Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Maggie Shannon
Originally from Australia, artist Chaz Hutton was living in London and working as an architect when he began drawing observational cartoons on Post-it notes as a discreet way to procrastinate.
What started as a distraction from his nine-to-five job is now an internet sensation, a book and a sustainable career as a creative. It’s a shift that continues to surprise him as it was “never part of the plan.”
Perhaps more accurately, there was never a plan. “I don't really like having a plan because I think you can become obsessed by it. If there's something happening on the side, you ignore it when maybe you should go and check it out," he says. "I really couldn't do a five-day plan at this rate! I’m just showing up.”
Chaz proves that extraordinary things can happen when you show up, create your own side project and strive to be open to what’s on the sideline.
“For me, it was never a strategic move to make this my job. It was a side project that was almost like a raft – I had my career as an architect that was the stable boat, but someone else was always driving. So I made my own little raft to kick off the side, and even if it was never sea-worthy, it was my thing, my little beacon of hope. Without your own little raft, it can be so easy to become disenchanted.”
Eventually he abandoned the boat for the raft full-time. While such a leap into the creative abyss is often credited to risk-taking and being bold, he resents the hype around quitting your day job to "follow your dreams".
“I never took the financial risk, although that’s the story people generally want to hear. If you are struggling to pay your rent and then go and quit your job, you've got approximately two and a half weeks before you hit rock-bottom. Very few people have the luxury of quitting, so I've only ever done what I've been financially able to do at the time.”
Currently in New York City to tour his book Ideas of Note and give various talks, he jokes that much of his day could be perceived as waltzing around the city, attempting to draw things, and ending up in bars too often.
His candour about his routine provides an insight into the difficulty in finding a balance between exploring your creativity, working on set projects and enjoying a new city. After all, it can be daunting to find yourself suddenly with the freedom to create your own day.
“Because I move around a lot it’s harder to have a routine. But usually once I get settled somewhere, I’m definitely more inclined to drift into a routine.”
Despite still figuring out his routine while abroad, Chaz spends much of his day in a restaurant-turned-coworking space with the aim to do at least three cartoons before the day ends. The space gives important separation between life and work, but also adds an element of sophistication to his day. “I really like it because it’s not one of those working spaces with colourful bean bags that’s trying to scream that it’s so creative. Give me some nice leather chairs, some timber panelling, and let me feel like Don Draper, alright?", he jests.
Chaz shares how he balances procrastination while still having the discipline to work even without inspiration, as well as reminding us that it's not where we are, or what we do that impacts our lives the most, but who we are with.
"For me, it was never a strategic move to make this my job. It was a side project that was almost like a raft – I had my career as an architect that was the stable boat, but someone else was always driving. So I made my own little raft to kick off the side, and even if it was never sea-worthy, it was my thing, my little beacon of hope. Without your own little raft, it can be so easy to become disenchanted."
– Chaz Hutton
My waking time is all over the place as it depends on what I’ve been up to the night before. I don’t have any blinds on my windows yet so it’s usually around six-thirty or seven-thirty. I'm not very good at sleeping in, but if I do it will be till eight-thirty – unless I’ve got home at six in the morning, in which case I’ll sleep through to one in the afternoon or something!
When I was working from home in London, I’d get up at six, have a quick shower, skip breakfast and sit down and start drawing and writing. It was mainly because procrastinating at that time in the morning feels ridiculous.
Here in New York, my co-working space – which is a restaurant at night but a coworking space during the day – doesn’t open till eight-thirty, so maybe I need to get back into the habit of working from home for the first three hours. I also need to get a bike sorted out – I’m in Bushwick at the moment so the L train between eight-thirty and nine-thirty is just chaos, so I avoid those hours.
Cafe Gitane is down the road from my co-working space and every time I go there I get exactly the same thing. Rather than trying all these different places in New York, I’ll find one place that that I like and then that’s it.
I’m slowly starting to work out a routine, but I also don’t have an incredible amount of work that needs to get done. When I don’t have a deadline I’m a lot less stringent about having the routine.
Ninety per cent of my workday is spent procrastinating. I spend a lot of time flicking through Twitter trying to tap into what's going on and see if there is an angle for a political joke or something like that. I’m also on YouTube a fair bit to watch late night American shows, like Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers.
At the moment it's a case of trying to pull together something for a second book. But I don’t want to just repeat the format from the first one. I'm also trying to do some long-form writing, so typically I’ll try to do that, get frustrated, and not really do much!
"I’m slowly starting to work out a routine, but I also don’t have an incredible amount of work that needs to get done. When I don’t have a deadline I’m a lot less stringent about having the routine."
It can sometimes feel terrifying not having a set agenda each day – the money is slowly running out, so I’m desperately trying to work out what the next thing is!
When I got the book deal, I thought of it as buying myself time. I probably should have done something a bit more responsible with it, but it’s such a luxury to be able to spend a year just fooling around and writing. I think I probably take it for granted now.
At the same time not having a plan can be fantastic. It's an ongoing jive with my mother. She'll call me and ask, "Is there a plan, Chaz?"
I'll say, "Yeah, Mum. There's definitely a plan."
She'll say, "Right. Got it."
All the while I'm sitting there knowing there's no plan. And she knows there's no plan. And then every time something happens, such as a book deal or something, she'll ask, "All part of the plan, Chaz?"
"Yeah, Mum. All part of the plan."
I’ve still got this hangover from working nine-to-five where I have lunch at precisely one o’clock. I’ll also never go for longer than an hour, and often it’s just half-an-hour.
I’m trying to find more places to each lunch at the moment, but then I get lazy and just have Prince Street Pizza. It’s the perfect amount of food, low cost, just great, but not so sustainable for my health.
I’ll sit back down at two and by four-thirty I’ll start wrapping things up.
Even if I'm having an afternoon lull, I still try to make the effort to sit down and work. There’s a really good Chuck Close quote, "Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work."
I've found that even if you’re writing shit, it's important to just keep writing. Over time you better at the act of writing, rather than waiting for some kind of lightning bolt of inspiration to hit you.
That said, I don’t think you can be free from you own expectations to create something good. But I think if you continue to draw shit cartoons, you'll at least feel bad about it until you draw better ones.
"Even if I'm having an afternoon lull, I still try to make the effort to sit down and work. There’s a really good Chuck Close quote, 'Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work'."
I set myself the goal of doing at least three post-it notes a day and my brains seems to have become much better and quicker at doing that. It almost becomes mathematical in a way – you can come up with the idea, then the framework, and then combine it.
I’m still very used to working in architecture where you spend all day creating these large scale drawings and when you finish for the day you can visually see what you have accomplished. But now the sum of all my work for the day is three little pieces of paper, which can be frustrating. The actual drawing part doesn’t take too long once you’ve got the idea sorted out.
It's the idea that takes a long time to develop, so even though I'm getting better at forcing inspiration, if there’s nothing happening it can be best to get out of the house, go for a walk, go down to the pub, catch up with friends, talk some shit and see what comes up.
I always had a gripe with nine-to-five work – even if you have done your work for the day you have to keep working, there is very little flexibility. The freelance thing suits me better.
I’ll finish up around four-thirty or five and I’ll go to museum or a pub in the afternoon. You can’t just spend the entire day sitting and staring at a piece of paper – you need to replenish. There needs to be an input of inspiration in your everyday life – be it your social life or whatever – in order to create the output.
"You can’t just spend the entire day sitting and staring at a piece of paper – you need to replenish. There needs to be an input of inspiration in your everyday life – be it your social life or whatever – in order to create the output."
Generally I’ll have a few beers with some others that work from the space. Then it depends who's around and what's going on.
I'm trying to cook more – actually, I’m not. I'll end up either getting takeaway or I'll go out to dinner somewhere. Then I may have some more drinks if there's something on.
I'm not particularly good at sitting at home and doing nothing. If I am at home, I’ll have to be watching a documentary or something. I think I get my downtime from walking with no real destination or purpose in mind. It's just a nice way to explore the city.
I have this internal curfew where as soon as it’s midnight I need to get to bed. Eleven-thirty will be fine, but if it’s five minutes past twelve, I’ve got to get to bed.
Sometimes I wake up at three in the morning and log on to Twitter or something and send a few emails. Because of the time difference there’ll often be a few WhatsApp messages and emails will start creeping through from London so I’ll start responding to those. I’ve got no self-control!
Often I’ll have an idea at two in the morning so I’ll send myself an email. I’ll check it the next day and I’ve written down something like “Microwave” – I’m sure it seemed like a coherent thought at two in the morning!
“So my parents sold their farm and it was kind of sad for all of us because it's the family home. But once they moved out all the furniture, we suddenly realised that it's just a building, a series of empty rooms. So I thought, what actually was it that holds the sentimental value? Was it the furniture? Was it the house? I realised it was the people. Being around good people, that's the nicest thing. It really doesn't matter where you are if you have good friends and people in your life."Chaz Hutton