Chaos Theory

Reflections on paper from artist and designer Drew Schafer

As a kid, Drew Schafer didn’t care much for coloring books. The characters were already drawn.

And, as a burgeoning artist growing up in small-town St. Charles, Michigan, where was the fun in that?

Instead, young Schafer preferred a big stack of printer paper, which allowed him to draw, and draw, and draw to his heart’s delight. Made-up superheroes, a literal monster truck, treasured toys in action—they all sprang to life across the page.

As he got older, he noticed a fondness for what was unsettling taking hold.

Schafer admits, with a rue smile, that much of his art is “not exactly Disney-friendly.” He counts among his artistic influences the work of Alex Pardee, Takato Yamamoto, graffiti artist Banksy, and early Tim Burton.

“I’ve tried to make all kinds of excuses for it (his style of art) in the past, like ‘Oh, there’s lots of people doing pretty stuff; I’ll do the ugly stuff,’” says Schafer, who sports brown buzzed hair, a goatee, and multiple tattoos. “Really, I just like monsters and scary things.” Now 25, he is disarmingly funny, cerebral yet unassuming, and admittedly verbose.

It is his mom, a talented landscape painter of all things beautiful, whom he credits as his biggest influence. She, along with his grandmother, also a painter, encouraged him early on to pursue his passion for art.

“Sounds like a cliché, but I don’t think that I chose art. I think it’s something that kinda chose me,” says Schafer, who studied electronic media and design in college. “It’s been a lot of different things for me. It’s been a medium of creative release, it’s been a paycheck, it’s been catharsis, [and] it’s been one pervasive element throughout my life.”

Underneath all of the chaos and “spooky” souls gracing Schafer’s artwork is one constant. Paper.

More than any other medium, he regards it as his favorite. Schafer uses anything he can get his hands on, although he appreciates the quality of Strathmore® sketchpads and the forgiveness of the fine-tooth finish on certain journal, planner, and diary pages. “I think it (a fine-tooth finish) makes it easier to erase, which I need to do quite frequently. There’s no undo button on a stack of paper,” he says.

Other times, paper itself becomes art. Carefully layering images clipped from magazines and other paper sources, Schafer constructs collages that are chaotic and controlled, subversive and beautiful.

Today, Schafer channels his artistic talents into Aberro Creative Agency, a marketing and web design firm he founded with two former classmates in 2013. Schafer serves as art director and lead designer for the agency located in Midland, Michigan.

“I’m quick to laugh when designers lament the so-called death of print. There has yet to be a digital replacement for the satisfying tactile experience of running your thumb over an embossed business card printed on toothy 110lb stock,” says Schafer. “If anything, print has become only more romantic and novel as it takes its place as a premium alternative to the ubiquitous touchscreen. It’s one of my favorite things to design for.”

Regardless of the finished product, beginnings are always the same. Whether he’s designing a logo, planning out a website, or fabricating a movie prop Tyrannosaurus Rex leg, Schafer starts with a concept on paper.

“I think that there’s something sacred about that sketch you have, that sheet of paper that’s left behind,” says Schafer, noting the value of seeing how something started out, where it progressed, and what it looks like when it’s all polished up in Illustrator or Photoshop. He shares examples of beautifully crafted hand-drawn typography first on sketch paper, then tracing paper, and the final printed Aberro Creative thank-you card. It’s art and design coming full circle.

“And, quite frankly,” Schafer says with a smile, “it’s just easier to bust out a pencil and paper.”