In Conversation with: Bodil Jane
Interview by Durga Chew-Bose.
Dutch artist, Bodil Jane, is known for illustrating everyday life with an attention to color and curiosities, and mostly, with a flair and quickness for detail—the crease on a pant leg, the shape of a fruit sticker, the thorn on a cactus. Her work is attracted to the art of paying attention and finding a particular note that draws you in. Like the rippled pattern on a seashell or the houseplant that looks especially alive in a purple pot, and now, all that matters is finding a purple pot for your plants. Hers is a world that feels familiar but twisted towards the imaginary.
Describe the view outside your bedroom window.
I’m incredibly lucky with my bedroom view! I live in the city center of Amsterdam. Most streets are very narrow so most people's windows look out onto the windows of their neighbours. Not too much privacy since the Dutch love to keep their curtains open. But I live along a canal next to one of Amsterdam’s most beautiful buildings, the Rijksmuseum. So when I look outside I see the water with boats passing by and the Rijksmuseum with its old Dutch tiles attached to the side and beautiful little towers. Every morning when I open the curtains I’m still surprised and very thankful to have found an affordable rental place in the most beautiful area. I’m very lucky!
How do you unwind before going to bed? Do you have any rituals?
Haha, I’m sure my boyfriend would laugh if he saw this question, because it’s the perfect question for me. I’m a very sleepy person and I need a lot of sleep. During the working week I go to bed around 10pm. But I already check-out around 9pm. It depends on the light. In the summer it’s a bit later, in the winter I’m starting to check out when it’s about 7. When I get home, before making dinner I love to put on my pajamas. So that is my first ritual, changing into very comfy clothes at home. I love to light some incense in the evening. I love making tea in my tea brew pot. Chai maybe, or something with chamomile. I always read about an hour before going to bed. I take a long time to enjoy lazy and sleepy time in the evening!
In what ways has your work changed over time?
I think the biggest change has been going from fully analogue to fully digital. This developed over the years and happened step by step. I used to work with watercolors and ink, but the bigger the clients got, the more corrections I had to make. I had to be more flexible to make adjustments or change colors. First I used analogue textures, that I created with water colors, to construct a digital image – like a collage. But later on I started creating the textures digitally. Even though my work is now fully digital, I think you can still see the history of watercolor in it.
Is there such a thing as illustrator-block? If so, do you embrace it or work through it?
Yes! It’s something that I’ve struggled with a lot and sometimes still struggle with. The main reason for me is that my hobby has turned into my job. This really changes everything about it. There’s a lot more pressure. Some years I didn’t have time to do any personal work anymore. All the time I had left after client work was needed to relax and do something else other than drawing. If you don’t practice creating personal work, it gets harder and harder mentally. I felt like I had to do personal work to develop my style, but I didn’t enjoy it anymore. Like, if you’re used to get paid for something, it automatically feels like work and feels kind of strange to push yourself to do it for free. Especially if you don’t enjoy it. Having a lot of IG followers felt like a pressure to me. Like everyone was watching me while I was messing up a drawing. It took a lot of time and patience for me to get back into a flow of sometimes just creating something for fun. Not to share or to sell, just for me. I’ve now embraced that sometimes for weeks I don't feel like drawing at all (outside client work). I only work on personal stuff when I really feel the urge to do it. And I try to enjoy it in the moment, not to think about why would I create this and how will this add to my portfolio. Just create it, and enjoy.
Name something that others might perceive as procrastination but that you feel is essential to your process?
I’m not sure if others would perceive me as a procrastinator. Actually I don’t procrastinate a lot. I’m very focussed at work and very efficient, I think. I just love getting things done fast. But I don’t work regular hours. As I mentioned before, I take a lot of time to relax. I’ve struggled with migraines for over ten years, and it’s very important for me to listen to my body and make sure my mental health is good. I used to work around 8 hours a day, like most people, but I found out that I can do the same amount of work in 4-6 hours. Pretty crazy actually. I always felt like I had to stay in my studio until the end of the day, but I learned I get a lot more done if I also take time to do other things that I enjoy or just do nothing and look out of the window for a while. I think being creative is a different type of job. I can’t draw for 8 hours straight. I can maybe draw for like 4 hours in a day. I have a hyper focus. So I can be in my studio for 4 hours and have done everything that needs to be done and be completely exhausted at 3 in the afternoon. Sometimes I feel almost guilty about it. But then again, everyone works in a different way. And maybe I just get things done in 5 hours and someone else does it in 8 hours. I’m just really lucky to be my own boss and can allow myself this rhythm.
Your go-to snack?
Aaah I love food in general. Some favorite snacks: green olives filled with feta cheese from the market next to my studio, toasted seaweed snack, a bell pepper, homemade onigiri.
The last book you read?
De Meeste Mensen Deugen by Rutger Bregman. This book is translated in English and is called Humankind. It’s about how we’re taught that human beings are by nature selfish and primarily driven by self-interest. Bregman is providing a new historical perspective on human history. He assumes that people are good and it’s time for a new view of human nature. It’s a very interesting read and kind of turns your world view upside down!
What gives you hope? Who gives you hope?
The book that I mentioned above!
What is your relationship to the future?
When I was younger I always felt like my life didn’t go fast enough. I wanted to be a grown up. I wanted to get my own place. I wanted my career to go faster. I wanted to move in with my boyfriend. Most of the time I felt frustrated about things that weren’t happening yet. I was really fast with everything, faster than most of my friends. But now that I’ve ticked most of those boxes it’s much easier for me to live in the now. Everything I wanted and was so impatient about, already happened. I feel like I can really enjoy life now and everything I’ve achieved so far. I don’t think about the future a lot anymore. My mum always told me when I was in high school: Maybe this isn’t the best age for you, maybe everything will be easier for you when you’re a little older. I think this is the perfect age for me.