Kate Bingaman-Burt, a graphic designer, illustrator, and associate professor of graphic design at Portland State University, has her finger on the pulse of design. Her Instagram is chock full of inspiration, and her website even offers a free, 45 minute, zine-making tutorial. She is well known for her projects based on personal consumerism.
BINGAMAN-BURT: One of my favorite things to do is to travel by myself in places that I don’t really know. Where everything feels new and different. I enjoy riding through the city on my scooter quite a bit, because it is a different sensory experience than in the car. I smell, hear, and see my surroundings in a totally different way; I am so much more aware.
SOLIS: What is your illustration process?
BINGAMAN-BURT: All of my freelance work starts on paper. I haven’t figured out how to use a tablet effectively. I am really nerdy about line quality, and I know that I can get there with the tablet, I just haven’t yet; therefore, I scan everything in. I use this program, Vector Magic. It is so dorky, but it converts to vector really well. I do a lot of my illustrations in parts and pieces, and once I get them into the computer, I start arranging, copying and pasting, using textures or transparencies. It becomes a collage of my own drawings. It is a real push and pull, between the computer, and the hand.
SOLIS: How do you see social media, and the Internet impacting illustration?
BINGAMAN-BURT: Hand-drawn illustration has become really popular over the last several years, which is interesting. With that, I have noticed the terms plagiarism, appropriation and inspiration have gotten even fuzzier. I think a lot of it has to do with the Internet and the endless amount of images available at our fingertips. It is so easy to mindlessly consume imagery without even thinking about it. With that being said, I believe it has also become easy to adopt others’ ideas as your own, even subconsciously. As a teacher and freelance artist, I want to be incredibly conscious and aware of what I am putting out, as a result of what is coming in. If you are an artist, you have to figure out how not to contribute to the social media’s pile of goop. You have to ask yourself, “What is my point of view, and how do I want it to communicate with people?” After you figure that out, then you make piles of it, claim it as your own and put your stamp on it. Many of my projects wouldn’t have been nearly as successful, if I hadn’t made like 3,200 drawings in total–– repetition is so powerful.
SOLIS: What did you want to be growing up?
BINGAMAN-BURT: All throughout high school, I wanted to be a journalist. I came from a family of artists, but I wanted to write. My parents were weavers growing up, they would travel all over selling their tapestries at different art shows. They did that for several years. I never felt super poor, but I knew that unless I got scholarships, I wouldn’t be attending any major university. I ended up going to a work-study college in Branson, Mo., the College of the Ozarks, and it was so small and bizarre, but I didn’t have to pay for school. Through my experiences there, I realized that I didn’t want to major in journalism, and ended up falling in love with graphic design.
SOLIS: What inspired you to begin illustrating?
BINGAMAN-BURT: My grandparents were illustrators, but I never enjoyed drawing as a kid. I thought drawing was very specific, in that all forms should look “real,” and that did not interest me at all. My illustrating began with a personal project that involved my relationship with money. From 2002 to 2004, I was photo-documenting everything I purchased. Also, during this time, I was going from garage sale to garage sale, and asking people about their financial situations; the haves and the have not’s. I feel fairly safe in saying that everyone has a complicated relationship with money. These days, we are all so quick to share via social media, with people that we don’t even know, intimate details of our life; yet, we still don’t talk about the debt we may have, or purchases that we shouldn’t have made. At the end of the project, I felt like a giant hypocrite. I had asked all these people for the past 28 months about their relationship toward money, while at that point, I was $26,000 in debt, and hadn’t told a soul. I decided to turn my debt situation into a project, and I wanted to pick a medium that I felt dually uncomfortable with, which was drawing. I began drawing my credit card statements every month, until they were paid off. Drawing all these statements was the equivalent of writing on a chalkboard, “I won’t be stupid with money,” over and over again. The first night I posted online, I couldn’t sleep. I felt so vulnerable and embarrassed; however, in the end, so many great things came from this project, such as my love for drawing.
SOLIS: Who is your biggest influence?
BINGAMAN-BURT: My grandmother. She had this awesome studio in the basement of her house, and I can still remember what it smelled like (a really toxic spray adhesive). All of her work was done from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m., so that her work never interfered with her being a mother. I have no idea how she did that, because I just know my grandfather didn’t help with anything, but it was a much different time. She was born in 1925 in Germany. A day after her birth, when the nurses weren’t watching, her mom committed suicide by jumping out of the hospital window––it was tragic. Her aunt ended up raising her because her father didn’t know how to take care of a baby girl. Eventually, she went to art school. I have some of the scrapbooks that she made when she was 14 or 15 years old, in which she would practice different lettering styles, and copy movie posters. Later, when she was 19 years old, she was approached by a children’s book company, which asked her to illustrate a book. After that, I kid you not, she worked consistently until she was 75, because of the strong relationships she made, and her ability to deliver quality product. She ended up illustrating over 1,000 different coloring books, and children’s books. I know that if her vision hadn’t failed, she would have continued to illustrate until the end.
SOLIS: It must have been challenging for her as a woman illustrator during that generation?
BINGAMAN-BURT: She always played second fiddle to my grandpa, a combat illustrator during wartime, and portrait artist after. Whenever there were newspaper or magazine articles, they were always about my grandpa. There was a series in the Kenosha, Wis. newspaper, where my grandparents lived, that was called The Wives and They’re Lives. It was a weekly article that featured the wife of an important man in the community. It was supposed to be this big honor, but really it was so demeaning. I have the article that featured her framed in my home studio. It is so funny, because she was the one that really ran the family. So at least today, we don’t have a column called, The Wives and They’re Lives.