Graphic Design Professor Tackles Her "To-Do" List on Coffee Cups

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  • obrien todogetcoffee1
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  • todo getcoffe 1
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Go to yoga.
Finish John A. Jones medicinal recipe book.
Meet Pedro.
Purchase printable transparencies from Staples.

These were some of the items on Tara O’Brien’s long “To-Do” list.

“When I had too much to do, I was constantly making ‘To-Do’ lists and it was really frustrating because I could never cross everything off of my list,” said O’Brien, adjunct professor of graphic design at Moore.

Thus, the Coffee Cup Project was born.

To subvert the tedious “To Do” list, every time O’Brien bought a cup of coffee (usually from Starbucks) she would use the blank part of each cup to keep a record of all she had accomplished once caffeinated. Each cup had a label with the date and time of purchase. In the span of two months and about 50 cups, narratives emerged of what she spent the most time doing, including work projects, as well as interactions with people.

“The objective was to document what I was doing and also to remind myself that I was doing a lot,” O’Brien said. “When you can’t cross things off your ‘To-Do’ list, you get down on yourself that you’re not productive enough. By switching it upside down, this project was a lot more encouraging and made me realize I do a lot of stuff.”

An installation of the coffee cups from the project, To Do: get coffee, was part of a solo exhibition, Datum Chronicle, at PRESS: LetterPRESS as a Public Art Project in North Adams, MA this past fall.

“The solo show was comprised of several different pieces I had done, a documentation of data and time,” she said.

For her next project, O’Brien just completed a mail art exchange with two artists in the U.S. and three artists in Australia.

“Every two months we give each other assignments of a 3-D structure and a theme and all six of us make work and mail it to each other,” she said. “The three Americans are talking about doing a more in-depth collaboration and making a book.”

O’Brien, a book artist, started working at Moore in 2006. She currently teaches a book arts class at the College.

She earned her BA in Studio Arts and her high school teaching credential from Whittier College in California. She has an MFA in book arts/printmaking from The University of the Arts, where she currently teaches a professional practices course in the graduate program.

When she’s not teaching, O’Brien is the Director of Conservation at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

“While it’s a lot of work (teaching and working at the Historical Society], it’s a great partnership because we have great historical documents there and I can share the history of the books with the students,” she said. “I’ve also had a lot of interns from my students at Moore. They gain a greater appreciation for books and materials.”

Published on March 3rd, 2014