I’m Irene Estelle, a landscape and architectural designer born in Peoria, Illinois. My creative journey is a meandering path that weaves in and out of art, architecture, and craft.
My hobbies have always been based in craft. I have made personalized gifts for friends and family since I was a child, believing that a gift of my own creation was the best I could give of myself to another.
I studied fine art – drawing, painting, and sculpture – throughout my youth and into high school. I then went on to learn architectural design through a modernist lens at SIUC. After graduating, I went on to get a master’s degree in landscape architecture at UMass Amherst, where I learned about the natural world and how to integrate buildings and the landscape. I worked as a landscape designer for a few years, but soon I started to find the office environment to be stifling and non-creative. It began to feel as though the profession was rejecting me.
This surprised and disappointed me greatly, since I love architecture and design.
At the same time, I was becoming serious about leathercraft and as I practiced, I started to feel my creativity come back to me. I made the transition soon after and dedicated myself to my craft, though I wasn’t sure at that point where it would take me.
I have always been a bit unconventional – to do things in a different and better way than I was taught. This is actually what drives me. I have used computers to help me design for a very long time. While in school for architecture, computers were our number-one tool, as it is in the architecture industry. When I was a student in architecture, we used laser cutters to cut out pieces for our scale models. I quickly fell in love with this tool – its versatility, precision, and speed excited my imagination.
Needless to say, this technology is an integral step in my process. I am frequently found sketching and fleshing out ideas quickly using 2D and 3D CAD software, and developing these into exquisitely precise cut files for my laser cutter, to then be assembled and finished by hand. It is architecture on a micro scale. The end product, I believe, is a precise, efficiently-produced item, enhanced with handcrafted quality.
Black Bosk is a design/make studio established to channel my passion and creative energies into developing and creating handmade products that emphasize integrity of materials.
I believe we should respect the materials we use in products and should use them according to their unique inherent qualities, so I base my product designs around this concept. This simple approach delivers products which are true to their nature and are therefore resilient to time and use.
My studies in architecture have allowed me to hone my passion for simple, straightforward, efficient designs which focus on emphasizing the unique structural properties of various materials. I take pride in developing products that are true to their material strengths because when those materials are happy, we are happy.
I believe that the materials which are used in a project are sacred – that they should be used according to their strengths; that they should be used honestly. I call them the Four Elements of Craft, and I poetically describe them as LEATHER, FIBER, TIMBER, and BOULDER.
I focus on these four materials because I believe they can stand on their own – that they each have characteristics unlike one another, and that, because of their unique properties, are able to serve very specific functions in a project. This is the fundamental philosophy behind my work and it is my most heartfelt ambition to do these materials justice.
The four main materials I choose to use in my work are:
I choose to combine materials in unique and interesting ways in order to both test their limits but also my own design skills within the constraints I have created. I think each material is beautiful and useful on its own, but when combined with a compatible material, can produce something even better. Just as architecture on its own can produce a beautiful building, the building does not exist in a vacuum. Landscape design is necessary to fit that building into the surrounding context so that it is successful. While I revere traditional techniques, I don’t believe in keeping to tradition if it does not provide us with the best solution.
It might be true that some of my products appear to be exercises in design (don’t fix what isn’t broken), but I do try to focus on actual utility. If something does not seem like I would enjoy using it, I don’t go there. My goal is not to create works of art or conceptual pieces – it is to create beautiful and functional items that challenge the status quo in craft and hopefully provide a different, if not better, solution.