I’m running a new series of guest posts throughout 2015: Fetish Friday. Don’t get all sweaty in the pants—I’m going back to an older definition of the word, and asking artists to show us something that helps them with the ritual of creation, some part of their surroundings—physical or mental—that eases the path into the creative state, whether it be a location, a piece of music, person, picture, a doohickey, whatnot, curio or ornament without which the creative process would be a whole lot more difficult.
Maintaining BOC, or ‘bum-on-chair’, is the hardest thing for many creatives I know. It’s difficult in the morning to get started on your work and keep at it, particularly if you work from home; it’s so easy to say “Oh I’ll just make another cup of tea” or “I’ll just put this load of washing on” or “I’ll just give myself a break and play a level or three of Lego Batman”. I find my mornings are most productive when I’ve spent the evening before cleaning my desk, tying up loose ends and writing a list of tasks for the next day. Then when morning comes I sit down at the desk at an earlyish time (somewhere between 7 and 9am) and do a stretch of 60-90min focusing just on the first task on the list. I don’t check my email, I don’t check Facebook, I just keep BOC-ing. Then when I’ve worked for a stretch I can take a break, get another cup of tea, put some washing on or whatever else I wanted to distract myself with, and I won’t feel so anxious because I know I’ve already gotten started on the task. And it’s much easier to get back to the task when you know you’ve already started.
Having said all that, those productive days are few and far between. It’s much easier to have a fidgety, unfocused day than it is to have a calm, creative one, particularly if there are several deadlines looming. But if I can keep those simple behaviours in mind – clear my desk in the evening, make a plan of attack for the next day, make an early start at the biggest scariest task the next morning, and refrain from checking email or Facebook until at least morning tea – then I find the day goes smoother and I stay in the flow.
Music is another big help. From December 2013 – January 2014 I was working full time on the illustrations for The Last Viking Returns; I worked 6 days a week for 6 weeks, from 9am to 5pm and usually later. I had a studio in Northbridge at the time and when arrived in the morning I would start up the computer, open up iTunes and listen to the same playlist.
I picked songs that had high energy and strong beats; I wanted songs that would keep me BOC-ing and help me focus. And it worked. You can see from the number of plays of each song that I sometimes listened to it several times a day, and I still listen to it regularly.
These upbeat songs aren’t always appropriate though; often by the time 3:30pm rolls around I’m flagging and I want something softer and more easy on the ears. I’ve got a bunch of albums saved as playlists on the left in my iTunes so I can pull up whatever compliments my mood at the time.
Having a studio outside of home really helped too. My studio used to be on William St in Northbridge, right up near the intersection with Brisbane St, so it was far enough from the centre of Northbridge to be quiet, but close enough that I could walk down and get lunch. It got me out of the house every day; it’s easy to feel lonely when you work from home. I would park my car on the northern edge of Hyde Park every morning and walk around the lake on my way to the studio, then back again in the afternoon or evening, so I was getting a bit of exercise and a hit of nature too. All those things helped.
Now I work from a home studio, and I miss the morning and evening walks in Hyde Park, but there are good points: I have the dog for company, I can set things up however I want, and I don’t have to pay rent to a landlord for a studio that I don’t always have time to use.
My desk is covered in figurines and inspirational quotes; I don’t always notice them, but I’ve got them there as a reminder anyway.
I remember exactly where I scored these little ninjas. It was school holidays, I was about 8, and Mum took my brother and sister and I on the train for the first time. I don’t remember what we did at our destination apart from being at the shops, and these little ninja dudes were there on a shelf. I had pocket money to spend, I bought them and I’ve had them ever since. They’ve always been on display somewhere. At one point I was even carrying around the central leader in my pocket everywhere to try and remind myself to be brave … bit daggy but it helped. Now they live on top of my monitor.
The two quotes on the monitor are from two writers – the one on the left is from Michael Wagner (who has it stuck to his monitor too), and the one on the right is from Stephen King.
This is my favourite Calvin and Hobbes strip ever, because it’s so perfectly me when I’m not working my best.
Asterix and Obelix are two more warrior totems, reminding me of my favourite comics by Goscinny and Uderzo.
The viking warrior was a gift from Kris Williams at the launch of The Last Viking in 2011.
The owl was supposedly made in India, and I bought it in an overpriced Cottesloe gift shop many years ago because I loved it.
The plasticine figure is a gift from a super-talented boy I taught last year at Mount Hawthorn Primary.
Another quote, and a perfect cartoon from The Big Issue’s Andrew Weldon – don’t wait for inspiration, just get on with it.
Prints from Gavin Aung Tan, cartoonist at www.zenpencils.com
. If you like these, sign up to his email list and he’ll send you them for free.
More quotes. I love the Confucius one on the left; whether it was really him or not doesn’t matter, it’s got wit and truth about it.
I bought the print at a little exhibition about 10 years ago and I don’t know who made it. I keep it there to remind me to try and have fun with my work.
James Foley is a children’s author and illustrator. His books include In The Lion (Walker Books, 2012), The Amity Kids Adventures (2013), The Last Viking (Fremantle Press, 2011) and The Last Viking Returns (Fremantle Press, 2014).
In The Lion was selected for the International Youth Library’s White Raven list in 2013. The Last Viking won the 2012 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Crystal Kite Award, the 2012 WA Young Readers’ Hoffman Award, and a 2012 Children’s Book Council of Australia Junior Judges Award. It was shortlisted for a further four awards.
James is an ambassador for Books In Homes and Room To Read Australia, and is the current Illustrator Coordinator for SCBWI Australia West. His interests include comics, film, psychology, science, history (anything nerdy really), as well as yoga and social justice.
He has far too many books in his bedside reading pile.
Are you a creative artist? Fancy joining in and letting us know about that special item, object, location or cosmic state of being at the heart of your creative process? There’s always room for another lunatic in the asylum: email me and make your most excited Horshack noise.