Born and raised on the quiet island of Kauai, Aaron Nace would be the first to tell you that his upbringing was anything but ordinary. His free spirit developed in part to a childhood spent chasing wild chickens through his neighborhood, building forts deep in the Hawaiian jungle, and endlessly exploring along the edges of cliffs and waterfalls. Few could imagine a better environment for developing a profound sense of imagination and adventure. Despite the obvious perks of Hawaiian life, Aaron would eventually move with his mother, father, and two brothers to North Carolina, leaving paradise behind to begin a new chapter in their lives.
After finishing high school, Aaron would continue his education at North Carolina State University pursuing a degree in Industrial Design. There, he put his creative ideas to work while picking up the Photoshop chops that would ultimately define his future. Graduating from college, he thought his path was clear to one day becoming an automotive or furniture designer -- that is until a six-month long trip to South America transformed his life forever.
Packing a point-and-shoot camera, Aaron would spend the better part of 2007 capturing the beauty and grandeur of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. Perhaps tapping into the memories of his childhood explorations, he found himself captivated by the scenic landscapes, kind people, and rich cultures. Even more impactful, he was excited about how he could document his experiences with his camera. It was during this time that he fell in love with photography and its power to both facilitate and share adventures.
The years following would be a whirlwind. Aaron took the dive into making photography his full-time job. His first challenge; a 365 day self-portrait photography project designed to elevate his skills and test his creative mettle. As his self-portraits became more and more unique and expressive, he amassed an impressive following on Flickr. Then, when he decided to begin recording tutorials for YouTube to teach his techniques, that community followed, eager to learn from someone that was so willing to share. And with that, PHLEARN was born.
Initially, PHLEARN was an enjoyable side-project designed to bring in some income to fund Aaron’s passion projects. As the years went on, those passion projects helped his style and vision coalesce. His formal education was grounded in practicality; industrial design is the art of form and function, often characterized by precision and clarity. In contrast, his unique perspective drove him to inject elements of the strange and imaginative. The resulting images exist somewhere in-between high fashion and surreal fantasy.
With access to an instructor with such a distinct sense of style and warm personality, PHLEARN’s YouTube channel began to grow exponentially. PHLEARN inevitably grew out of Aaron’s North Carolina apartment and the company now calls Chicago home, taking up residence in a spacious studio overlooking the city’s iconic skyline.
Now, with over 500 tutorials, PHLEARN has evolved into a massive resource for anyone aspiring to express their creativity whether it be personally or professionally. Aaron has also evolved from that of a pure creative to someone now responsible for the day-to-day growth and development of a thriving business. With nearly 1.5 million YouTube subscribers, the demands of curating new and challenging content for his students requires the majority of his focus, though he still manages to find the time for the conceptual work that he loves.
Whether he’s working out a way to pull off some new bizarre image or he’s helping sculpt the direction of a company to ensure the happiness of its customers and employees, Aaron finds a way to make sure that his personal philosophy continues to resonate throughout everything that he does.
Keep it simple.
Keep it weird.
Enjoy the adventure.
And never stop learning.