Earlier this year I ran across the news that artist Jason Polan had passed away back in 2020 at the age of 37 having succumbed to cancer and I wanted to post a few words about how he inspired me with the prolific amount of creative work and ideas he shared with the world. If you’ve not heard about Jason Polan before, I hope his story and work will also inspire you and your work.
I don’t know exactly when I learned about Jason, but I do recall it was from a short sidebar article about quirky gifts people could buy published in some long forgotten magazine. The article spotlighted the fact you could buy a hand drawn piece of art (a giraffe) for just $10 from this guy named Jason Polan and provided a link to his work on the art website 20×200. His deceptively simply line drawing art appealed to the doodler in me and the so-low-how-can-you-resist price tag sparked all sorts of ideas in my inner side-hustler. I was instantly hooked and needed to learn more about the artist and his work.
I learned about how Jason Polan established the Taco Bell Drawing Club in 2005 as a weekly meet-up for anyone who wanted to draw. Jason is quoted in The New Yorker as saying “If you draw at Taco Bell, you’re a member” and had laminated membership cards he’d hand out to anyone who wanted one.
You could often find Jason on the streets of NYC working on his never-ending art project called “Every Person In New York” where he’d simply spend time literally trying to draw every person he observed on the city streets. A collected “volume 1” of this work was collected in a book of the same title. I can’t think of a better way to combine his dual degrees in anthropology and art from the University of Michigan.
In 2015 in became aware of how Jason was trying to scale his Hand Drawn Giraffe project by offering to drawn as many giraffes as one could want for just $1 each. The image below is a screenshot from Jason’s (now-defunct) website:
I know I learned about his Hand Drawn Giraffe project in 2015 because I loved the idea so much that I made an entry in my idea journal for a Hand Drawn Lightbulb project which was a
blatant rip off of homage to Jason’s giraffe idea.
I don’t recall why my base cost was $100 versus Jason’s $25 but I think the intent was to draw the images inside of a Moleskine notebook rather than a sheet of paper. I never actually posted this offer (perhaps I should revisit the concept?)
In addition to all of Jason’s personal projects I found so interesting and inspiring, he also produced commercial illustration work for retail brands and print periodicals. He was active in the contemporary art world and his work was displayed in museums and galleries, as well as featured in solo and group exhibitions.
Another of initiative of Jason’s I found appealing was when he offered to send an original “Thumbs Up” sketch to anyone who made a donation (of any amount) to the ACLU.
The brand UNIQLO produced a short video honoring Jason Polan and I think it provides a nice overview for those of you interested in learning more about the artist and his work.
Just as I was inspired by the lighthearted and inclusive work of Jason Polan I’m certain many, many others across the country and around the world were also inspired to think and dream and draw — and maybe even make connections with other humans on the streets of their cities.
So long, Jason and thanks for all the giraffes…