I'm especially excited to bring you the latest q&a with artist and graphic designer Kate Bingaman Burt. Kate has been extraordinarily busy with many projects ranging from hand lettering the brand new book Handmade Nation to a big move cross country, so it was super cool of her to make some time to answer some questions. She talks with us about everything from her project Obsessive Consumption to her mom on etsy. Kate's documenation of her purchases is so good for so many reasons, the main reason is that she takes an everyday occurence and turns it into art. That my friends is pretty neat. Please be sure to check out Kate's blog What Did You Buy Today? and her etsy shop where you can purchase a years subscription to her monthly zine (Kate has a holiday special going on too! If you purchase a years subscription you receive a drawing of Kate's as well with your subscription! Neat!).
You started your brand/project Obsessive Consumption to catalog your everyday purchases. Can you tell us a little bit about how that started?
I have always been a big list maker. In my early 20's I worked as an in house designer at a gift company in Omaha. Along with designing their products (candles, food packaging, bath and soap and other smelly things) I also went to trade shows all over the place to sell the stuff. It was there that I became pretty fascinated with spotting trends and trying to guess what store buyers would want. I would LOVE listening to conversations about what their customers wanted and why. I would try to design and tap into these purchasing habits.
I then realized I couldn't design that way anymore. I wanted some time to explore some of the thoughts I was having about consumerism. So I was fortunate and spent my mid-20s in graduate school researching these consumerism questions, but in a personal way. I really wanted to know the history of objects. [I] spent a lot of time in thrift stores and yard sales taking pictures and talking to people about what they were buying or what they were giving way.
Eventually I decided that I was going to focus on the history of my own objects, that is when I started documenting all of my purchases. I did this for 28 months. I would take a picture of the purchase, print it out and then place the picture and the receipt into a glassine envelope. I would then date stamp the envelope, rank it and upload all of the purchases to my website.
Through this process of tracking and drawing your purchases, have you found out things about yourself that you didn't know before?
The emotional revelations really happened more when I first started uploading purchases to the internet (2003), then when I started drawing my credit card statements. Drawing my purchases is actually a lot of fun. Having the evidence of everything that I buy pretty much only confirmed things that I thought about my consumerism before: I need to eat better, I need to stop buying magazines so much and I need to think more about the purchase before buying (which I TOTALLY do now).
Your hand drawn credit card statements are what initially drew me to your work. There is an honesty within them just by the very nature of what they are. Why did you choose to replicate your cc statements?
I had a pretty good idea that I was racking up the bills while I was in school, but sort of refused to think about it. Ironic, huh? Here I am documenting all of my purchases, but I would never want to add up the monthly totals or even think about making a better payment plan for my credit card bills. I was ashamed so I didn't talk about that side of my consumption. Too much guilt. If you don't talk about it, it doesn't exist, right?
So I finished school and started my job as an assistant professor teaching graphic design. This was pretty early on at my job and I found myself sitting at my desk in my office just staring at a pile of credit card bills. I was rather shocked and I felt rather powerless and of course, I was just embarrassed that I had racked up $20,000 dollars in credit card debt. As I was staring at this pile of bills I just started to draw one because I wasn't quite sure what my next move was going to be. As I was drawing I decided that I was going to draw all of my statements until they were paid off. I am happy to say that I am almost finished with this project.
You bring a real personality to debt and consuming, you've talked about the emotion and energy that goes along with bills, debt and money. Do you feel that you have found a freedom from the guilt?
Guilt plays a big role in my work actually. I would say Silliness and Guilt are two big themes. I still feel guilty about my credit cards, but I feel better when I make stuff with my hands.
Reading your blog always makes me feel like I am not alone in my shopping, that perhaps you too get very excited about a trip to Walgreen's! Are you an obsessive consumer?
I am not an obsessive consumer but more of an obsessive looker, if that makes sense. I love looking and observing and collecting. I also love displays and multiples so stores of all kind are pretty fascinating for me. And I do love going to Walgreen's :)
What are your favorite sites to shop from online?
The ones that I frequent the most are Itunes, Amazon and Etsy. They make it so easy! Other favorite online shops: Fred Flare, 20x200, Supermarkethq, Little Paper Planes, Frecklewonder, Chocosho, Fantagraphics, Nieves Books, Printed Matter, J&L Books...Oh man, just so many great stores to choose from online.
When you meet fans of your work, do they share with you their own shopping stories?
Yes! I love it. One of the reasons I decided to make zines was so I could easily share tangible pieces of my work with more people. I really like the connection that a zine can make. Don't get me wrong, I like blogging the images too, but having the object for yourself is just so much better.
You have conducted quite a few zine workshops. I personally love zines and am fascinated with zine culture. What do you think it is about zines that gets people so excited? what do you personally like about zines?
They are so personal and accessible. Anyone can make a zine! I love giving workshops to students and watching them realize that they love making a book and then watching them love it even more when they make multiples of the book and are able to share it with others. It is the best.
Do you think you buy less now? Has Obsessive Consumption changed your frame of mind on how you view conspicuous consumption?
I am not sure if I buy less, I am not really sure if I ever bought a lot...I do know that I did purchase a lot of stupid, small stuff without thinking. I never bought HUGE, ridiculous items, just a lot of magazines, books and cds. That crap adds up.
My friend Ian was looking at my credit card statements, in graduate school and just shook his head at the balance. He said "Where are your jewels, Your tiara? You have nothing, really...Where did this debt come from?" And he was right...right in a way that little things add up. Not thinking about your spending, not budgeting and simply not paying attention can get you in trouble. Buying small things to make you feel better because you had a crappy day or treating yourself to a shirt because you worked hard on a project - that is what gets you in trouble.
Some of your work is crafty and DIY, for instance your pillows and zines. One of the things I really admire about you is that although you are graphic designer by trade, your work still has an accessibility to a wider craft conscious audience. Have you always been into DIY and crafts?
I have always liked making things with my hands. I was an odd graphic design major because I would look for ways to construct my projects from materials or ask if I could draw or paint instead of use the computer. I eventually started to slide technology in and blend it with my tendency of wanting to make everything by hand.
I grew up in a very tech and craft friendly family. My parents were weavers for 17 years. My dad has a background in engineering and was always bringing computers into the house and taking things apart and showing me how to put things back together again. He was Make Magazine before it even existed. I remember doing so many science projects with my Dad (building radios, telegraphs, cameras, oxidizing metal, making bridges out of toothpicks etc) and so many creative projects with my mom (making costumes, choreographing dances, making music and the standard art stuff). I loved it.
Your mom is on etsy, did you have a hand in that?
Yep! But like I said before, she is certainly not new to selling art offline. I grew up in a super small town and would just cross off the days on my calendar until the summer time came so I could travel all around with them to different art shows. I had such a good time wandering around the fairs and watching my Mom and Dad sell their work.
What is coming up for you over the next year?
Lots of fun stuff! I am helping with the organization of the Handmade Nation screening (and other fun events) here in Portland which will be happening in April. I just signed a book contract with Princeton Architectural Press. They will be publishing 650 of my daily drawings March of 2010 so I have a lot of editing and writing and drawing to do! I have a few group shows and speaking engagements in 2009. The How Design Conference invited me to talk about Craftivism this year so I am thrilled to speak about this topic in their venue. I also have an installation of new work at The Paperboat Gallery for the end of the summer in 2009 which will be great because I won't be in school and will have time to immerse myself in the gallery for awhile.
So, mostly I will be teaching, freelancing (this month I have a bunch of illustrations in Ready-Made), working on my book and thinking about installations and objects to make. Oh! and drawing! and making zines!