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Newsletter excerpt: Learning from silkworms (MB003)

An excerpt from my semi-regular email newsletter series
Monday, April 11, 2022

This is an excerpt from my email newsletter series I call 'Monday Best.' It's a newsletter where I share interests, thoughts, and other things tumbling around in my head. It's slightly more personal than all of the content on this website, but I thought this particular newsletter was relevant to my work and practice. Consider subscribing in the footer of the page, or at https://tinyletter.com/joelschellenberger. You can also view the archive of previous Monday Best newsletters at that same web address.

Thanks for caring.

— Original newsletter, published January 2022:

I’ve spent years rationing the last episodes of Netflix’s original series ‘Abstract: The Art Of Design.’ It’s such a well done series meant to inspire creativity and push the viewer to consider what they can make using their own hands and minds.

I treat it with great care and only really watch it when I’m feeling particularly discouraged or uninspired, often just one episode at a time. There are great episodes on all kinds of disciplines: illustration with Christoph Niemann, stage design with Es Devlin, sneaker design with Tinker Hadfield, costume design with Ruth Carter… it really is a brilliant and beautiful show.

This week I watched the feature on Neri Oxman, a professor at MIT who is an absolutely brilliant thinker. She’s a designer, but also an architect, and a scientist, and an engineer… it really is beautiful, the way she and her team of students can generate such interesting ideas.

The word awesome is over used but I am truly in awe of her work.

One of the focuses of their work at the lab is bio-architecture: I find it really fascinating to consider how unnatural the construction of our buildings is now, and how we might build in the future with more care and consideration given for the ways nature has spent years preserving itself sustainably. It would continue to do that had we not interfered… there’s so much to learn from bees and silkworms!

It’s a really good profile on her and her work at MIT’s Media Lab, which is one of the coolest places ever. I mean, imagine having funding to push the boundaries of creativity and art and culture and design and code and genomes… few things feel so infinitely inspiring as their work to me these days.

You can check out the episode here.

“I have been thinking a lot” should really be the title of this newsletter.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about design. About timelessness, about form. About space and place and texture and shape and all the beautiful in-betweens that make up the discipline.

If I were better at math, I reckon I would’ve been an architect. I’m fascinated with shape and the way space and light can dramatically inform your time in a particular part of the world. Architecture is this brilliant and fascinating discipline that I’m really interested in lately.

I’m reading a book about newer nordic architecture and I find it brilliant how the simple, clean, warm home comes about in a way that can make the most desolate winter climate feel comfortable. It’s more than a central fire: it’s a feeling of lightness, of the space reshaping around you to fit like water running across a jagged surface. In spite of your sharp edges, the space around you can exist softly and serenely.

If you’ve known me long enough to get me talking you’ll know someday it’s my dream to work with an architect to design my own home. I have sketches that I imagine are highly impractical, and dreams of building this home; this beautiful testimony to craftsmanship and commitment to the small things that inform our short lives.

I hope that someday when I get myself the chance to build that space, that the light inside me that burns to keep making things hasn’t yet burnt out.

I feel like I’m discovering more about what I love about design as I work in it and as I live with the adult version of myself. I love learning, and making, and experimenting and playing, and the feeling of comfort knowing that there’s somewhere safe to go even if the medium chosen that day leaves us feeling defeated.

I yearn for that feeling of freedom, to express myself through practice and through craft without the burden of any existence or circumstance outside of my mind to weight on me. I hope someday when I have my own design practice I can cultivate that feeling for those people I work with.

Thanks for listening to me wax. I understand this email newsletter idea is super self serving, but I’ve gotten a couple supportive replies and honestly I’ve started to use this as a journal, which has kept me engaged. If something I said caught your attention, you can reply directly to this email... let's chat about it!

I write this newsletter to archive my state of mind and my thoughts so that the older version of me, who wishes he were younger, can look back and hopefully be proud of the progress he made... like the old Moleskine notebooks I filled during my high school breakdowns about art and capitalism and the concept of a career. I’m proud of that kid for figuring it out, and I hope older me is proud of 23-year-old me as I continue to try and figure it out too.

I wonder if we ever stop trying to figure it out.

Don’t ever let the fire inside you to make things burn out. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Be present and well,