Erin Spens, Boat Magazine

Erin Spens, Boat Magazine

Show Your Work —

Life is even more nomadic than usual for Boat these days. The independent travel and culture magazine, which uproots itself twice a year to make an issue in a different city, is moving its home from London to Los Angeles. Amidst the move and the imminent launch of the Lima, Peru issue, editor and co-founder Erin Spens, took time out to share the process of how the magazine is made.

Huck’s Show Your Work series is inspired by Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work! and aims to showcase the process behind work being produced by members of Huck’s community. We want you to get involved. If you would like to be featured, post a process pic or two on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Google+ with the hashtag #huckprocess.

Erin Spens, Editor Boat Magazine


What are you working on?
The new issue of Boat, which is all about Lima, Peru, launches next week so I’m getting everything ready. We’ve done a redesign of the magazine and are launching a new website the day before the magazine arrives, so it’s a little manic!

I’m also in the process of moving the Boat headquarters to Los Angeles. We’re keeping a small base in London, too, so this way we can jump on projects and stories from both sides of the planet. There’s also a burgeoning indie publishing scene in LA that I’m excited to be part of.

Once we land in LA, I’ll start pulling the team together to work on the next issue (which is focused on Los Angeles!) and we’ll start gathering those stories. We’ll do a bit more film with the next issue and are planning some stories and projects that I think are a little unexpected for us.


Photographer Jonathan Cherry and designer Luke Tonge in a Detroit record shop.

Can you talk us through your process?
Because the whole concept of Boat is to focus each issue on a different city, the first step is to decide on the city. It has genuinely happened with each issue that the next city kind of presents itself to us, and each time it’s been in a different way. For example, our second issue was focused on Detroit because I saw a story in The Daily Mail with this headline: “From Motown to Ghost town: How the once mighty Detroit is heading down a long, slow road to ruin.” It pissed me off so much. I’m a Midwesterner and I know Detroit pretty well. I know the people who have chosen to stay in Detroit (and now lots of those who have chosen to move there) have more life, soul, and creativity than most people in traditional ‘epicenters.’ So we went there to show the life in the city, not its so-called death that everyone else was talking about.

This is the beauty of independent publishing – we can be flexible and can listen to what the natural next step is, and we have the freedom to then take that step. I’ve been insanely blessed by the Boat team who have given so much to the magazine and because they’re all so talented. We can really just go with whatever feels right. (It feels vulnerable saying this because it sounds so unprofessional!) But big rigid structures can kill that spirit of creativity and the trust that you have to have with your team, so we stay as fluid as we can. That’s not to say that we don’t kill a lot of story ideas because they turn out to not be strong enough – most of our ideas never see the light of day! We’re tough on quality and standards but we all trust each other enough to run after something that we think might be right. If it turns out it’s not, that’s cool! You’ve got to give it a go – the more you try, the more you land.


Rachel Jonas, Caroline Mitchell and Erin Spens working late one night in Reykjavik.

What environment do you work best in?
The bulk of our work happens in the city we’re focusing on. We rent a house and all crash there, going out in the day to get our stories and then coming back in the evening for dinner and to work/discuss everything. When we’re in the city, I’m usually working on a story myself and then managing all the other contributors. It can range from a team of three to 15. That is where I’m most in my element, but it isn’t a holiday! In Lima, there were five of us in the house and there were days we worked until 2 a.m. and then were back up at 7 a.m. for an interview or a shoot. It’s so intense – meeting so many people and learning so much in a relatively short period of time.

But that’s where I really thrive. There’s always this point, about day two in the city (we usually stay for three weeks or so), where I freak out and think we’re not getting enough, the stories we want aren’t coming in, all our leads have gone quiet … but I’ve learned to kind of live with that phase and just work through it. If a story that I really want doesn’t come in, it always happens that another unexpected one does.

Tom Eagar shooting film at the side of a busy Reykjavik highway in high-winds.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about getting things done?
A friend of mine from my years in New York is an Emmy-winning TV journalist and producer. She gave me the best advice anyone has ever told me: “Don’t do today what you can do tomorrow.” We both love our work and love to work. This advice has helped me so many times at 2 a.m. when I’m stuck on something to just go to bed and start again the next day. With some sleep and fresh eyes, your work is better anyway.

Boat’s new web site launches on April 14th and you can pre-order the Lima, Peru issue, which launches on April 15.

If you would like to be featured on Show Your Work, post a process pic or two on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Google+ along with the hashtag #huckprocess.