Extraordinary Routines interview Oslo Davis

Interview by Madeleine Dore
This article was originally published on The Design Files with photos by Annette O'Brien 


Oslo Davis
Illustrator/cartoonist

You’ve probably heard of Melbourne cartoonist and illustrator Oslo Davis, or perhaps he has instead overheard you discussing some oddity you said to your friend on a tram. Either way, even with his dry sense of humor, I was surprised to hear the professional eavesdropper describe his freelance routine as somewhat ‘lazy’.

‘I feel as though I am much lazier with time, and will watch a couple of episodes of BoJack Horseman during the day’ Oslo says!

With two kids under twelve, Oslo’s working hours adhere to a school day. Sharing a doubt common to any freelancer who breaks the nine-to-five paradigm, he sometimes wonders if this is enough, but quickly reassures us that working solidly for long hours would be very unnatural.

‘I still seem to get things done, so I don’t know how it works. I don’t think anyone really works all day every day – you’d go crazy.’

It’s a comforting thought that you can consider yourself on the lazier end of the spectrum, yet still manage to draw regularly for The Age newspaper, and have your work appear in The New York Times, the Guardian, Meanjin, The Big Issue and many more top publications.

Perhaps it’s a matter of working smarter, not harder. ‘A lot of people look at artists and think, wow you’re so lucky to sit around and draw all day. But in reality there is a lot of nothing time, a lot of alone and frustrated time. It’s still working, it’s not dancing around in a field of daisies – you’re trying to please a boss or a client and still doing stuff you don’t want to do.’

Yet, a life of drawing has many perks, and Oslo’s latest book Drawing Funny: A Guide to Making Your Terrible Little Cartoons Funnier, will be released in October.

From beating the day with emails and to-do lists in the morning, to pulling the pin on ideas, Oslo reminds us to simultaneously observe the enjoyment and malaise in our day-to-day lives.

Extraordinary Routines interview Oslo Davis

DAILY ROUTINE 

6.00

On a good day, I wake up early in the morning and take Pluto, my dog, for a walk before breakfast. Twice a week I try to steal myself off to the swimming pool for a few laps.

I like the idea of that golden time in the morning before everyone is awake – before the noise hits the house and ruins everything.

6.30

I’m probably the last person in Australia who still has the newspaper delivered. I’ll read it while I eat my porridge. There are two types of oats you can buy, and I prefer the larger, more traditional oat but it does take longer to cook. Every time I ask my family if they want some porridge they roll their eyes, but they eventually eat it because they don’t really have a choice.

7.30

After getting dressed I’ll try and do a bit of work before riding the kids to school. It seems like a weird time to do work, from 7:30 to 8:30, but it’s a good moment to write lists of everything I have to do and maybe shoot off a few emails to get the day set up. By the time I’ve come back from the school drop off I feel like I have beaten the day a little bit, which makes me feel quite good about myself.

Extraordinary Routines interview Oslo Davis

9.00

I really only work solidly during the kids’ school hours. Six hours of working time though is probably more than enough, I must admit. I used to work nine-to-five, but I can’t remember if people work solidly for all that time? It seems very unnatural.

These days I feel as those I am much lazier with time and will watch a couple of episodes of BoJack Horseman during the day. I still seem to get things done, so I don’t know how it works. I don’t think anyone really works all day every day – you’d go crazy.

Work varies each day. Sometimes I have to finish something by the end of the day. That is especially important for newspaper stuff when the deadline is immoveable. If that’s the case, I’ll sit down at my desk with a big blank sheet of paper and a pencil and come up with an idea in an hour or so, and then finish it off in the afternoon.

At the same time I’ll have other jobs in my head that have a longer or more flexible lead-time so I will jot down ideas during the day. That kind of work happens around the clock, every day or night of the week. In this way I’m always ‘on call’. You might be going on and on to me about how your niece is really good at the flute, and I’ll be nodding and smiling and in my head having a hilarious idea for a cartoon about superannuation.

I don’t mind giving up on ideas or projects, if that is an option. Sometimes I think, you know what, it would just be easier if I pull the pin on this and we can all get on with our lives. My wife said the other day that you have to destroy something to create something.

It can be okay to abandon a project or admit something isn’t working, I reckon. You don’t have to read to the end of a book – or finish a terrible gin and tonic – out of obligation. Obligation stifles creativity and makes something onerous, which doesn’t help anybody.

I usually skip lunch if I can help it, and then save myself for a big dinner. I’ve never been a lunch person. I have fruit and biscuits and coffees and things throughout the day.

In the last six months I’ve also been trying to do drawings of plants and nature, which is totally off the charts for me, but in fact a lot like the work I used to do before I got commissions. Unfortunately because I’ve been so busy I haven’t really had the opportunity to enjoy the act of drawing so much these days, which sounds weird. A lot of my work involves coming up with an idea and executing that idea and the ‘enjoying drawing’ part has been falling away, and I think this stale feeling has come through into some of my work, at least in my eyes.

Extraordinary Routines interview Oslo Davis

15.30

When the kids finish school I’ll take them home or to swimming, or soccer, or whatever. It’s a nice change of pace from thinking about yourself all day.

18.00

Dinner is quite early and I’d like to say I share the cooking with my wife. She is the Batman and to my Robin in the crime fighting that is dinner. She is a much better supplier of nutrients for my children. If the menu was entirely up to me, there’d be an odd chance that my children would develop rickets.

20.00

I must say, the dullest moment of my day is the bit after the kids have gone to bed and before my wife and I go to bed – those hours are pretty much the equivalent of final years of old age, just before you croak. We pretty much crash out in front of the TV or internet or read a book before turning in.

22.30

In a final act of defeat, I’ll drag myself off to bed and read for about half an hour before I go to sleep. I keep a note pad by my bedside, not to record my dreams (as if!) but to jot down any ideas I have – always on call!

‘It is all about making yourself satisfied and happy with what you’re doing, and if that makes money then you have the only two things that you need really. If I wasn’t getting satisfied from drawing, I’d probably just bugger off and do something completely different. Why not?’
Extraordinary Routines interview Oslo Davis