Douglas Coupland is a novelist and visual artist. If you don’t know who he is, read this extensive Wikipedia entry because there’s too much for a short introduction. We spoke to him while he was visiting Toronto’s Interior Design Show to promote a furniture collection for SwitzerCultCreative. Studio Beat isn’t in the habit of providing character assessments with our interviews, but we feel compelled to note that Douglas Coupland was an absolute delight. He rules, you guys.
Even on the best writing day of your life, you’re only going to write for two hours, so you have 22 hours to kill. You sleep eight, but there’s still another 14. In the 90s, I moved away from visual stuff, thinking that I could only do one thing at a time, which I think was a waste of 10 years when I could have been doing a lot of other things.
You write something and there’s a part of you that’s still writing in the back of your head–churn, churn, churn. If I’m working with material or doing something visual, I come back to writing and it’s magically worked itself out. I don’t know what it looks like from the outside, but if I feel like I’m being busy, it’s a failure. It has to be a natural sequence from one thing to another. I also believe that if it feels like homework, stop and reassess why it feels like homework and why you’re doing it. That’s good advice for anything you’re doing in life.
Ontologically, visual art and design take place in space and books take place in time. Although, there are time-based artists, obviously, the work oxidizes or has some other time-based function. Do books exist as objects? Anyway, you’ve got words and you’ve got pictures. You’ve got fiction and non-fiction. So, my brain divides it up. It’s so mechanical in this drawing. It’s much more wonderful, really, touching on all of these areas. Sometimes when you’re in deadline mode, you can neglect the other bits but even’t then, not by much. I still have to touch base with them.
[Douglas Coupland’s drawing of his brain.]
I structure my life so that I never have to wake up to do something. I schedule phone calls for the afternoon because if I know I have to wake up for something, no matter what it is, I’ll wake up several times earlier thinking, ‘Should I be up yet?’. My whole sleep is disturbed–chopped up and wasted. I think sleep is very important for creative process.
It doesn’t matter where I’m living or what part of my life, I go to bed at 2 a.m. and wake up at 10 a.m. or 11. I’ve lived everywhere and that’s what it always turns into. You get quiet time at night. The phone’s not going to ring. What is it with morning people? They’re energetic like, ‘I’m awake! I’m awake!’. For me, waking up is like being thrown into Arctic cold water.
Even if it’s in the city you live in, check into a hotel when you’re on deadline. I’ve done this a few times. You get coffee from room service and the room is familiar yet anonymous and all the little niggly things vanish. You can really power out what you want to finish. Having said that, I like working in planes because it’s the only place in our culture without internet which makes it feel almost magical. You can’t be reached, but the moment the wheels hit the ground, boom, everyone’s on their phones.
In the end, you still have to write every day. I put myself in the position where that can happen. I wrote a book once–I won’t tell you which one–where another part of my life took over and I came back to it and I wasn’t in the headspace. It’s sort of a trance. The canvas is a trance, the book is a trance and once you snap out of it, it’s hard to get back in. That’s where the every day part comes in. You can’t get away from it.
Between being a prima donna and just knowing what I want, I can get the end result close to what I wanted even when working with other people. There’s this series of movies, Final Destination, where they change seats on the plane and the universe conspires to kill them one by one. I think sometimes when you work on a large project it’s like Final Destination except that everyone’s trying to fuck you over and you have to run.
I discovered cooking recently. I couldn’t cook to save my life but now we gutted out the fridge–no more margarine or butter. Dry herbs? Chucked. It’s a new addition to my life I wasn’t expecting in 2013. The thing with cooking is that it’s so manual and social. It’s great. It’s the one art form where you see someone do it once and you know how to do it, but you have to see someone do it once.
[Puts a tissue down on the table] That’s elegant, isn’t it? A stop frame animation of a flower or something.
–Douglas Coupland, as told to Studio Beat
Photos by Courtney Vokey
Visit Douglas Coupland’s website here.