The Portland, Oregon–based illustrator and teacher on daily drawings, bleeding money, and the trouble with interns
Photograph by Liz Devine
Your new book, What Did I Buy Today?, is an illustrated journal for people to use to record their spending habits—as you’ve been doing since 2006, with your daily purchase drawings.
Princeton Architectural Press approached me with this idea last summer, and I thought it was a really great evolution of the project. To let people participate in the process of documenting things that they purchase each day, by drawing and writing and really taking ownership over their own spending habits, is a pretty wonderful thing. I’m going to be excited to see how people use the book.
These days, it seems as though everyone is tracking and sharing their daily habits. How do you feel about being a pioneer of the obsessive self-documentation movement?
It’s funny, because the ﬁrst project that I did with documentation began back in 2002. I photographed every single thing that I purchased for 28 months. At the time, there wasn’t Blogger, there wasn’t Tumblr, there wasn’t Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube. I was uploading this stuff to the Internet, but it was a chore; it was hard. I mean, it wasn’t like I was digging ditches, but it was harder than it is now. Now it’s so easy to have these one-a-day projects and share them with people. And it’s not just navel-gazing. It’s about telling stories through similar and shared experiences. In a way, I think that it makes people feel closer to one another.
So you’re not bitter that the entire world is stealing your idea?
No, not at all. I’m a huge fan of open source. Open-source anything. I absolutely love that. I’m very transparent with sharing ideas, sharing resources.
Are you still doing your daily purchase drawings?
I am. I think I have 2,700 drawings or something like that.
Have you ever missed one?
I’ve missed a couple days, but then I’ve always gone back and done it. I have a drawing for every single day.
People always ask me, “Do you buy something every single day?” And then that’s an opportunity for me to insert the concept of how we’re basically always buying something, whether it’s passive or active consumption. I’m passively paying my rent bill every single day, you know? It’s a really depressing viewpoint—we’re always bleeding money!
You also sell your work on Etsy. Is it difficult to juggle doing illustration work and running an online business?
You know, it is. I teach full-time, and I’m fortunate to have an active freelance business, and I also love having products and selling products. But I always feel like one of those things has to take a backseat. I’m working on ways to make it so that all three things can thrive in 2013.
Sounds like you need an intern!
Oh, I know. I’ve had interns in the past and they’ve been great. But I’m also kind of a control freak. I think that to have an intern you have to be really organized. I never feel like I have enough time to organize what it is that I need them to do.
Do you ever think about just doing freelance illustration?
Well, no. I could. But I really love teaching. It is part of my DNA. If I were to quit teaching, I feel like the joy that I find in freelance illustration would go away. And at Portland State University, where I teach, I also do a lot of community outreach, where I’m talking with different design studios in Portland and across the country. If that whole side went away, I would be really sad, because I wouldn’t be getting inspired by the teaching side. And vice versa. If I ever stop doing freelance illustration, I feel like I should stop teaching, too. Those two things, they work really well together for me; neither one would exist without the other.