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.

Self-Reliance
Emerson’s text is widely available to read online, but this new Volume edition—designed by Jessica Helfand + Jarrett Fuller—elevates his wisdom through the printed word. With twelve essays from Jessica Helfand’s Self-Reliance Project: order your copy today!




Jessica Helfand
On Whispering
Looking. Listening. And Lessons from Quaker Meeting.


Jessica Helfand
On Learning
What resonates most unequivocally here is Emerson ’s plea for individuality—that iron string—the sovereignty of selfhood.


Jessica Helfand, De Andrea Nichols
On Activism
A starting point for a new kind of dialogue—us with you, and you with yourself—because even and especially in a year such as this one, we know that at the core of all creative enterprise lies a singular, beating heart.


Jessica Helfand + Sara Hendren
On Ablerism
What does it mean, right now, to be self-reliant—to trust your voice, heed your mind, and connect to your own sense of what really matters?


Jessica Helfand + Noreen Khawaja
On Philosophy
Noreen Khawaja and Jessica Helfand talk about the philisophical nature of self-reliance.


Jessica Helfand
On Seeing
Rethinking a color. Awakening the senses. And soldiering on.


Jessica Helfand + Claire Weisz
On Architecture
Herewith, the first in a series of conversations with artists, architects, photographers, cinematographers, designers and makers of all kinds, from all over the world.


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 | June 15

Everything you ever wanted to know about, well, everything (design-related, that is). Or so they claim! [JH]


Observed | June 09

Is protest more potent when you adopt the typeface of your subject? Don’t miss these photos. [JH]


Observed | June 08

Artist Corita Kent’s famed Hollywood studio is saved in a landmark historical preservation victory. [JH]


Observed | June 01

A fascinating look back at the internet’s major milestones. [JH]


Observed | May 27

Next week marks the 100 year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the focus of a new historic center, Greenwood Rising, opening next week. “Greenwood Rising honors the icons of Black Wall Street, memorializes the victims of the massacre, and examines the lessons of the past to inspire meaningful, sustainable action in the present.” [BV]


Observed | May 26

How Colonial Pipeline’s archaic branding told us all we needed to know about the company. (via James I. Bowie) [BV]

President Biden revokes Trump‘s controversial classical architecture order. [JH]


Observed | May 25

Design Twitter goes wild over David Hockney’s typographic reworking of the Picadilly Circus logo. [JH]


Observed | May 19

Join the Society of Design Arts (SoDA) and AIGA Baltimore for an online talk by Rafael Cardoso, part of a virtual series created to promote the rich and plural histories of Latin American production in design. Free registration here. [JH]


Observed | May 18

After a decade of design and planning, +Pool has been approved by the city of New York. Listen to Michael Bierut’s conversation with founder and designer, Archie Lee Coates IV, on Season 6 of DBBD. [JH]


Observed | May 12

Kerby Jean-Raymond will be the first Black designer to show at Couture Week in Paris. Listen to Michael Bierut’s interview with him on Season 6 of The Design of Business | The Business of Design here. [JH]

The kind of speculative mashup you need right now. [JH]


Observed | May 10

“Nothing is unaffordable in a C.G.I. dreamscape, and rent is never due.” Anna Weiner on the speculative design world of “renderporn”. [JH]


Observed | May 09

Ellen Degeneres launches a new reality show to find the next great furniture designer. [JH]


Observed | May 07

Infusing design with equity: one designer’s perspective. [JH]


Observed | May 06

Last week Microsoft announced that they wanted the Twitterverse‘s help picking a new default font. This seemingly trivial choice by Microsoft will determine what works looks like for hundreds of millions of people. (via Blake Eskin) [BV]


Observed | May 05

In conjunction with the Walker Art Center, BluDot announces OpenStudio: a free design program for kids aged 9 to 14. [JH]


Observed | May 04

Titus Kaphar signs with UTA where he’ll start developing film projects based on his paintings. [JH]


Observed | May 03

A new site celebrating the Uruguayan publication La Semana highlights the personal and public triumphs of this memorable newsweekly. (In English and Spanish.) [JH]

Rhode Island’s license plate—known affectionately as the wave, and designed by Rhode Island native and RISD graduate Tyler Smith—will be redesigned by the, um, public. Holding an open design contest is bold and exciting;, writes architecture critic Will Morgan. It is also a recipe for disaster. [JH]

Wallpaper offers a superb roundup of advocacy and support groups working for equity, inclusion, and change in deisgn and related industries. [JH]


Observed | April 28

Lehrer Architects LA‘s second Tiny Home Village project has opened this week to residents in North Hollywood. Yet tiny houses aren’t always loved. Discuss! [BV]

How to really look at art: an eight-step guide by Antwaun Sargent. [JH]


Observed | April 27

Dwight Garner reviews the new novel by Rachel Cusk and notes its unusual (and seemingly deliberate) type choice: Optima! “Optima is unusual to see in a novel,” Garner observes. “I tried using it to type this piece. It made me feel I was working on Laurie Anderson’s laptop.” [JH]

At the nation’s newspaper of record, the term “Op-Ed”—a relic of an older age and nod to an older print newspaper design—is being retired from duty. [JH]

How mathematicians use their chalkboards to reveal the conceptual and visual beauty of their discipline: a new book by photographer Jessica Wynne. [JH]


Observed | April 21

Astrid Cooper is a curator in Bath, England. Also, she is five years old. [JH]

A new illustrated children’s book—featuring a flying gherkin—from Foster + Partners. [JH]


Observed | April 20

Introducing the whitest paint ever invented. [JH]

Just in time for Earth Day: Belgian artist Alain Verschueren’s Portable Oasis lets you spend quality time in the garden while social distancing at the same time. [JH]



Jobs | June 22