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 | September 17

From Aunt Jemima to AI, How Racism Creeps Into Design: an insightful video from Bloomberg Equality. [JH]

The 40 winners of this year’s Posterheroes Becoming e-Quals competition have been announced. Congrats to all! [BV]

German artist Max Hattler finds inspiration in the immense size, muted colors, and relentless repetition of the facades of Hong Kong’s apartment high-rises. [BV]

Swatch Bharat—online collections of Indian native aesthetics, created to preserve artifacts disappearing due to globalization—has completed their eighth collection. Get inspired![BV]


Observed | September 10

Rachel Berger’s Shooter Box—an exhibition protesting the United States military’s use of Microsoft Xbox controllers as battle equipment—now on view at California College of the Arts. [JH]

Pantone No. 1837, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and a conspiracy theory about art and commerce. [JH]

Designing a better airport. [JH]

Revisiting a seminal guerilla signage project, twenty years later. [JH]


Observed | September 03

Everyone’s a (design) critic! The internet goes wild—not in a good way—for the cover art “design” for Drake’s new album. [JH]

A new graphic novel on censorship—from MITPress—gathers insights and highlights from a profession under attack. [JH]

Rebranding Chernobyl with a logo that decays over time. (Via Michael Bierut.) [JH]

Today we chase after information, without gaining knowledge. We take note of everything, without gaining insight. We communicate constantly, without participating in a community... This is how information develops a lifeform: inexistent and impermanent. [JH]


Observed | August 27

A spectacularly researched—and meticulously produced—history of design and visual culture in Louisiana. (Via Nancy Sharon Collins.) [JH]

Alan Heller, who collaborated with Mario Bellini, Massimo and Lella Vignelli, and others to produce memorable objects in plastic, dies at 81. [JH]

Originally located in Marshall Field’s unused 1905 South Prairie Avenue mansion, The New Bauhaus school opened its doors on October 18, 1937. Bauhäusler László Moholy-Nagy, director, began to shape the original Bauhaus curriculum to suit his purposes. Gone were the craft-based distinctions that helped enforce gendered segregation and discrimination in the German workshops. An in-depth look at the founding of American Bauhaus. [BV]




Observed | August 20

Preserving Black historical resorts is a radical act: Amid the violent segregation of the Jim Crow era, leaning into Black joy, leisure, and recreation was a form of quiet radical resistance. [BV]

Our favorite water bottle designers have debuted their newest product, a sleek, steel vessel for all your portable beverage needs. [BV]

Populism—fascism—and design: Derek Hill explains. (Via Mike Errico.) [JH]

Punishment for ... a logo? [JH]

Data visualization in three parts: Mars rover, seabed geochemistry, and drought and climate change. [BV]

How the ice cream truck made summer cool. [BV]



Jobs | September 26