Deborah Aschheim draws a tapestry of LA County’s voters one sketch and story at a time
By Christina Campodonico
Whether you’re a true blue Democrat, a stalwart Republican, or somewhere in between, we all have our reasons for voting.
Pasadena artist Deborah Aschheim’s 365 Days of Voters, a non-partisan “visual diary” on Instagram, showcases a cross section of LA County voters, hailing from the coastal shores of Santa Monica all the way to the San Gabriel Valley and beyond.
The project began during Aschheim’s artist and creative strategist residency with the LA County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk in partnership with the LA County Department of Arts and Culture. She was tasked with finding creative ways to connect with voters from typically underrepresented groups and doing live events on college campuses to get out the vote. At these events, she’d set up a booth with a sign that would encourage people to come up and talk to her.
“I thought of this project, initially, just as an icebreaker,” she says. “I would always have a sign that said, ‘Be Today’s Voter.’ And people would say, ‘What does that mean?’ And I’d say, ‘You know, I’ll photograph you and you can tell me your reason for voting. And I’ll draw you. And then we’ll post it on the Registrar-Recorder social media.”
But when COVID hit, doing live events became impossible and her contract essentially “got derailed by the pandemic.” So with the blessing of the Registrar-Recorder and the LA County Department of Arts and Culture, Aschheim took her project entirely online and began posting pen portraits of voters she’d drawn from photos submitted to her with short statements to her Instagram account.
While Aschheim lost some of the personal aspects of in-person interactions, this new platform actually helped her connect with younger voters and millennials, who are also underrepresented voting groups.
“The idea was if I could get everybody that I could reach out to, to participate, then they would repost them [the drawings], and then they would be influencers of their social circle,” says Aschheim. “People would see that they’re voting, that might get them to vote, that might also get people to participate in my project, and then the project would keep spreading and spreading.”
In the series, voters open up about their reasons for voting. (Aschheim works with participants to make sure their statements are non-partisan and aren’t backing any one person or ballot initiative.)
“I want to leave a permanent record of my choice. I want to change the world,” shares Jan from Santa Monica.
“I vote to protect marriage equality, protect women’s bodies and rights, protect my sick relatives and end gun violence,” writes Andrew from Venice.
“Years from now my sons will ask me if I voted during this crucial year, and I will proudly tell them, ‘Yes, I voted for you!’” says Ruben from West LA.
“I care,” simply states Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, holding up a “Register to Vote Now” sign in his portrait. Aschheim serendipitously met him at a food bank in Compton, and she appreciates the little sparkle of star power he’s added as the project’s “only legit celebrity.”
Aschheim says that as 365 Days has evolved the stories behind people’s reasons for voting have become more revealing, and she finds that inspiring. People have shared their statuses as homeless or formerly incarcerated with her as well as their doubts about whether their vote even matters.
“I’ve just been so impressed with the strength of people who are willing to be vulnerable, who are willing to admit that they have doubts, but that they’re still going to have hope, and that they’re still going to try and that are willing to even risk revealing things about themselves, hoping that that’s going to reach somebody else, and make them want to participate like that,” she says.
Another unexpected outcome of the project is the sense of community that it has created for Aschheim and her followers during this isolating time and how it has reached beyond Los Angeles County’s borders.
“I’m trying to get people to influence their friends to vote, but it’s also like a way to try to still stay connected,” says Aschheim. “There’s little clusters of people in like, Minneapolis, St. Paul, or in Austin, or a whole bunch from Ohio who just joined up.”
Aschheim is unsure how her sketches will read after Election Day, but she knows that they will certainly be a “snapshot” of this strange moment we’re living in now — pro-voting T-shirts not only pervade her images but also face masks and face shields, clear signifiers of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s this way that it’s going to be a snapshot of not just who wins in November, but everything that’s so weird [right now],” she says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen honestly, at all. … All I know is that whatever happens in November, there’s still going to be a lot of work to be done.”
But right now, her main focus is voter turnout. By Election Day, she’ll have drawn 700 voter portraits, which she hopes to exhibit in a gallery show in the county one day, and intends to draw and post as many submissions as she can by Nov. 3.
“To me, turnout,” she says, “is the one concrete, unassailable, non-partisan, democratic thing, that will definitely make things better and more fair.”
Her powerful portraits make that point even more poignant.
Direct message and follow Deborah Aschheim @365daysofvoters on Instagram to learn how to participate.