman on May 14, 2012 3:53 PM:

    Love this. I am such a fan of people who are archiving this kind of stuff. So inspiring, that there are “others” our there like me who appreciate this kind of Americana stuff. It is this kind of reporting and curating that first drew me to Continuous Lean. Keep it up!

    Jesus P. on May 14, 2012 3:57 PM:

    Sweet. Loved the vid!

    McBindle on May 14, 2012 5:22 PM:

    These feed and seed, fertilizer books are a little nightmarish. What is not mentioned in Draplin’s narrative is how these books are a timeline of the development and triumph of monoculture, pesticides in food, and how these books – through the efficiency of production they touted – sped up the demise of the traditional small farmer-owned farm.
    The advertisements, data and farming tips were for the profit benefit of the fertilizer etc. producer and, in the end, not for the little guy and the sustaining of his bucolic farm for generations to come. Consider how many of the farms these books came from have now been obliterated and are now owned by industrial-scale agricultural concerns.
    The graphic design and period quirks of the layouts are just reflective of the advertising of the period. The presentation of the products needs to be placed in the historical context of American agriculture. I think Draplin doesn’t see past the veneer and his analysis is just sentimental.
    When I look at those books I see fertilizer-laden streams and rivers, industrial-scale chicken and hog farms that can be smelt before they are in view, and the miles and miles of soy beans on one side and corn on the other roads stretching across the entire state of Iowa.

    matthew langley on May 14, 2012 6:16 PM:

    McBindle you are speaking the truth. Well said.

    Tiberius on May 14, 2012 7:17 PM:

    Does anybody here have the names for any wristwatch blogs that are worth checking out? I can’t seem to find any worth noting.

    I trust the opinion and guidance of those on this site, because, well because you are on this site in the first place.


    Greg Sorensen on May 15, 2012 7:27 AM:

    Amazing piece. Thank you.

    Billy on May 15, 2012 8:19 AM:

    Very eloquently put, Mcbindle. Good viewpoints. But I do think Draplin’s love of this stuff comes from a good place. He just has a tendency to romanticize the shit out it and put that era (1930s to 50s-60s) up on a superior pedestal. And he also has a tendency to come off like he’s the only guy on the planet who “gets” or “gets off” on this aesthetic. An aesthetic that is unbelievably popular at the moment verging on super-saturation. And he’s positioned himself as the self professed overlord of all things old, retro, and rusted out. But he is passionate about it if not a bit of a blowhard traveling snake oil salesman, a title I’m sure he’d be happy to own. And I think his collection of the booklets is fantastic. I’d like to see them compiled in a book.

    vanderleun on May 15, 2012 10:38 AM:

    McBindle, you are one sorry SOB with about as much of a brain as God gave gophers. Think it through…. if indeed thou art capable of thought that escapes your heavily colonized in kindergarten mind … exactly how, HOW?, do you feed a nation of over 300 million people? How do you actually do that? “Local?” “Sustainable?” “Seasonal?” “Artisan?” “Heritage?” Not. Bloody. Likely. As for the unfortunate lad “Billy” and his rollicking sidekick Langley they need to spend less time cruising and more time producing.

    graffel on May 15, 2012 10:49 AM:

    McBindle presents a great take on the books. As a lifelong citizen of the city, I was interested in the Field Notes but only because of its visual promise (although I never did buy one)- for pretense, I just use the Moleskines

    jiheison on May 15, 2012 11:48 AM:

    vanderlun, this is a country becoming increasingly obese overfeeding itself on industrialized food. Meanwhile, of the massive amount of waste that our society produces, wasted food represents the largest percentage.

    TMYK: http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/organics/food/fd-basic.htm

    Organic farmer’s markets may not be a panacea, but on our current track, the average American will soon be too out of shape to thrash that strawman.

    ThePeanutVendor on May 15, 2012 1:07 PM:

    Lovely dude, lovely note books. What a collection.

    Billy on May 15, 2012 2:14 PM:

    Uh, “vanderleun”, who ever you might be, one of the great things about America is freedom of speech and debate amongst its citizens. Why the moronic hostility? And you end your witless rant with a gay slur? Clever and classy. You’re the whole package.

    vanderleun on May 15, 2012 3:07 PM:

    As usual, Billy, you not only misunderstand, you seem to have confused me with the federal government and congress– you know that entity that “shall make no law.” You might want to go back and read Amendment 1 slowly and with an effort at understanding.

    vanderleun on May 15, 2012 3:08 PM:

    Ah…. “cruising” …. now I get it. Let me be a bit more explicit since you are such a sensitive forest flower…. “less time cruising the internet and more time…” Got it now?

    Billy on May 15, 2012 4:23 PM:

    “vanderleun.” Hilarious.

    matthew langley on May 15, 2012 4:34 PM:

    @vanderleun, Not quite sure where the intense anger (?) comes from but it’s curious. McBindle makes a good point and I agreed with it. Clearly you disagree.

    Advertising give-aways are usually done to promote a companies product. Are you saying in this case it was done just to be nice to the farmers? I don’t think a company spends money to produce something like that without some type of net gain. Do you not see how this gives broader credence to McBindle’s argument?

    I like what Draplin does design wise, but I do think there is a romance of the older aesthetic at play in his work that is usually presented through a fairly narrow vision. Where “Field Notes” excels is the matter of factness of the product. Where the Feed, Seed and Fertilizer books seem to fail (for me), is the end result of the product advertised.

    todd on May 15, 2012 10:10 PM:

    Vanderleun asks how you feed 300 million people? Good question but its not the most relevant question, nor is it a complete question to address the issue at hand. There seems to be an assumption prevailing that mass scale “annual” crops are the only way to sustain ourselves, and nothing could be further from the truth. Perrenial plant and tree crops are far less management intensive and ecologically viable. Now, Do you refer to feeding people for one meal, one day, one year, one decade, one century, or sustainably indefinitely?? When you say feed, do you mean with just enough micro-nutrients to survive or enough to biologically create a pathogen-free human body? Also, why would one group of people be left to “feed” the whole population? This is nonsensical. Also, what is your solution if oil gets so expensive and general staples become too expensive to buy at the supermarket? Also, what is your answer to the uncontroversial data showing that centralised, monocultural farming is degrading ecological systems beyond repair? Keeping in mind we can only be “fed” by the ecology itself? Pretty soon, we will be taught, by nature itself that if we are too lazy to grow and eat food from very close to where we live then we will suffer economically and physiologically, and all the evidence points to this. See “permaculture” to begin to understand where real solutions may arise from.

    Ted Harrington on May 15, 2012 11:41 PM:

    Always with the pissing contest. Thanks Michael.
    Inspired by this.

    Jess on May 16, 2012 10:17 AM:

    I think some of you people are forgetting hind sight is 20/20. Sixty years ago when the farmer bought seed from a company he didn’t know what would happen today. You could probably find the same with most of the products and practices from that time period. You people are reading way too deep.

    Johnny Horn on May 16, 2012 2:22 PM:

    Great that this vid is generating such debate and to see someone with a passion taking inspiration from the past, while preserving it for the future.But jeez, McBindle – you strike me as one of those ” glass is half empty” type of guys. Way off at a tangent – at best..

    randy on May 17, 2012 9:23 AM:

    You know what Johnny Horn…it’s not really way off on a tangent. It’s simply taking a broader view of the world than you do. It’s easy to ensconce yourself in a “design based” world and never really give a shit about anything else that goes on, and I guess that’s fine if you like living a shallow existence, but some people actually have an eye and a taste for design and have an interest in social issues as well and by pointing out that things are not just skin deep they are bringing more to the table than someone like you who seem just content to live a life without any kind of inspection beyond what kind of nonsense to put in your field notes prop.

    caleb on May 17, 2012 11:46 AM:

    This is the best. I have contacted Aaron multiple times since i was 18 about logo work and brand identity help and he’s has been positive and encouraging every step of the way. Although I have never met him and the wheels have fallen off the majority of my projects before I was able to acquire design work, I can tell you he’s passionate about his work, and I admire that.

    Thanks michael, Thanks Aaron.

    10engines on May 17, 2012 2:35 PM:

    @caleb “wheels have fallen off” – love that expression.

    Johnny Horn on May 17, 2012 3:13 PM:

    Your opinion Randy and your completely entitled to it, as I am to mine. If you want to go real deep, that’s fine. Keep yourself busy and happy doing it. You obviously lead a much more fullfilling life than me taking a broader view than my sad sorry shallow existence. Still, just don’t think you deep thinking philosophers are getting it cos yer heads are so far up yer backsides….

    jiheison on May 17, 2012 7:46 PM:

    You can’t wave away the inconvenient aspects of the history of these books without diminishing the power of their design.

    Stephen on May 19, 2012 10:42 AM:

    Aaron seems like a amazing person but the guy hating on Howard Stern needs to get a life.

    Jordan on May 19, 2012 4:07 PM:

    Hey, McBindle et al.

    I visit this site every so often because I like design, but I come from a farming family and I can tell you there are a lot of misconceptions being thrown around here that are not based in fact.

    I’m not going to turn this into a full-scale argument over industrial agriculture, but it always irks me when someone claims the “demise” of the small time farmer in favor of industrial concerns, because it just isn’t true.

    96% of farms are still family owned.

    Yes, you read that correctly. That is straight from the latest USDA Farm Income report, which is published annually.

    The differences we see are in the scale of farms. Yes, farms are getting bigger. A producer nowadays is going to be operating a lot more acreage than he did in 1950, and technology allows a bigger yield per acre than it did back then too. But you also have to look at other trends, such as city vs rural population, and the exploding population in general that help explain why a farmer nowadays feeds so many more people than 60 years ago. And the “industrial agriculture” component is in the distribution, not the production. Those 96% of farms that are family-owned produce their grain or livestock as usual, but they then sell their product to larger industrial interests. So yes, larger agricompanies do play a role, but they are not wiping out farmers with their own operations.

    Anyway, I think Field Notes are cool, which is why I clicked on this article. But I’m also a sixth generation farming family, and an ag econ student, so it’s important to me to help spread truth about the state of agriculture in a whirlwind of disinformation.

    I don’t blame you. In today’s world, there are so many platforms for people to spread their opinions, it’s hard to know who to believe. But family farming is NOT gone.

    I won’t debate pesticide or fertilizer use, but will simply say that in farming, a single insect can literally wipe out your year’s income, and fertilizer can triple it. What would you do?

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I just don’t like people without firsthand experience shitting all over what my family has done since they moved here 130 years ago, and who knows how many years before in their former home.

    Jordan on May 19, 2012 4:11 PM:

    BTW, the 96% figure is for American farms, not worldwide. I should have clarified that.

    And there is a rise in absentee ownership. People “leaving the farm” for the opportunities of a city or nearby town, but retaining ownership. This can be hard for some families to accept not producing from their own ground, but off-farm incomes are usually higher, and provides opportunities for rural youth that they can’t get on the farm. So, they lease out their land for neighbors to use.

    We do that for several of our fields.

    Anyway, I just encourage people to learn more about how things work in agriculture first-hand, rather than relying on Food Inc or something to provide all the “facts.” Everybody always has an angle (including me! I am in agriculture, after all!) But it’s important to know the whole story before judging.

    Johnny Horn on May 20, 2012 7:54 AM:

    Thanks Jordan. Good words. What’s irked me is the sorry misguided cynics who have extrapolated the content of the video into another dimension and pissed all over Aaron’s source material and inspiration behind his product. It follows that they are demeaning his work and his talent – which I think is wrong. From his website, it’s reassuring to see that he doesn’t give a damn what these style / taste / history soothsayers think. There’s no obligation or need for him to prove anything to these numpties. Thanks to Michael for posting the video and respect to Aaron for his work.

    todd schnick on May 25, 2012 6:48 PM:

    ok. i am hooked.

Comments are closed.