Kate Bingaman-Burt

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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. 

 

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Sue Parker

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“A girlfriend of mine, and I were drunk in college, and we decided we wanted double piercings. It was a blood bath. She decided to just take a normal stud, and bore it through my ear. I can’t even tell you how much an ear actually bleeds.” -SUE PARKER

Sue’s story exemplifies her persona–– outrageous, infectious, and tenacious. Direct and to the point, she is a business warrior. Her marketing/branding agency, Frank, has been strategizing and designing for 15 years.

SOLIS: What is your passion?

PARKER: I’m very into social inequality and politics, and I am constantly thinking about how I can combine my dharma with other artists to do good. It is important to not allow barriers that you perceive to stop you from achieving your goals. With everything that you pursue there will be steps upon steps that you climb. You can’t just stop on step 50, you have to persevere and continue to grow, keep on going and finish strong.

SOLIS: What inspired you to go into advertising?

PARKER: I was young and working at Reebok, where I initially did secretarial work. I loved it, and learned so much just sitting in the CEO and vice president’s office. I was going to school at Emerson, and was studying advertising communications. I found it to be quite interesting–– language in general. We executed the Reebok UBU campaign in 1987, and Peter Moore, who later became my boss, partnered with Weiden and Kennedy to execute the Nike campaigns, Revolution and Just Do It, at exactly the same time. At the time, it was so apparent that we had beat Nike in terms of our product, and our incredibly connected community; however, Peter used branding to sell, and with sneakers it was revolutionary. Peter believed that advertising and marketing in sneakers was not taboo, and was necessary to further sales. Building a product without communication and advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark–– it’s not going to get you anywhere. With these two campaigns, Nike skyrocketed industries away from Reebok. So, by 1989, I realized that my next step was an agency environment. My current senior management simply did not have the ability to further me in advertising and branding.

SOLIS: How did you end up working for Peter Moore?

PARKER: A friend of mine whom I had worked with at Reebok, Steve Liggett, called me. He had been working with Peter for the past year and was running Adidas’s U.S. marketing. He explained that they were building a U.S. Adidas office, and that they had this idea called “Originals.” He had told Peter about me, and wanted me to come in and meet with him. I was psyched; I couldn’t be happier in having someone like Peter Moore as my direct supervisor–– it blew my mind. I mean, he was the catalyst that pushed me into advertising to begin with.

I was 4 hours late to my first meeting with Peter. The Heathman Hotel, where I was staying, did not provide me a wake up call. When I did finally arrive in old Dr. Martens, ripped jeans and homemade jewelry, his assistant was so miffed with me that he told me that I would only have 2 minutes with Peter. Two and half-hours later, I had a contract. Peter knew that I understood the value of both branding and product. “Advertising People” didn’t know the process of creating shoe and apparel concepts, and “Product People” still thought product was King. They wouldn’t do the marketing, communication, and promotion (including PR) necessary to move the concept forward.  Peter needed someone who got both, and had a proven track record of both. At the time, I was the only one in the industry. The Originals Business Unit Strategy was created from a product, promotions and distribution standpoint, and still serves as a screener. This was driven by me, and of course, created by a whole host of incredibly brilliant people. I created a category, and the team that followed truly created “the business.”

SOLIS: What inspired you to begin Frank?

PARKER: I realized that the more I worked with corporations that they really were not sharing profit, with the exception of a select few. We, the employees in these big powerhouses, began to become really cynical by about 1997. That’s when I started to formulate in my mind that maybe there was a better way to do things within the industry. While I was running the Adidas Accessories division that was an ESOP (employee stock option program), whose sales were doubling due to some very groundbreaking projects, I still felt stifled creatively. The projects that I wanted to see manifest themselves were unable to actualize, and I realized that I needed to choose who I worked with directly on a day-to-day basis. A trusting business associate of mine, Bob Orlando, who was running Adidas Originals, decided he would be venturing on to Teva footwear, wherein he would become the President. He asked if I would like to go with him and my response was, “Better yet, let me go and build this new company that is more collaborative, where everyone shares in profit, and we can all bring the best to the table at a very nominal price.” I started the company to create what I thought was a new way that creatives and marketers could serve CEOs far more cost efficiently, and far more effectively.

What further propelled me to begin my own business at 35 years old was my health. My doctors were advising me that I would not be having a child because of my lifestyle. I was working 12-hour days, and traveling all the time. I was forced to make a decision; I could stay on my current unhealthy track, or I could do my own thing and run my life at the pace that I wanted. The latter would allow me more of an opportunity to start a family, which is what I wanted.

SOLIS: Was this all happening in Portland?

PARKER: Los Angeles. I left all of my contacts, took off, and just sat on the beach. I set up my office on Hermosa Pier, and literally, I dropped out of the scene for over a decade. The only people that I talked to were people I called while “dialing for dollars.” I was trying to get business while also rejuvenating myself, and within three years I was pregnant–––I got my wish, and the doctors couldn’t believe it. I was doing so much yoga and drinking at least two shots of wheat grass everyday.

SOLIS: Where does advertising stand today?

PARKER: We went from a manufacturing mindset in the 70s, wherein product was king, to a marketing mind, wherein marketing was queen, to now, a media mind. As a brand, you are not just making the product, and you’re not just marketing it. Now, you have to become a media house, and be your own publication. There is Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc, and the experts tell us that the best practices are across seven networks. Now you need editors and people constructing content mountains that are asking, “What do we talk about tomorrow? How does that roll up to what we talked about for a week? Who are our ambassadors that talk back and forth with us on social media?” These are all structured marketing programs that are used today.

Elizabeth Dye

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Elizabeth Dye, a Portland native designs wedding dresses––beautiful, elegant, and timeless pieces that inspire brides, and those who hope to be one. We met in her Northwest studio where I became a little girl again, and ogled at the beautiful dresses hanging in the sunlight.

DYE: The very first wedding dresses I designed were for friends, because even though today’s brides have a lot of choices, when I started out that was not true. Unless you had a lot of money to spend, you pretty much had to go to a terrible bridal salon with scary old ladies that would try to talk you into some polyester cupcake monstrosity. The vast majority of my friends could not identify with that experience at all, and were borderline traumatized by the idea. My friends knew I made clothes, and they began approaching me with their visions. Then, like with anything, if you start doing something and you get good at it, you just get more of it. Over time, I started to see patterns, certain things that brides wanted, and I recognized that certain dresses needed to simply exist and did not need to be designed from scratch every time. I also got more confident in my design abilities and developed my own style. I launched my first line in 2010, and it was a culmination of my experiences as a custom designer.

SOLIS: Tell me about your former bridal boutique, The English Department?

DYE: I opened the shop in 2005. It didn’t start out as bridal, it was originally street clothing. After being open a year, I brought in some simple, alternative wedding dresses, and they just took off. It was the part of the business that was clearly growing, and after moving locations from Northwest 23rd to our current location on Southwest Alder, I decided that the shop really needed to be either street wear or bridal. At that time, it became really obvious which way the shop should go, because the bridal portion of the shop was booming. As the shop grew, I couldn’t do it all––design custom dresses, run the boutique, and design my own line. So I stopped doing custom dresses, and I ran the shop side-by-side with my line for about three or four years before my head exploded because it was all too much. *Laughs

In 2013, I sold the shop. I still have a great relationship with the new owners, and I sell my dresses there, but the sale allowed me to step away and focus on wholesale. I occasionally do a custom dress now for fun, but most of the time, I don’t have the time. I design two collections a year, and the minute we are done with one, it is time to start on the next one; however, with selling to about 25 stores around the world, I have been able to do a lot of traveling now.

SOLIS: Do you remember a time when you were terrified to design a dress?

DYE: I do! I would say that the scariest dresses I had to design were projects that I took on without knowing exactly how to craft the dress in the first place. Ultimately, I think that is how we all learn, though, by being a little uncomfortable. There was one dress in particular that gave me a hard time, and it was in silk chiffon. It had these really elaborate pleats across the front. I had stitched all the pleats down so that they wouldn’t shift around, and were stabilized. When the bride came in for the final fitting, and we were going to pull out all of the stabilizing threads, I realized that I had no idea if it was going to work at all. Her mom was there, and the pressure was on. I pulled out the threads, and the whole dress sprung out. It actually turned out great, but there were beads of sweat dripping down my face for sure.

SOLIS: How did you learn your craft?

DYE: Well, I actually am an English major. I am a totally self-taught designer. I did not have a mentor, and I totally should have. I think I was super stubborn and just wanted to do it on my own, which is absolutely the most stupid and longest way to do anything. But I have a lot of friends and colleagues who along the way have helped me out with tips and advice. I always tell interns, “Don’t do anything I did. By being an intern, you are already way ahead of me.”

SOLIS: You just designed a new ready-to-wear resort collection. What prompted this?

DYE: I did. Doing bridal wear, you don’t deal with a lot of color, and I love really punchy prints. I am obsessed with Palm Springs, and I think that I have a fantasy lifestyle, wherein I would make all the clothing for such a place. Right now, it is just an experimental line so that I can branch out creatively. It won’t necessarily be available for purchase. I want everything I design to be perfected before being sold to the public. There is a lot of clothing in the world, and I like knowing that the pieces I am designing have a purpose and are special. I like knowing that someone is not going to just turn around and eBay it right away. With bridal, I know that I am creating a keepsake that will last forever, and it is so fulfilling. I am definitely not above fast fashion, but I don’t want to make that.

SOLIS: Have you always been drawn to the idea of escapism through fashion?

DYE: I think fashion with a capital “F,” like pure fashion design, is fantasy. It is about using clothes as a way to manifest an alternate reality. For me, especially on a rainy Portland day, that alternate reality is resort wear. Resort in so many ways is the opposite of my day to day. It is a getaway, and that is what makes fashion so much fun. In life there are so many things that we don’t have control over, so when people are like, “ I don’t care about clothes,” I think that is such a missed opportunity to just be somebody different for the day.

SOLIS: Do you have anything in your personal wardrobe that is particularly special to you?

DYE: The most special thing I own is a little sequin jacket I found at an antique store for nine dollars. It is too fragile to wear, but I love the handiwork, and its one-of-a-kind quality. I think it is from the 20s or 30s, and it is comprised of actual gelatin sequins. The way you can tell is by looking at the piece and where somebody perspired, the sequins have kind of melted. If I dumped the jacket in water, all of the sequins would dissolve. A while ago, a friend gave me a vintage sequin dress, but it was a little dirty so I thought I would just soak it. I totally ruined it. It turned into this gluey, disgusting mess––I was mortified.

 

Charlotte Wenzel

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It’s surprising that Charlotte Wenzel isn’t an artist. Her store, Palace, is filled with colorful, bold textures and artifacts that range from clothing to home goods. Carefully curated and designed, the shop invites you into its arms, and subsequently leaves yours full.

Since moving to Portland in 2011, Palace has provided me with countless birthday, Christmas, and anniversary gifts, which is not only a testament to the products, but to its owner, as well. A true Portland gem, Palace opened in January 2010 in its previous space off of Southeast Belmont and 34th. Setting her intentions on making clients feel as if they were stepping into a secret space, Charlotte’s Palace was born. Now in its fifth year, and in a new location off of Southeast Burnside, the shop has expanded, but has maintained the same panache as its predecessor. I have one hell of a crush, and so much respect for this inspirational lady.

SOLIS: You’re so busy, Charlotte!

WENZEL: I just knew this would happen. I showed up this morning and there was already a line formed outside the door.

SOLIS: Well it gave me time to try on a Rag & Bone dress that I now can’t live without. This whole month is so full of weddings, dinners, and events that I don’t even know how not to shop right now.

WENZEL: I love that dress. I just love navy and black together.

SOLIS: Your color palate within the shop has always been one of my favorite things about the space, everything is so well color blocked and organized. What inspired you to open Palace in the first place?

WENZEL: Well it was kind of a chain of events. I always thrifted when I was younger, and when I moved here from California, I found out that you could sell what you thrifted to other stores. So while doing that, I also became a full time eBay seller, and then eventually opened a vintage shop with my friend, Honey. We called it Rad Summer. It was my first brick and mortar experience, and I really enjoyed the act of putting a space together. After it became a collective, I decided to part ways—just because I would rather learn from and take credit for my mistakes, than share my successes and failures with a group. So I left the collective, and went on a trip a week later to Europe with my husband. It was the best thing for me at the time, because having worked full time since I was 15, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I was anxious because I realized I get so much of my self-identity through my work.

SOLIS: So a lot of drinking under the Eiffel Tower––I’ve done it and it can be very therapeutic––but is that how you decided to jumpstart a new business?

WENZEL: Well, when we got back to Portland the space on Southeast 34th had been vacant for about six months. It had been a record shop beforehand, and every day it just really nagged at me that it was still empty. So I thought, “Well, if I can learn how to sell new clothing, it could be an exciting new challenge.” So I got the space, and all of a sudden I was doing another store.

SOLIS: Was the plan always to incorporate vintage with new?

WENZEL: Yes. I wanted the vintage and new clothing to feel equally special, and I wanted to only carry vintage that was timeless. I want to carry pieces that although they may have been made in the 70s, they are still relevant to fashion today.

SOLIS: What woman isn’t searching for a sense of timelessness––to be a classic, yet modern woman? Would you say your personal wardrobe is inspired by the same mantra?

WENZEL: [laughing] Japanese kids are literally my biggest style inspiration. For me 8- to 10-year-old Japanese kids are style geniuses.

SOLIS: Kids in general can be so inspiring when it comes to art and design.

WENZEL: I agree. That is where I draw a lot of inspiration for my interiors, probably because I like spaces to feel accessible and warm. I’ve been to shops where I feel out of place or not welcome because of the stuffy and uninviting atmosphere. I just knew that I never wanted someone to feel that way in my store. Hence, the warm colors and textures that envelop the space.

SOLIS: I really enjoy how you showcase female artisans, and how you represent women. I always feel an underlying sense of feminism in Palace, and it feels so refreshing.

WENZEL: Thank you! There was this cool moment that happened while watching a documentary on Kathleen Hanna, The Punk Singer, and I became so pumped with her tenacity and with women in general. There are many aspects of being a woman that are challenging and difficult, and so often we don’t have the support we deserve. After viewing the documentary, I vowed that if I had an opportunity to support other women, I would take it.

Liz Mehl

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Whether you are interested in the complexities of literature and poetry or inclined to discuss more absolute topics, the conversation will never dwindle or teeter toward boring when speaking with Liz. Her dedication and passion for the poetry community and the art that inspires it is sincere, and her latest endeavor is a godsend for those who share her passion.

Already in its second year, Poetry Press Week, which takes place twice annually in Portland, showcases multiple poets to an audience of publishers, press, and the public; it is a breeding ground for creativity and possibilities.

Liz’s semi-annual poetry readings provide artists with the publicity they deserve by offering opportunities for growth and exposure that heretofore did not exist.

The event’s success doesn’t surprise me. Inspired by the Fashion Industry’s “Fashion Week,” Liz and her co producer, Justin Rigamonti, have created an haute couture event for poetry.

A few days after this year’s first showcase, I caught up with Liz over a cup of coffee.

SOLIS: Congratulations on your 4th Poetry Press Week. I’m so happy I was able to attend the showcase this year.

MEHL: Oh, thank you.

SOLIS: Do you remember the moment that led you to its conception?

MEHL: I remember the exact moment. I was watching a channel called Cinémoi, which no longer exists. I never watch TV, but I would watch Cinémoi, because it was all about fashion, all the time. So one night, I was drinking red wine, and watching this show on a 10-year retrospective of Paris Fashion Week. It was really cool to watch year after year how the clothing changed, or the brand changed. It really is a brilliant event, in that it brings clothing designers out with their new work, which hasn’t been sold or debuted anywhere yet, and everyone experiences it at the same place, and at the same time. Fashion Week brought the designers that were making the clothes forward and said, “These are the people that are making your clothes, you should buy them just like you are buying the brand.” So I began to think about how this could happen for poetry as well.

SOLIS: Such a fresh perspective; what changes do you hope your event will evoke?

MEHL: I hope that by making the work more readily available, and having the publishers, which have the power to publish them, right there in the audience that it will expedite the publication process.

SOLIS: So as to retain relevancy?

MEHL: Exactly. As a poet it is so hard to get your work in front of the publishers. You have to practically go up a salmon ladder, and if you’re lucky, you’ll make it out of the slush pile. Usually by the time the work passes through the right hands and is published, it is then 5 years old. For example, you may have work debuting in 2017, referencing something like the Boston Marathon bombings. You have to stay relevant; it is so important.

SOLIS: Relevancy is important for so many industries, the fashion industry being one of them. What inspires your own personal fashion and how you express yourself through clothing?

MEHL: I am super into––and always have been, even as a child–– texture and quality. If the fabric doesn’t feel right, I just can’t wear it; it will just bug me. I have trouble wearing polyester, not because it isn’t great, but because personally the texture drives me crazy. I would much rather wear cotton or linen, something that feels good, that will wear well over time. I will go through racks of clothes and pick out pieces of clothing just by the feel of the fabric.

SOLIS: I love that. It reminds me of how I can be with a lot of decisions I make. For instance, while picking out a new apartment, I can tell instantly whether or not I want to live there just by the feel of the space, or the sound of my voice in the room.

MEHL: Totally, and I don’t think that is a super common trait. I will go shopping with friends and they will still be looking through the shirt rack, while I’ve been all over the store.

SOLIS: The texture and weight of the fabric is key, would you say poetry inspires your wardrobe?

MEHL: There could be a correlation. I am inspired by texture and quality, and poetry can be full of texture, but it can also lend itself toward minimalism. Like a minimalistic garment, when poetry is bare and contains fewer embellishments, you can really see the bones and structure of the piece, and that is a thing of beauty.