We speak to multidisciplinary artist Honor Eastly about cringing at your own work, dealing with a ticking biological clock and why she wants to change the conversation around mental health.
I’m standing on the porch of Honor Eastly’s Brunswick sharehouse, having just knocked on the door to no answer, when seconds later a silver hatchback turns swiftly into the driveway.
It’s Eastly, and though we’ve never met prior, she greets me with an enthused ‘Joanaaa!’ through her open window before the car even comes to a stop.
That warmth and excitement, I learn, are Eastly to a tee. The multidisciplinary artist and mental health worker is engaged, animated and naturally hilarious, as well as an excellent storyteller (I laughed out loud more than once while transcribing this interview).
Describing herself as a “professional feeler of feelings” in her Instagram bio, Eastly has a vast and varied cache of work under her 28-year-old belt. Having shown work or appeared in the National Gallery of Victoria, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and The Age, she’s perhaps best known for her self-initiated projects—particularly the podcasts Starving Artist and Being Honest With My Ex—and, in turn, for being unreservedly open about her flaws, insecurities and fears.
Hailing from Maryborough in Victoria’s Central Goldfields, Eastly “did a lot of growing up” in nearby Ballarat before making the move to Melbourne. There, she studied fine art and spatial practice at the Victorian College of the Arts.
However, Eastly says: “I realised I didn’t like making stuff in galleries.”
“So I graduated and starting doing comedy shows—a bit of stand-up but mostly game shows, improv theatre and stuff like that.”
Then, she sidestepped into a sound production diploma (“accidentally in preparation for my podcasting career”), after which she pursued a wide range of different creative projects.
But it was in 2014 that things changed for Eastly—in more ways than one. After a particularly difficult period with her mental health, she was admitted into a psychiatric hospital for inpatient treatment. There, she and friend Patrick Bridges made a short documentary to document the experience.
“That was the first time I shared something that a lot of people shared in response,” Eastly says.
Galvanised by the reaction, she started creating more things online.
“Then I kind of fell into podcasting when my ex-fiance was like, ‘We should do a podcast together’ and I was like, ‘I’m not confident that we should but I’ll do three episodes with you’,” Eastly says.
It’s a far cry from Eastly’s childhood ambition of becoming a pop star.
Though she’s explored music in her career (including writing and singing the intro to Starving Artist), Eastly says she feels the discipline can be a little too self-involved at times.
“It’s kind of hypocritical because I’ve also done a podcast for 18 months that’s literally just me and my own rambling thoughts alongside my ex-fiance,” she says.
“But maybe it’s also because I’m totally terrified of my musical abilities, or lack thereof.”
Instead, Eastly now finds herself drawn to projects in service of others—like Starving Artist—or ones that work to help people in the community, like her upcoming project the Big Feels Club.
“I have a long career of using mental health services and in the last few years I’ve realised one of the most profoundly helpful things is a community of people to help unpack ideas around how I see myself and the difficult emotional experiences I have,” she says.
“So I’m interested in making spaces where people can unpack these ideas better, but in a more philosophical sense rather than a therapy kind of thing.”
When embarking on her creative career, Eastly says a “normal amount” of naivety protected her from a fear of failure.
“I was just like, ‘Well, I’ll just go be an artist’,” she says.
“I was a really high-achieving kid and teenager and everyone was always like, ‘You can do anything! But also maybe do art as a hobby’.
“So I just figured I’d work it out.”
What she didn’t expect, however, was to have the fear take hold years into her career, around the time she turned 25.
“On Facebook, I started seeing friends from high school getting admitted to the bar or becoming doctors or buying houses and having kids,” Eastly says.
“That scared the shit out of me, to be honest.
“It’s also the point at which I really started considering whether I wanted to have a family, and that combination was like, ’Whoa, you need to work this out’.”
While her ideas and output may seem prolific, Eastly insists she’s no stranger to roadblocks to her creative work. Her strategy for overcoming them? Rethinking how things could be done differently to make the process a bit more exciting.
“I don’t mean ‘exciting’ like, ‘Ooh, I’m going to tjuz it up or have a piece of cake when I do my tax’,” Eastly jokes.
She cites an experience in the early days of Starving Artist as an example: around six months in, Eastly found herself loathing the project.
“I was like, ‘I hate this project. This project sucks,’” Eastly says.
So she took a new approach: she asked herself what she could learn from the project as a way of reigniting her interest in it. The takeaway? She decided to devise a more formalised strategy, rather than what had been to that point somewhat ad hoc.
But equally, Eastly says the ‘just do stuff’ approach is just as valuable, and is exactly how Being Honest With My Ex came about.
“There’s a time for experimenting and a time when you actually want to plan more; pull something off in a more planned way,” she says.
It’s a combination that seems to be working for Eastly, who admits 2017 has so far been her busiest ever in terms of the amount of work she’s had.
That’s brought with it a number of challenges, not least of which were contracting a debilitating bout of salmonella poisoning and breaking a finger—both of which happened not long after the launch of Starving Artist.
If that sounds overwhelming, it’s because it is—and it’s what prompted Eastly to reassess the pressure she was putting on herself to release a new episode of Starving Artist each week. She’s since switched to a fortnightly release, but not without its own set of doubts.
“I have this idea that people don’t necessarily understand how much work [goes into a podcast] and will then think I’m lazy,” Eastly says.
“But why would I make decisions based on that? It makes more sense to make decisions on how much work it is.
“I find it hilarious because I do this podcast where I talk so often about this shit!”
Given the often no-holds-barred nature of her work, does Eastly ever struggle to share it?
Or, as I put it to her—a reflection on my own experiences with publishing creative work rather than any comment on hers—does she ever release a podcast episode and cringe at the shittiness of it?
“All the time. I think about it even after it’s out,” Eastly admits, citing a recent episode of Being Honest With My Ex that, at the time of this interview, she couldn’t bring herself to listen to.
“What makes it easier is that I’ve realised people mostly don’t care,” Eastly says.
“They’re mostly really understanding. But at the same time, I think people definitely judge me and that’s part of it.”
When asked to picture how her career might look in 30 years’ time, Eastly’s response is nothing if not honest.
“Shit. Fuck me, I don’t know!” she says, before thinking about it a little longer.
“I hope I’m part of something where people can be more vulnerable with each other, more human, and maybe less judgmental,” she says.
That’s really vague, I say. Eastly agrees, and adds that in the immediate future she hopes to be a part of a discussion that looks at mental health in a different way.
“I’m also interested in how people are doing it—how are they doing life? How do they make sense of it? How are they not freaking out all the time, and if they are freaking out all the time, how are they doing that?” she says.
“So I think I’ll probably still be asking people questions.”
Virtual pep talk
First of all, I think everyone should read Making Your Life as an Artist by Andrew Simonet—it’s a book for artists but I think it’s good for anyone working in a field driven by passion.
Then, I would say listen to Sarah Firth’s interview ... Fuck, I would say listen to Starving Artist! Not because I’m amazing but because the people in it say some pretty amazing things.
You also need to be honest with yourself about what you want. What’s important to you? Have a serious think about it; ask yourself some big questions.