Kate Bingaman-Burt is an illustrator, educator, curator, author and speaker. Since 2007, her work has been represented by Jen Bekman in New York City and exhibited around the globe. She is the author of three books published by Princeton Architectural Press, Obsessive Consumption: What Did You Buy Today? (2010), What Did I Buy Today? (2012) and What Did I Eat Today? (2014). She is an assistant professor of graphic design at Portland State University, the recipient of the 2013 College of the Arts Kamelia Massih Outstanding Faculty Prize and a 2012 TEDXPortland Speaker. Bingaman-Burt’s clients include the New York Times, MoMa, Hallmark, IDEO, VH1, Girl Scouts of America and the Gap.
The Bizarre World of Consumption
How did you get started in illustration? I first started drawing when I decided to reproduce all of my credit card statements by hand in order to remind myself to pay them off. I picked drawing because I didn’t really enjoy it, and since the project was meant as a form of punishment, it made sense to pick a form of execution that was kind of painful for me. However, I discovered that I really enjoyed making marks and lines and drawing type, even if it was the Bank of America logo, over and over again. I wanted to draw more than my credit card statements, so I started to the daily habit of drawing something I purchase each day. I have always been interested in the stories behind our objects; why people buy what they buy and the emotions connected to our purchasing habits.
What experiences have had the biggest influence on your work or style? My first job out of school was working as an in-house graphic designer for a gift company, where I also developed products, designed trade-show booths and spent a lot of time working as a salesperson at trade shows across the country. I really started looking at the bizarre world of consumption I was living in, and I have been making work about consumption since around 2001. It’s a pretty deep topic, filled with all of the qualities I enjoy: happiness, desire, guilt and excess, just to name a few.
How do you balance your strong interest in a core theme with the flexibility required to do commercial work? My focus on consumption is actually what yielded all of my commercial work. I didn’t think of myself as an illustrator until people started contacting me to work for them because they saw my consumption projects. The requests I get are usually aligned with the style that I use in those projects, or are conceptually related. It’s a pretty happy marriage so far.
What is the strangest assignment you’ve ever received? I absolutely LOVE drawing sperm, condoms, orgasms and other sex-related items for my client Bedsider [an online birth control support network run by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy]. When I first started working on this project, the Bedsider team would spend quite a bit of time sitting in a conference room trying to figure out how to illustrate things like boobs on a roller coaster.
What is your biggest challenge as an illustrator? Trying to find time to draw. Other illustrators probably deal with a similar challenge. I spend a lot of time emailing and a lot of time teaching (which is good, because that’s my job too!).
How has teaching affected the development of your creative work? They totally go hand-in-hand. I love sharing work with my students and they constantly inspire me with their enthusiasm. It’s fun to help facilitate new experiences within the design community for them, and they keep me moving and making. I am just happy to be here, and to be able to help.
What is it about obsessive documentation, or drawing sets of things, like credit card statements, that you find generative? Almost all of my work operates on some sort of rule structure to keep it moving forward. This often involves drawing collections, creating sets and inventing rules to follow. I can’t just make one thing and be okay with it. It has to exist in multiples for me to be comfortable with it seeing the light of day.
What excites you about illustration right now? I love the illustrators who operate off the page. More and more of us are creating spaces, installations, zines, clothing and products. This flexibility is very exciting to me.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Be prepared to take ownership over what you want to do. Don’t wait for commissioned work. Make your own work. Come up with your own ideas. Make your own plans. Execute and share.