The Self-Reliance Project

The Self-Reliance Project is a daily essay about what it means to be a maker during a crisis—to think through making, to know yourself better through the process of producing something—and how this kind of return to self-knowledge might just be the entire point.

It’s title comes from the 1841 essay on self-reliance by the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote with astonishing clarity about the perils of conformity and consistency, about what it means to follow your mind, trust your instincts, and listen to your heart.

So for now, stay well, stay home, and do your work. But don’t just take it from me. Take it from Emerson.

Do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself.

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Jessica Helfand
Remembering
Visual memories sear themselves into the unconscious, bearing down and not letting go.


Jessica Helfand
Storytelling
We tell ourselves stories in order to live.


Jessica Helfand
Discerning
Sometimes you have to unlearn the constellations to see the stars.


Jessica Helfand
Making
Real makers produce against all odds: ever evolving, all of it work in progress


Jessica Helfand
Feeling
To feel fragile is to feel human, which is to recognize your inherent vulnerability, not your presumed invincibility.


Jessica Helfand
Observing
Observing is truth-telling. It’s not a picture postcard, or a gilded lily.


Jessica Helfand
Pretending
The faking of feelings is a sin against the imagination.


Jessica Helfand
Sharpening
As an isolated activity, sharpening’s got its own powerful syntax. It’s the art of paying attention.


Jessica Helfand
Missing
Ambiguous loss is the loss we can not see, just as it lingers in the closure we can not find.


Jessica Helfand
Tracing
Tracing is a way to think in stages, and seeing those stages pulls you along in your thinking.


Jessica Helfand
Animating
As an artistic practice, animation is a process of aggregation. But as a life practice, to animate is to awaken.


Jessica Helfand
Helping
It’s time to pierce the routine of the everyday. What else is there to know?


Jessica Helfand
Waiting
To wait inside is also a chance to go inside—and stay there for awhile.


Jessica Helfand
Admitting
Productivity is a tonic for loss—not a replacement for it—and the work of reconstruction is always brutal.


Jessica Helfand
Assimilating
What becomes of public space when we’re absent from it—when our familiar human constellations cease to exist?


Jessica Helfand
Dreaming
Dreaming is how we allow the unconscious mind to improvise.


Jessica Helfand
Reading
Reading is one of life’s great indulgences, even (and especially) if you are stuck inside.


Jessica Helfand
Generating
The studio is the seed lab: it’s where we realize that practice is at once speculative, iterative, and generative.


Jessica Helfand
Reciprocating
Reciprocity is not binary—it’s fragmented—like people are, and like life is.


Jessica Helfand
Turning
Turning is a deliberate and conscious act: it’s how we express attentiveness.


Jessica Helfand
Walking
Walking is a form of creative trespassing, like tourism for the psyche.


Jessica Helfand
Responding
Responses are reactions, and reactions demand attention.


Jessica Helfand
Distancing
Will social alienation make us a socially alien nation?


Jessica Helfand
Surrendering
Surrender is the art of uncertainty: it’s the practice of giving in, not giving up.


Jessica Helfand
Sheltering
Shelter is not so much a gesture of imprisonment as an invitation to dream.


Jessica Helfand
Canoeing
What is an actor without an audience? A person—that’s what.


Jessica Helfand
Burning
To read a poem allows you to visit words, the same way you might, say, go to a museum to visit a particular painting.


Jessica Helfand
Recalibrating
To measure your worth against what life looked like until last month is a fool’s errand.


Jessica Helfand
Longing
Wanting what is not possible—no matter how you define your object of desire—is a recipe for disappointment.


Jessica Helfand
Listening
Sound cuts right through you and tells its own story—whether you like it or not.


Jessica Helfand
Reflecting
Photographs like these are trenchant reminders about who we are as a people.


Jessica Helfand
Harvesting
What kind of work would you make if you thought no one was looking?


Jessica Helfand
Breathing
Breathing is one of those things you take for granted. Until you can’t.


Jessica Helfand
Looking
What it means to be a maker during this pandemic.



Observed | May 21

Former Design of Business | Business of Design podcast guest David Rockwell creates a kit for instant outdoor restaurant dining. [MB]


Observed | May 20

Floodwaters threaten Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. [MB]


Observed | May 19

A map featuring the 222 typefaces named for American places. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | May 15

Matteo Zallio, a design research scholar from Stanford, has developed a multipurpose tool as an open source response to COVID-19 outbreaks.. [BV]


Observed | May 14

Seven artists on how creating during the quarantine is helping them find solace and meaning in this period of uncertainty and paralyzing anxiety. [BV]


Observed | May 06

On the Detroit City of Design Podcast, Jessica Helfand points to curiosity and agile thinking as a resource for creativity. [BV]


Observed | May 04

How poster artist Randy Tuten inducted Led Zeppelin into the Avocado Club. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | April 27

Is the NYC subway system being unfairly blamed for spreading COVID-19? [MB]


Observed | April 24

Is minimalism the punch line to some joke we haven‘t heard yet, but are about to? [JH]


Observed | April 21

The Great Pottery Throw Down is the feel-good home and design show we need right now. It‘s chill, creative, and educational (with a tiny side of drama). [BV]


Observed | April 20

Shepard Fairey collaborates with Adobe to make a new series of posters celebrating the medical first-responders on the front lines during Covid-19. [JH]


Observed | April 17

How tape is remaking the urban landscape in Singapore. (via Daniel Benneworth-Gray) [BE]


Observed | April 16

The #BestNYAccent challenge on Instagram from Nicolas Heller, answers the question: How does a New Yawker tawk? (via Steven Heller) [BV]


Observed | April 15

The New York City underground punk scene is alive and well and living in color. [BV]

An interview with Farrar, Straus and Giroux Art Director, Na Kim. (Via Mike Errico.) [JH]


Observed | April 14

A beautiful and hypnotic social distancing commercial for the Ohio Department of Heath, directed by Andy Nick of Dayton‘s Real Art agency [MB]

On the occasion of its 50th birthday, The New York Times traces the history of the Rolling Stones’ logo. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]


Observed | April 08

When Lieutenant Governor of Texas Dan Patrick suggested sacrificing Texans to the pandemic in order to save the economy, Alex Rich, a data scientist, teamed up with a data visualization friend to create a tool that maps your location to locally confirmed cases. [JH]


Observed | April 07

A college student—with help from her mom—makes masks made for the deaf and hard of hearing community. [JH]

The UN and World Health Organization are looking for designs that informs the public about coronavirus. [JH]


Observed | April 03

Can computer chips design themselves? [JH]

From Frasier to Veep: Imagining your favorite television characters in a pandemic. [JH]


Observed | April 02

NASA’s “Worm” logo has returned! But the sad old “Meatball” remains the primary mark. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]

Annals of virus visualization: Center for Disease Control designers create branding coordinated to work with the now-iconic illustration. [JH]


Observed | April 01

Mad Max meets Little House on the Prairie: how to make your own face mask. [JH]


Observed | March 31

Michael Sorkin’s list of two hundred fifty things every architect should know. [BV]

Well, it took four years…but the Library of Congress solved another Mystery Photo Contest entry! [BV]


Observed | March 27

When the SXSW Film Festival was cancelled, many filmmakers were left without a way to debut their work—so our friends at Mailchimp stepped in. Watch them all now. [JH]


Observed | March 24

The final lecture in the Walker Art Center’s Insights Design Lecture Series with Amsterdam-based designer Ruben Pater will be streamed live and for free on March 31. [JH]


Observed | March 23

British experience designers Bomoas and Parr launch The Fountain of Hygiene competition, calling for designers to propose new forms of hand-sanitizer pumps as well as more creative hygiene solutions. [JH]



Jobs | May 27