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September 20

Creative Work: Seasonality, Process, and Becoming More Me

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Jeff-Holmberg-H-DCO

Early in my design career, I confidently presented a client with an identity concept containing a spelling error in their new logo. The weight of that experience was one of many things that have shaped my emphasis on details.  I design and run a business a couple degrees differently than I would have without that experience.

9 years ago has to do with right now.

Life is made up of seasons which set one-another up; building off of what was, bringing something new.

This year’s branches emerge from last year’s branches.

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We find these bigger movements and rhythms at work all around us.  Seasonal patterns of growth and rest, shifting, reaching, rising…. forward.

We experience this in our work through the creative process, in painting, writing, and design… inspiration, exploring, wrestling, frustration, persistence, discovery, refinement, beauty, celebration and rest.  We experience this seasonality in our careers as a whole, building new things and finding new opportunities because of all the work so far.

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These patterns often have direction to them.  Smaller patterns join together and make up the same exact pattern another time on a larger scale. Zoom into the leaf; zoom out to the tree, similar patterns at play.

These patterns are everywhere.  Take a deep breath and hold it…….

This same branching pattern is at work holding your breath, making up the structure of the lung.

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Commonalities in these patterns around us… inside us.

Trees,

lungs,

the legacy of your life,

growing a client base,

twists and turns across our careers as a whole,

discovering a unique tone in your art,

developments in our interests, abilities, and the things that inspire us,

becoming a little bit more myself.

Time and space…  Function and form….  These patterns tell of seasons, they show us process.

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I have always been fascinated by trees and the variety we see in branch structure.  All that heavy material spread out in the sky, and how all of it came from a tiny seed.

In Spring months, we see a fragile twig show up, sprouting out of an existing branch, looking similar to what broke out of a seed long ago.  Now in a very different context this new twig is at work… stressing the existing frame, putting pressure on how things have looked before, breaking through some portion of what’s already established, emerging out and up from how things were.

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Brand new extensions sway in the wind, 20 feet in the air, held up in that specific place by a massive, swerving series of twisted branches before it.

In so many settings, we find this necessity of process, movements across varied seasons, branching off of the latest thought and understanding…. new growth, new expressions held into existence because of the work, and weight of growth so far.

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This process brings times of explosive growth and times with no movement at all.  We see this in trees and we see it in our work.

What I have tried to remember in my design career is that stillness can be one of the more active states, with all kinds of things happening just below the surface.  Those few weeks or months of unknown and doubt with nothing to show for ourselves, might be doing something necessary inside of us for holding the weight of what’s coming.

When I think things are not happening as quick as I thought they would, I’ve tried to be aware of the less obvious things happening in that: I am becoming better at what I do, I’ve connected with more people, I’ve been given additional space to hone my craft and observe more design around me.

I remember one slow month in particular where I found myself walking around a train museum.  I have a few of these places which recharge and inspire me; places where I just show up and admire…

I remember just staring at train cars, knowing that a 1 color minimal design on a flood of color with tons of unused space is beautiful and not knowing necessarily why…. and not having the right project in place to express that observation.

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In silently observing and organizing the chaos around us, these things are somehow mysteriously stored up inside us, just below the surface, waiting for the right moment to emerge.  Seasons with little or no expression are not wasted.  Something is alive in that resting state.  Winter gives way to Spring; over and over and over.

Sometimes in our creative work, there’s something about stopping and not producing tangible things that brings on fear or shame. We feel like we’re falling behind or we’re unable to keep a good thing going. What I’m trying to become more comfortable with is how this on/off, on/off pattern we find in our creative work can actually be healthy and how it is connected to larger patterns growing all around us.

We see this on/off rhythm in branch structure, we hear it in music, and we experience it through summer/winter seasons.   We see this on/off pattern in the light/dark rhythms of sunlight hitting horizon lines, making a space to rest our frame before pushing energy into tomorrow’s expressions.

Engaging this pattern has helped me keep my head up in slower times of work and the frustrating patches of not being able to figure out moving forward with a design.  Stillness is active. It is part of the process… it is necessary.

On the flip side, when work is busier with all kinds of expressions going out; I’ve tried to create spaces to be quiet, to stay in touch with this on/off pattern, and wrestle for balance.

Stillness is connected to moving forward.  Rest impacts the health of future growth.  Seasons of stillness where we express less, when the applause for our work is less or gone, times of sneaking away to just sit and breathe…. to be still….  this unseen work feeds and gives life to the tangible expressions people end up seeing from us.

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You and I are paid to use our mind all week for so many other people’s benefit.  This week, use some of your creativity to build a unique space of rest… for you.

Find a way to make it happen today… tomorrow.  Regardless of how work is going, busy or slow, use your imagination to design a brand new space to eat and drink your favorite things somewhere quiet.  Once you’re in it; don’t post a single thing for people to like online.  Hide there… just you.  Wrestle to be fully present in doing nothing; wasting valuable time.  Do the hard inner work of remembering and recovering who you are… who only you can be.

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Hide somewhere at home, or drive 2 hours away to some park, pack a cooler and stare at trees, admiring the structure and markings from all the weird weather that frame has been through. Be in awe of how all that structure was pulled from the dirt by a small seed.

Reflect on your younger grade school years and that little kid doing their best.  Picture yourself on that playground… picture your hair cut, your face.  Picture what you loved doing with your free time back then and just sit with those images a while.  Reflect on the intense amount of detail in the path between then and now and how you are that same kid, just bigger now, more worn out, and in a whole new context….. still trying your best.

Become aware as you read this that something new and unseen is already in process, just below the surface.

Wonder about what might grow from this twisting, evolving, strong, fragile, present… now.

You and I are not done yet.  There is more. There is more…

All around us, patterns, movements, beauty, inspiration, growth and rest, growth and rest.

In our careers, in creating things…. in me becoming more me….  all of it is in process.

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This week, may you find time to break away and engage stillness, fighting for space to rest, to wander around, to wonder, to heal, to take some pressure off your current extensions, to be like a kid again, to become more you.

Branches emerging from branches

into brand new spaces,

different but connected,

future and present,

building off of all things so far,

bringing a greater wholeness,

reaching,

growing,

forward.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 2004, Jeff Holmberg founded Holmberg Design Co. and has done freelance design work for a variety of Minneapolis agencies as well as managing his own client work.  Areas of design focus are: identity systems, print, packaging, custom design-build projects, along with some poster explorations. Some of the Minneapolis companies Jeff has worked with are: Dogwood Coffee Co., Parka, Bogart’s Doughnut Co., Natedogs, Brasa, Pizzeria Lola, Rustica, and Bliss Gourmet Foods.