A 100-day project is pretty impressive, but it’s nothing compared with Mark Addison Smith’s Daily Project. He started his drawing projects You Look Like the Right Type 13 years ago and hasn’t missed a day since. Wow. I asked him if he had an exit strategy at all.
Mark and I met in 2011 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I was doing my master’s, he had just graduated. A professor said to me: »you have to meet Mark, you’ll like him!«. She was right, Mark and I hit it off and have been friends ever since.
The first drawing for You Look Like The Right Type was a spontaneous reaction to a chance encounter, long before Instagram became big and everyone was doing creative challenges. What made you do the second drawing the next day? You didn’t think from the beginning »This is going to be my daily project now,« did you?
Mark: My You Look Like The Right Type daily drawing archive began shortly after I graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In graduate school, I worked on projects—mainly artist’s books—that centered around a nonlinear arrangement of language to allow the viewer different syntactical outcomes. I had gotten used to working on new projects each week and receiving feedback from my classmates and faculty advisors. I discovered a rich, supportive ground for producing work—there was a built-in expectation to keep going—which is quite opposite when you leave school and are left to create work on your own, while also balancing jobs and the pressures of daily life. My focus shifted toward freelance design work and teaching but I was itching to start a new project.
It was during this time that I began envisioning a typographic-portrait project, with lettering instead of traditional portraits, but I hadn’t quite found the creative spark to ignite the work. When a stranger approached me on the street one evening and asked me for a cigarette, and, when I didn’t have one she declared, »Ahh, you look like the right type,« I ran home and drew our spoken exchange.
In that moment, this larger project I had been thinking about cemented—I got a juicy quote and a title for my series out of a chance-encounter with a stranger! Inspiration literally walked up to me and whispered in my ear, which has become one of the parameters, if you will, for each daily drawing: overhearing curious words from people, often strangers, around me and drawing them as out-of-context narratives, in which I edit into larger, nonlinear conversations between strangers who haven’t met or exchanged words.
»I remember I’d get SO EXCITED when someone would add a comment to my daily blog post.«
So it was more of a personal commitment to myself and the excitement of ‘finding’ this project that made me rush home and draw the first stranger’s words on paper, and then wake up the next day and repeat this act. My first You Look Like The Right Type drawing was created on November 23, 2008, but on January 1, 2009 I started a blog and began posting the drawings, which added the pressure of an audience into the mix! I was creating my own version of Instagram before Instagram was a thing! I remember I’d get SO EXCITED when someone would add a comment to my daily blog post.
I was hooked on the daily assignment, the possibility of connecting with viewers, and seeing my pile of drawings grow, and I decided I would try this out for a year to see if I could pull off a marathon drawing challenge (again, ahead of the times, as these have now become quite popular on Instagram).
At the end of the first year, I decided to continue for a second year because I wasn’t tired of the game: I was unequivocally fascinated by what people say and enamored with mixing hand-lettering with line drawing. I still am. But, when I started, I didn’t anticipate doing this for the next thirteen years! Boy, how quickly time has passed.
What does this project mean to you after all this time? I mean the daily practice as well as the body of work produced over the years. Is it boring sometimes? How do you keep it fresh and engaging for yourself?
First, I love creating the drawings. I couldn’t have made it past that first year if I didn’t. So, I never get bored in creating them, and I certainly never get bored with listening in on the peculiarities that people have to say. I get even more inspired to draw if I’ve overheard a particularly juicy quote.
After all this time, the project is as much a centering space for me as it is a daily challenge to find a moment to stop everything and draw, even if I’m having a day filled with distractions. I’ve never missed a day of drawing someone’s words in the past thirteen years. I’ve made drawings from my desk at home, while away on vacation, while at work, while standing in line waiting for a bus, while caring for a loved one in the hospital, while eating dinner, while celebrating every birthday and holiday over the past thirteen years. You name it.
The body of work has become very time-based for me. On a conceptual level, one drawing equals one day, so the accumulation of drawings becomes thirteen years of my life piled together in an instant. I stack my You Look Like The Right Type drawings in a large sliding-glass bookcase in my home office and, one day, a friend commented, »You’ll never be able to fill the entire shelf with drawings in your lifetime!«
In turn, one drawing also equals one person that I’ve encountered in my life. To view the work as a set is an interesting form of data visualization: a meaningful glance on the passage of time—like sand in an hourglass—and a celebratory accumulation of people.
As much as the project is an archive of other people’s words, the work also becomes a journal for me, because I date the back of each drawing and often write a line or two about the context in which I heard the quote or what might have happened to me on that particular date.
»I’d love to push the series into a more journalistic-driven, documentary format that was so comforting to me during the pandemic.«
When the pandemic lockdown happened and it became impossible for me to get quotes out in public, I invited strangers to hold conversations with me on Zoom and I’d turn their words into larger sets of drawings about how people were handling crisis.
That was certainly a fresh approach to a drawing series that I thought I knew everything about—and, suddenly, the game changed to allow me to interact with strangers in a different way.
I’m printing a new artist’s book right now which will feature 365 of my pandemic drawings. I’d love to push the series into a more journalistic-driven, documentary format that was so comforting to me during the pandemic.
When we met in 2011 you had been making a drawing for You Look Like The Right Type every day for more than two years. Even back then I wondered how you’d ever decide to end the project. It’s been thirteen years now, more than 5000 drawings–do you have an exit strategy at all?
I don’t have an exit strategy! Maybe that’s why I keep going? I’m still figuring it out!