Douglas Coupland Offers Advice for Artists at IDS

As countless angst-ridden young people tried to make sense of life and navigate the crazy world around us during the past one and a half decades, Douglas Coupland’s books were there to offer insight, intrigue and, at times, even confuse us more. Either way, we were (and still are) addicted. The iconic Canadian novelist’s books are a longtime favourite with today’s young professional (YP) set across the country. Known for his post-modern, thought-provoking work, his literature explores concepts like modern religion, web 2.0 technology, sexuality and pop culture. He is also a visual artist. Most recently, Coupland adds the title of furniture designer to his impressive list of credentials. Yesterday, along with SwitzerCultCreative, Douglas Coupland announced his new furniture line at the Toronto’s Interior Design Show 2013.

The ‘Douglas Coupland for SwitzerCultCreative’ collection is every writer’s dream come true. It is, after all, a reflection of the things Coupland uses daily, drawing inspiration from the writer’s nook. The collection, which consists of a desk, chair, lamp and bookshelves, is thus designed to unleash a sense of creativity and timelessness in the user’s world. Inspired by West Coast sustainability, Coupland’s partnership with SwitzerCultCreative is a natural one; the Vancouver-based design and luxury furnishing company is known for its sustainable, creative and high-end offerings.

Naturally, our favourite piece was the desk: The Bento Box Escritoire or the special edition Paint Box Escritoire variation. Coupland is fascinated with the escritoire as it “inspires thought and broadens his mind” due to the nature of the piece as a vessel for writing alone. The sight of it immediately transports us to a simpler time, where you would expect it adorned with a typewriter. The writer’s seats are also available in five different colours, which fit perfectly underneath. Coupland calls the seats unexpectedly ergonomic and functional, whether you’re doing ink work, or blogging on a MacBook Pro. For good old-fashioned book (remember those?) lovers, the Osaka Bookshelves are sleek and stacking (they can be arranged in any configuration like Lego pieces) and have been specially designed to encase paperbacks, hardcover and oversized books. Unfortunately, the collection’s hefty price tag inhibits most of the country’s artists from getting their hands on the beautifully designed pieces. Nonetheless, we can dream. 

We caught up with Coupland at the IDS Opening Gala last night, where he discussed everything from the collection to choosing between the corporate and arts world, why 26 is the worst age, and what the future looks like for the artist.


Who is your expected customer for this furniture line?
“The escritoire is strange category of furniture in that we don’t see many of them made anymore – so someone retro and someone who appreciates the solitude of writing and creating. You don’t necessarily haveto write but it is a good place to do so. The best part about that piece is that you can close it up and tuck it all away when you’re done and say ‘screw off world- this is my stuff only’, which is probably something that came from having my stuff trashed all the time, growing up with three brothers. I expect a more mature customer, as it isn’t a cheap piece of furniture. It is a commitment but also an investment, as it will probably outlive you and move down generations.” 

The collection is geared toward the writer. Can you speak to the common YP struggle between the security offered by the corporate world versus following your passion in the arts? I know you left McGill for arts school yourself; do you have any advice for creative young professionals?
“If you can just keep working away at it until you are 30 years old, suddenly all of your competition seems to fall away. People get married, they have kids, they ‘take a break’…and once they fall away, they don’t come back. Everyone who I went to art school with who was still creating at 30 is still doing it. With age and endurance, there comes a degree of respect for the commitment and people are going to hire a 31-year-old artist over a 27-year-old. I would also suggest interning for free for as long as you can; someone will go on maternity leave or quit, then the job is yours. It is easier than sorting through 200 resumes. In terms of your craft, be disciplined and do it everyday, even weekends. I used to take notes on a daily basis, constantly jotting thoughts and ideas down, until I learned what makes a good note and now I simply make a mental note. You have to love it, though; it can’t feel like work. If it feels like homework, really look carefully as to why you are doing it. And I have a question for you: is the corporate world really secure?” 

Good point. Nonetheless, we discuss the typical insecurities faced by artists and Coupland asks our photographer her age. She is almost 25. Coupland shudders; “you are in for the worst three years of your life.” We couldn’t agree more (see the moment we finally got comfortable). 


Why were your mid-twenties so terrible for you?
“Looking back now and I am horrified by some of the decisions I made. In the end, what saved me is that I always stuck with the words and the visuals. Age 26 is the absolute worst. The thing with 26 is that you haven’t figured it out yet and nobody is feeling particularly good, but won’t admit it and are not showing it… everyone looks so young and fresh on the outside. I get the struggle. I have had many shit jobs but you have to translate the experience upwards in transferrable skills for future undertakings. So, for all of you still cursing your part-time serving job, stop. It may be making you a better sales person. And 40, don’t even get me started; 40 brings a whole new set of problems.” 

How do you balance all three disciplines?
“Oh sure, give me a piece of paper.” 

He has answered this before. He asked us for a pen and drew a diagram, the artist in him now fully evident. We couldn’t pretend we understood right away, and asked him to decipher. 

“Life is either fiction or non fiction (novels or whatever) and visual work is either art or design –  art is something you make in your room by yourself and design is something that incorporates some aspect of the real world.”

Got it? 


An article of yours from a few years back, “A Radical Pessimist’s Guide to the Next Ten Years,” although slightly dismal, was a highly interesting and thought-provoking read for young professionals as to what we can expect for the future (some of our favourites: You Will Become a Notch of the Internet’s Belt and You’re Going to Miss the 1990’s More than You Thought.) What are your predictions on the future of the Canadian arts and culture scene?
“Oh, right. That article. It was actually a challenge to write something so depressing when everyone is trying to be so upbeat and positive all the time. I will say that it has never been and never will be easy to be a ‘creative person’. The technology changes but we are all still saying the same thing as 30 years ago. We can expect an extension of what we see now, with more people being creative than ever and a subsequently large creative class. There will be more unity but people still may not feel great. We have never been as smart and creative as we are now, but everyone feels stupider and less creative than ever, a large part due to modern technology. Be easy on yourself.” 

The Douglas Coupland for SwitzerCultCreative collective is available through SwitzerCultCreative.