An Interview with Kate Bingaman-Burt
"I accidentally stumbled into the joys of meditative drawing and started really enjoying the repetitive lines and marks and type"
Kate Bingaman-Burt is virtually visiting the University of New Mexico Honors College this week to talk with students and inspire them to think about their “third spaces” and what it means to keep a sketchbook. We took the opportunity to ask her a couple questions for Autobiographix.
How did you develop your artistic voice?
It's been a LONG process. The short version is that drawing was one of my least favorite ways of making. I started a project in 2004 where I drew all of my credit card statements until they were paid off, and I made myself draw them as a form of punishment. But I accidentally stumbled into the joys of meditative drawing and started really enjoying the repetitive lines and marks and type, and about two years into that project; I started another project where I was drawing something other than my dumb credit card statements. On February 5th, 2006, I started drawing one purchased object daily. This project came with a set of rules that included only using a pen (if I used a pencil, I would be tempted to erase), no do-overs (I had to go with a line that felt wonky), and I had to share the drawing (online and in zine form). This project is still ongoing and led me to my drawing style and my career in illustration.
Your work provides an interesting commentary on consumer culture and personal identity. Can you speak a bit about how you see the intersection of these themes in your art and what you hope people take away from your projects?
I started working with consumption issues because I was fascinated by the stories behind our objects, how thoughtfully or carelessly we consume, and how you can navigate a person's life by looking at their objects. My main takeaway 20 years later is things I try to remind myself daily through my work: Slow down, listen, pay attention, ask questions, document, and share. And hopefully, the viewer might be inspired to document and draw meaningful or not-so-meaningful elements of their own life.
Over the years, have you noticed significant changes in your consumption habits and how they influenced your work?
Earlier in this process, I struggled with shame and guilt and the sharing aspect of my consumption. I had a project from 2002 until 2004 where I photographed everything I purchased with my first digital camera (2.1 megapixels!) and uploaded these purchases to the internet with brief captions and a ranking system. Social media didn't really exist then in the way that we think of it now, so this was all pretty new territory and sounds so silly in 2023, where everyone has easy access to literally share all of the things. I have a digital trail of my purchasing habits that goes back over 20 years. It's a strange archive to have of me at 24 and 46. The timeline shows many moves, new jobs, marriage, having a baby, and the general march of time (lots of late-night-outs to age-related medical issues). It's the story of almost half of my life through my stuff, and I am so glad I have this archive. I have a kid who is five, and even though I don't keep scrapbooks for him, I feel like a mommy blogger with how my 17-year-old daily drawing project has been very Hank-focused since 2018, but that's a super accurate reflection of my life. I opened up my risograph studio Outlet in 2017, which also reflected in my purchases. I am drawing my life through my objects and I don't want to stop.
What are some of the joys and challenges of maintaining this rhythm of daily illustration?
I am a very routine-based person. I thrive on structure, and almost all of my projects have some rule system to follow (even if it's a loose rule system). A huge believer in constraint = creation. I took a break from my daily drawing project in 2014 and picked it back up again in 2017 when I turned 40. I consider 2014, 2015, and 2016 the lost years in that I have a hard time remembering what the heck when on during this time because I didn't have my ritual of slowing down for 20 minutes, thinking about my day, and drawing the object that represented it the best. I was swamped and productive for those years, but in reflection, they feel pretty squiggly because I didn't have that rhythm. Forcing myself to slow down is a joy, and I don't think I would make myself do this if I didn't have that baked into my rule system. 2014, 2015, and 2016 were three hectic years for me regarding freelance and teaching. In those years, I also incubated Outlet, which I opened in 2017. So the break from the ritual was a good one; it's just something I don't see myself doing again, especially since I had Hank in 2018. I feel like I am drawing for him now too.
Are you working on something now?
I am starting to travel again for workshops and visiting artist opportunities, which hasn't happened for a minute because of having a little kid and because of covid, so that's exciting. I have a few conference talks booked for 2024 and a week-long workshop that I was invited to give at Women's Studio Workshop in NY at the end of August of 2024 that I am looking forward to. Along with my drawing projects and running Outlet, I am also the Associate Director of the School of Art and Design at Portland State, and I am on a team that has been working on a new building for the school. It's been a huge undertaking, and we will break ground in about a year which is tremendously exciting. This fall marks my 15th year of being a Professor at Portland State, and I am building a teaching resource site that isn't just for my students but for anyone interested in diving into design and illustration. I am hoping to launch this at the end of the year.
Kate Bingaman-Burt is a multi-disciplinary artist, illustrator, and educator based in Portland, Oregon. Kate’s teaching focuses on helping others find their creative voice and empowering people through making marks, making zines, and making prints! For her practice, Kate mostly draws letters and documents and collects, but she also does many other things involving energy, conversation, and exchange. She is a full-time educator and makes illustrations for all sorts of clients worldwide, including The New York Times, Hallmark, Girl Scouts of America, and Chipotle. Since 2008, she has worked at Portland State and holds the Professor of Graphic Design position. She is also the Associate Director of the School of Art + Design and the head of the Graphic Design program. In 2017, Kate founded the community print space Outlet, which hosts workshops, pop-up events, a zine library, and a fully operational risograph print studio.
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