If you were to condense it to a sticky note, you might write that Chaz Hutton is a tall man who has become famous for drawing on very small yellow bits of paper. But there is so much more to the story of “the world’s first sticky note lifestyle guru”, who has developed a cult following on Instagram for his pithy observations of everyday life drawn on ubiquitous office stationery.
That the sketching of stick figures on yellow squares is even a thing, much less that it’s able to sustain the life of their strapping 1.8-metre son by landing him book deals in Britain and the US, has certainly come as a surprise to Chaz’s parents, Tim and Jen.
Chaz, 32, grew up on a sheep and cattle farm at the foot of an extinct volcano outside Penshurst in the Southern Grampians and long wanted to be an architect. The trouble was, after he graduated from university and went to work for the internationally recognised Melbourne firm Wood Marsh, Chaz began to suspect he might not make a very good architect.
“I would do a drawing and check it three times and give it to someone and they were like ‘no, this is wrong’ and it was missing its plasterboard insulation or something. After a while, I realised a lot of friends were either running their own projects in bigger firms or starting their own firms, while I was just treading water,” he affably admits.
Chaz decided to take himself off to Britain while he was still under 30 and eligible for a two-year visa. There, he did much the same “only it sounded slightly better because I was living in London”.
It was while sitting at work, keeping track of a group chat among his mates, that Chaz started making illustrated contributions to the banter.
His friends urged him to post his wry observations on everything from dating to the physics of toothpaste on Instagram and @instachaaz made its public debut in August 2015.
“The growth was really incremental. I think maybe I had 2000 followers when Jessica Seinfeld – Jerry Seinfeld’s wife – liked one of them and it doubled. An Irish newspaper and a Russian blog did something and that pushed it up to 6000. Then when Huffpost and Buzzfeed both did articles within hours of each other it jumped to, like, 60,000. Then over the weekend, there were another 30,000 or 40,000 and that’s when the publishers started to get interested,” Chaz says.
He now has 165,000 Instagram followers.
HarperCollins acquired the British and Commonwealth rights to Chaz’s first book in a five-way auction in March last year.
A Sticky Note Guide To Life hit bookstores just before Christmas. The US version Ideas Of Note, published by Abrams, is due out in April.
Such is the making of a modern celebrity.
“It is pretty hard to get your head around,” Chaz says. “A friend started sending pictures that equated to the size of the number of people following me. The first one was the Brixton Academy, which holds, like, 5000, the most recent one Glastonbury Festival (capacity 177,000).”
To be sure Chaz didn’t get too big for his boots, his dad, Tim, made his own contribution. “When it first started to get big, my father drew a comic in my style in the shape of a thermometer with the red going up and the number of followers on the side and at the top my head getting gradually bigger. I’m like, wow, taken down by my dad on day one.”
In person Chaz is tremendously likeable and relatable and his work is much the same.
“I think there are a couple of reasons why people like it,” he says. “The first is the hand-drawn aspect and the fact it is on a Post-it note is immediately identifiable. I think people can more easily imagine me sitting at a desk drawing them.
“A lot of the material has that, ‘ah, I do that’ recognition, but then you need some kind of comedic hook. There is observational comedy and then there is observation. I think, in a weird way, while I was stagnating in architecture I was giving myself a degree in comedy.”
Is it sustainable? “Absolutely not,” Chaz chortles. “But I think I’ve got to ride the wave and see where it ends up. My mum has this thing where she will sit me down and ask, ‘So Chaz, what is the plan?’. I’m like, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it, mum, there is a plan’, and there is no plan whatsoever. So now she’s going, ‘Is this part of the plan, Chaz?’ and I’m going, ‘Absolutely, mum’.”
- A Sticky Note Guide to Life by Chaz Hutton is published by HarperCollins, RRP $18.99