Last year on a dark winters evening, I took a road down to a local event in Grünnerløkka Oslo. It was a pop up event hosted by design agency By Hands, and it was my first introduction to the work of Tonje and Ingrid of Darling Clementine. Inspired by their unique pairing of colour, quirky characters and bold shapes, I took note a quickly got in touch. Luckily not long later I got a response in my inbox and we have collaborated on their Instagram account ever since.
Earlier this season, when the light stayed with us for a few more hours and the suns rays were warm enough to leave the coat on the coat rack, I shared a pot of tea with with Tonje Holand, and picked her brain about creative living and the highlights of being your own boss.
I think many know you for your products and illustrations as part of Darling Clementine, and I wonder, how did you get into illustration as well as graphic design?
I think we both knew from an early age that we wanted to work with design & illustration. We have both been doing it for almost 20 years now, starting drawing schools at 17- 18, and then going on to higher education a couple of years later. Ingrid has Bachelor in Design & Art Direction from Manchester and I went to Birmingham to do a Bachelor in Visual Communication and then to London to do Masters in Communication Design. Our first meeting didn’t come about before we moved back to Norway. We realised we’d been admiring each others work without knowing each other when introduced by a mutual friend in 2006. This was a moment of pure magic, and it was how Darling Clementine was born. After this, the collaboration came about and now we have been lucky enough to work together for almost 10 years!
That’s amazing! You can certainly see that your collaboration works.
Are their any struggles you face with being your own boss? How do you overcome them?
The hardest thing about being an illustrator/designer is that the work is always quite personal. If you have a bad day at work and lack energy, it will show in the work and this can sometimes feel like a very personal defeat.. But then of course it’s the opposite way if you deliver something you are proud of- which gives you the most wonderful feeling. To be your own boss have so many good sides, but it’s challenging when you always have to give yourself new projects that are self-initiated. You will have to stay motived when lacking motivation. After a while though, you just realise that it’s much easier if you stay disciplined and get on with it, rather than going around dreading stuff you’d rather not do -and putting it off. A good advice is just like Nike so nicely put it; Just do it!
How do you focus and ‘just do it’ in your daily practice? What is your preferred routine?
After becoming parents, the work hours have to be more restricted to strictly 09-16 on weekdays. We used to work much longer hours before, but have found that we are more effective now that we know that there is no possibility of working late! The week starts with a Monday meeting, dividing the jobs between us, and if there are major projects coming up- making a strategy for the best possible cooperation. Our daily routine is to make a good coffee, read through e-mails and then get on with drawing and designing. We love having days out of the office too, with styling shops, photoshoots and client-meetings.
What do you think has the most influence over your designs?
We’re inspired by everything from classic films, theatre props and -productions, art, fashion, music and social media. We try to go on inspirational trips to Copenhagen and London as often as we can, and always find ourselves beaming with inspiration when we return. It’s also very motivating to see fellow designers and illustrators deliverer high quality work as it’s challenging and forces you to focus.. very healthy! Our aim is to stay original, but it’s hard to not let fashion, trends and where we are in life also influence the work at all. For instance; our biggest Kids series Pantomime came about after our kids Lotte & Henry where born.
I always find it fascinating to see both the work your create for clients as well as Darling Clementine. What is the biggest difference of designing for yourself and for other clients?
It’s a great thing to swap between personal and client based projects. This way, you get the freedom to play a lot, but there’s also the challenge of answering to briefs and visually solving a clients’ requests. This balance between a fun task and resolving a brief is our absolute favourite thing about this profession. It keeps your heart young and your brain sharp!
I love that and very much feel the same way. It is the struggle that pushes us to create something new and although tricky I have come to great those challenges in a more positive way.
Have you had to overcome many obstacles to become a creative entrepreneur?
Yes.You have to love what you do and keep this in focus to stay motivated. I wouldn’t recommend it if you are not sure that it is really what you want to to. It can eat you up and some times take over your life. But then it’s also a success you completely own once you achieve your set goals- which is immensely rewarding.
I often wonder how much the city of Oslo has an effect over my work (considering as I moved from the UK and London). I know that you also lived in the UK but came back to Oslo, setting up your business here. Do you think starting a business in Oslo has had any effect over your work?
It’s hard to say, as we haven’t tried anywhere else, so there’s nothing to compare it to! But thinking about how the industry is in London for instance, I’m glad we are in Oslo. London is so competitive, and you have to be prepared to be treated badly and with very low wages for super hard work- as there are so many designers fighting over the same commissions. The hierarchy is stronger, and people tend to treat you according to these rules. In Norway, the standard is better, and the quality of the work creatives deliver is still very high even if the competition isn’t anywhere near London.
Finally, I’d love to know what part of your work gets you up in the morning? And what gets you most excited to create?
It’ s so much fun to draw and create. And you never know the outcome of a project once you start. So there’s always excitement in this. I love the unpredictability,- it can be challenging if it’s quiet, but then everything could change the next day when an amazing proposal from a client you’ve only dreamed about working for has found it’s way to you inbox. This is defiantly the best bit, and makes it unpredictable and never boring.
A big thank you to Tonje for taking time out of her day to photograph and be interviewed by me. This interview is part of my series on ‘Tall Poppies’. About creatives that rise above.