episode 23 – draw everywhere: space and quantum computing art | Forest Stearns
In this episode, Forest Stearns, a space and quantum computing artist speaks with us about art exhibitions that started in the desert, moved to Space, and now are on Quantum computers at Google. Forest Stearns an artist, an adventurer, speaks with us about innovation, creative permission in business environments, and why he works quite often with scientists.
Stearns has a passion for founding Artist in Residence programs that connect art, science, and technology. Currently, he is the Creative Innovation Consultant and Artist in Residence founder at Google AI Quantum in Santa Barbara Ca.
Resources and links
Artworks and other topics mentioned during the podcast can be seen in the following links:
The transcript was produced by an AI, mistakes might appear.
Nir Hindi: [00:00:00] Welcome Forest.
[00:00:01] Forest Stearns: [00:00:01] Thank you Nir. What a pleasure to be here today.
[00:00:02]Nir Hindi: [00:00:02] Can you introduce yourself briefly?
[00:00:05]Forest Stearns: [00:00:05] I am an illustrator who loves doing big work.
[00:00:08]I have an MFA in fine art illustration and I was constantly cross pollinating between drawing and street art graffiti and what historically happened in art? Um, I’m a family man. I get a lot of inspiration from my daughter and my partner. We’re constantly out adventuring in nature. And I find that I have to bring that connection to nature and the artistic adventure back into all of the art that I do.
[00:00:35] Nir Hindi: [00:00:35] so you are an artist and you are a father that inspired by nature and adventure. Maybe I would give kind of a introduction, not an introduction, but the story how we met each other.
[00:00:45] Both of us actually met each other. So I read about you a few years ago, and with my curiosity, I sent you an email and probably it kind of was a dating issue because you didn’t reply to my emails for a few months until you replied. And then we did a kind of a very short interview, but then I contacted you again and I told you, forest, we are organizing art and technology vertical in Spain’s biggest summit. And I want you to come and speak and you came over here and we had amazing few days you spoke in this conference, it was great experience. And since then we have very dear friendship that, and for that forest, I want to say, thank you. Now you have been living in the world of art, but you also mix it with the world of technology and startups.
[00:01:28] You have been working with so many exciting companies. Some of them, we will speak in a second. Always evangelizing art inside these companies. One of your first adventures was at Devian Art, an online community for artists featuring outworks, videography, and photography. What did you do in the Devian Art? Tell us a bit about your experience there.
[00:01:51] Forest Stearns: [00:01:51] Yeah, well, thanks for asking after my adventure, as an MFA, getting my master’s of fine art and studying illustration. I knew that I needed to have a future where I could connect, making big artwork, connecting people, drawing, and trying to build a career out of that. So I landed a production at Devian Art where I did a giant live art piece at a big festival representing deviant art. And that was in that spun into beta testing for a drawing tool and starting to build a community around the world using that drawing tool as the principal artist there. And that spun into being the art director of the brand for a while, which was totally new to me, but also very similar because once again, it was connecting to the people and really relying upon the story of let’s practice artwork rather than making the end point.
[00:02:45] Like, what is it connects all artists? Whether you’re great, whether you’re learned whether you’re naive, whether your fault it’s the practice of art. So that has become the common thread through all of my art and it’s really, even my moniker now is draw everywhere and practice.
[00:03:01] Nir Hindi: [00:03:01] It led us to kind of a spin off collaboration between you and a visionary entrepreneur and you created together a project called Galactic Jungle Cars. How the experience, first of all, to work with this entrepreneur and how, what is this project galactic jungle cars, which by the way, I love the name.
[00:03:19] Forest Stearns: [00:03:19] Well, the campus called Galactic Jungle, but to step that back a little bit at deviant art, I have the honor. To become friends with the founder, Angelo Sotera and he is a dear human who is amazingly passionate about art and community. He has lived and breathed making art for his, most of his career has been, uh, wrapped around this. He reached out to me immediately and said, Hey, I have some friends that I. We go to burning man together. We want to make some art cars. Can we work together?
[00:03:54] Nir Hindi: [00:03:54] Forest can we see those cars somewhere? Do we have pictures or videos that we can maybe share with our listeners?
[00:04:01] Forest Stearns: [00:04:01] Yeah, I’ve got some beautiful pictures of the productions of the pieces. I designed the cars. I had the fabricators build out the cars, and then I was able to paint the cars when they were finalized and put the final touches on them as the art director.
[00:04:15] So it was definitely a joy. To work on a project that then got sent into the world and brought a lot of other people joy.
[00:04:22] Nir Hindi: [00:04:23] listeners who are interested to see it, we will post those pictures on the episode page. Make sure to check it later and see this beautiful five animal inspired, uh, cars
[00:04:35]so Forest, you took a very different step after this adventure and you move from the desert of burning man to space.
[00:04:44] You have become a space artist first and foremost, what is space artist?
[00:04:50] Forest Stearns: [00:04:50] Good question. Well, the transition from burning man to space artist was a very natural step for me. I met a gentleman who had a startup for small satellites and listened to a talk he gave at a conference up way up deep in the mountains, and he spoke about the connection between space and humanity and exploration and using space to help life on earth with small satellites and you know, I’m not a scientist, I didn’t study science, but I am definitely inspired by scientific thinking and mathematics. And I’ve done a lot of reading as an adult rather than in my studies about the topics. And when I find people that are highly educated in a unique field, it’s kind of like finding a really weird, awesome, unique, eccentric artists.
[00:05:41] I just want to listen and be part of that and work with that person or that team. So I met this gentleman, Robbie Shingler and asked him point blank if I could paint on his satellites, once again, going back to my roots of wanting to draw everywhere, I asked him. He was a total stranger, but instead of saying no, he said yes.
[00:06:02] And that audacious ask in deepened the mountains under the redwoods with the sun beaming through smelling, like heaven that was my next step, you know? that spun from me wanting to draw on one spaceship, having no expectations to the next five years of my life, joining a company in San Francisco and as the company started to build dozens and then hundreds, and then multi hundreds of spaceships, these small satellites to send a space.
[00:06:35] I was in charge of making the art that went on the sides of them. I was in charge of how can we put beautiful artwork on the rockets that we’re sending to space. We have beautiful radio domes that cover the satellite dishes. That speak to the satellites as they fly by at seven kilometers a second, let’s put art on those radio tones.
[00:06:55] We have getting into multiple offices and we put art all over the offices.
[00:06:59] Nir Hindi: [00:06:59] So wait, wait, wait, wait. Before, before we rushing into the story behind the Planet for the people that are not familiar, Planet is actually, I don’t know if we can call it startup anymore because it’s not a startup anymore. I think they have more than 500 employees planet was basically starting as a satellite company and now I think the only company in the world that map or take picture of earth every day and they have more than 250 satellite roaming in the low altitude atmosphere. Now I want to go back.
[00:07:31] When did you join Planet?
[00:07:33] Forest Stearns: [00:07:33] When did I join? Well, it was around employee number 25 that I was added to the conversation. And I didn’t really know what it meant to be employee number 25 of a startup. To me, it was just about, Hey, I want to join a team of. Super motivated people to put art on a place that I had never put it before.
[00:07:55] Has a graffiti artist ever put art in space? How’s a fine artist ever figured out how to put fine art in space and have an art show. Those were the questions that I had.
[00:08:04] Nir Hindi: [00:08:04] So I think it’s a very important question because every entrepreneur that listen to us, uh, know that when you build a company. It’s so difficult and everyone is so focused on getting the clients and getting right the product and getting the market-product feet in every employee in the company is so important.
[00:08:25] Every salary is so crucial. That to hire an artist when you are 24 people, that’s a big decision. And in my, in my own humble opinion, it’s a great vision. When every entrepreneur struggle to find the market product fit, you have an entrepreneur like Robey, let’s say, wait, I need to bring another spice into this salad or what I’m cooking over here. And he brings you as an artist. And I think, and in a second, we will touch it coming up as the 25th employee has a lot of influence on the culture and the dynamic inside the company. But before we will speak about your influence. And how you actually change the culture. I want to ask you why you wanted to paint in space.
[00:09:14] Forest Stearns: [00:09:14] Good question. Well, you know, stepping back the architecture and trajectory of my career always was about where can I draw next? What can I put art on next? Who can I work with next? That will be inspiring to me and want to make bigger. More robust projects than I can do personally. What’s the connection to the beauty of art in practice.
[00:09:42] And when I met Robbie, it was really that drive of, I would love to take on this challenge and see what putting art on the spaceship would be like. And it was really how can I get up in this new space and maintain my own personal practice and humble nature and want to work with people. So it was amazing.
[00:10:06] I didn’t know what space art was. I didn’t know what I was stepping into. The fact that I asked the gentleman, if I could paint on his spaceship and he said, yes. And I shook hands with him. I probably peed in my pants a little bit because it was so like a wow moment of “damn. I just asked for it and he said, yes”.
[00:10:22] Now what does that even mean? And thankfully he said yes. And he said, show up right after Bernie man will be brushing the dust, dust off our clothing and get back to work in September, show up on September 1st, bring your stuff and let’s see what happened.
[00:10:38] Nir Hindi: [00:10:38] So I want to ask you, if you come after Burning man, you show up in September and then you are coming and you have 24 Rocket engineers and satellites, engineers, and software developer.
[00:10:49] And. I wonder how did people in the company accept you?
[00:10:55] Forest Stearns: [00:10:55] Well, thankfully on gregarious and a kind human, uh, on the flip side of that, I’m also a little bit shy and when I meet people, I like to listen and I like to pick up my sketchbook and draw and get a feeling for the conversation and what’s happening.
[00:11:13] It’s kind of like I’m fishing for the opportunity to strike and to be part of a conversation rather than needing to be the center of attention at first. And I’ve always been that way. And in this certain situation, I showed up with a giant canvas and had talked with the operations person and the individual who was in charge of the layout of the office and said, you’re going to set up right here.
[00:11:37] And as a live artist, I was like, cool. This was going to make a lot of impact if everyone sees a giant canvas right here. So I showed up with this canvas. And I’m drawing and I didn’t get the reception I thought it was going to get, I got to reception of hearing engineers over my shoulder saying, who is this guy?
[00:11:53] We don’t need an artist. We need more engineers. Like I said, there was a round 20 people in the, in the room. It was a small office at the time, you know, very, very fun and energetic on the first day, but a bit of apprehension because who’s this artist guy? So it’s needed to spin up from there. I, I thought that I had hit rock bottom immediately and it was nothing but upward trajectory from there. Not because I had anyone handing me opportunities, but because they gave me permission to show up as a human and as an artist and I came really correct withstarting amazing paintings and good technique and a good vision and good communication to work with them and say, what’s the point in here? What’s the intention? Why are we doing this?
[00:12:37] And I asked all the dumb questions and I asked a lot of questions that they wouldn’t have normally been asked by other engineers and venture capitalists founders and different people honoring the situation who knew it. I was an outsider and it bringing in that diverse, different experience really was beneficial at first because they said, wow. You’re bringing light to this. it took me a couple of days and a lecture to get them on the same line as what I was envisioning. And I had no idea what I was envisioning. I had just asked to paint on spaceships and I didn’t even know what that meant. So, you know, for every artist out there ask for permission.
[00:13:18] And if you get, if you step into something that you don’t know, just lean in and do your best work, you know, so it took a little bit, it took through the week to get on my feet and figure out what, even what even I was.
[00:13:31] Nir Hindi: [00:13:31] You know, I took the time to kind of speak with one of your colleagues and I want us to listen what they had to say.
[00:13:37] Forest Stearns: [00:13:37] Yeah. Great idea.
[00:13:47]Tara O’Shea: [00:13:47] I’m Tara O’Shea and I lead forest and land use programs here at planet. I joined planet after Forest and I was fortunate to work directly on a team with forest. And I think one of the first things that struck me, you know, I think when we think about the intersection of art and technology, we often think about inspiration around engineering.
[00:14:08] And I think that makes a lot of sense. And at planet that certainly holds true. When we look at. The sorts of innovations that that planet is bringing to both hardware and software and the role of art in all of that. But what really struck me about what forest was doing, you know, even back in 2016, the sort of datasets that planet was starting to produce were totally unprecedented.
[00:14:32] And I think this is the case that a lot of technology companies, you’re building something that hasn’t existed before. And so it’s not just about building that thing. It’s also about inspiring others to understand what you can do with that thing, inspiring others who, you know, might have specialties and other fields and, and find ways to apply your technology in ways that you couldn’t even see yourself.
[00:14:56] Um, and so I really thought Forest’s work was critical in helping inspire and communicate what might be possible with the data sets that are coming from this new technologies.
[00:15:09] Forest Stearns: [00:15:09] So
[00:15:09] Nir Hindi: [00:15:09] one of the first projects was to paint these satellites. Now it’s a very small satellite. Uh, you call it the Dove. When I visited you in the office in Silicon Valley in a second, I will add about the energy that I experienced, but it was such a beautiful piece of hardware in a way, a new type of art, those satellites that I saw over there.
[00:15:32] And you took all those satellites and you painted them now for our listeners. They need to understand that color doesn’t hold in space. So immediately you had an idea to paint on space, but your basic material doesn’t function. What do you do then?
[00:15:48] Forest Stearns: [00:15:48] Yeah and as, as I talked about in the Ted talk, I gave. The ambition to paint on a satellite needed to change. I needed to figure out how I could take artwork that I would normally put on a canvas or on the wall here on earth . I had to figure out how did that artistically translate in a utilitarian sense and immediate sense onto a space ship? So there was a lot of learning that I needed to do fast and like any company that’s making a piece of hardware, you’ve got a whole bunch of engineers that are making this widget as efficient and as effective and as streamlined and as, as easily possible to scale. So the satellites were no different than that. And this group of engineers, these guys and girls were making these things that were beautiful in their utility but they weren’t saying anything visually to someone who didn’t understand that the nature of that utility.
[00:16:49] And so I wanted to make them more beautiful and approachable and inspiring to the outsider. And even the people on the team who maybe didn’t design them. So. How do you paint on a spaceship while you don’t paint on a spaceship I found out and I found this out because I wanted to make a stencil and paint on a spaceship.
[00:17:09] And they said, Nope, that’s going to evaporate in space. And I said, well, what if I draw on there with Sharpie? And they said, well, Nope, the radiation will probably fade on there, or what if I just use traditional acrylics? And they said, no, your paints gonna appeal because this is being baked by the sun and frozen on the dark side of the earth.
[00:17:28] And so all of these variables, like damn, I’ve never had to deal with any of these problems or issues before these challenges. And, you know, truly that’s when my, the type of art that I do really shines is I have challenge in front of me and I want to create a new unique solution, no matter what the medium is, I want to draw on that thing and I’m going to draw on that thing and it could be whatever.
[00:17:55] So I stepped back to my roots. My mother was a glass engraver, my whole entire life, and my dad was a builder. So I watched them make things from materials that. Didn’t normally get made into those things that they made. My mom and grave glass was like, damn I can engrave on these spaceships. And instead of adding material, I can subtract.
[00:18:16] That was my moment. That was my aha point I’m going to engrave these things. Luckily. My buddy had a laser at your so after I engraved the number three satellite that went to space by hand and flapped those side panels on the spaceship, the next set of satellites was 25 or 28 satellites. And I laser etched a painting onto all of them in parts. So I parsed out this beautiful painting that I did of migratory animals and laser etched it on in horizontal bands. So all of those migratory animals would be looking back at earth. We also put artwork on the solar panels, which was silk screened, high-intensity PCB, ink, silk string.
[00:19:02] And that had never really been done in this occurrence. The people who made it,
[00:19:06] Nir Hindi: [00:19:06] do you have images of this so we can share it
[00:19:08] Forest Stearns: [00:19:08] this way? The image of the silk silkscreen. Uh, illustration graphic on there. We got a message back from the people who manufactured the satellite, the wings, and they said, Hey, we think you spilled ink on these wings panels you solar panels, because there’s some sort of marks on here.
[00:19:25] And we said, no, that’s art. That we meant to do that. And so that was kind of a funny situation of, you know, artists and engineers wanting to be creative and the industry itself was trying to say, Hey, we think you messed up. And we’re like, nah, we didn’t mess up. This is on purpose. This is our style.
[00:19:43] Nir Hindi: [00:19:43] So you are living over there in your office or your space next to the engineers and I wonder, how do you think your web presence actually influenced their work?
[00:19:53] Forest Stearns: [00:19:53] Well, I sh I worked really hard and really fast and really big in this instance. So it’s hard to avoid what I was doing. And immediately when I showed up with a giant canvas, I got to work right after we had our first introductory lecture that I gave and we decided that the first art show in space was going to be themed on migratory animals . why not draw animals on spaceships? Back to my notion of, I want to be, I want to celebrate nature. And so everything lined up. So that was the theme. And I made three big paintings, graphic of migratory animals. So everything was working out. If you can’t. If you had baffled them with knowledge, at least, you know, baffle them with the owe inspiring dwindle of a piece of artwork.
[00:20:42] And so that was my jam. I brought the graffiti sensibility of make it big, make it fast, make it graphic and put it in front of them and then I figured it out how to put it on the spaceship. So all these things lined up the company didn’t know it was going to be an earth imagery company. It wanted to be like any startup, huge ambitions.
[00:21:02]At first I started, I put art on the number three satellite. And then we started launching flocks of satellites and then dozens of satellites and then more and more and more in to the hundreds. So, you know, it’s worth saying that in the beginning, we were a spaceship hardware company, very much a sexy space company.
[00:21:22] And when I left five years later at 500 employees around there, you know, we definitely still felt like the same company, but we’re a big company by then. And we were an earth imagery company that wasn’t about telling the story of space anymore. We were a, Hey, let’s take pictures of the whole earth every day.
[00:21:42] And as we’ll get into, I was the first artist of the artists in residency program. I founded it. I wrote the program, wrote the contracts, documented my style, and then I wanted to pass it on and say, what’s next? This isn’t about me as Forest Stearns, the artist, this needs to be about what is the common conversation of the company and how is our influencing that common conversation for the better.
[00:22:07] Nir Hindi: [00:22:07] So Forest I want to ask you, do you think your presence influenced the work or how do you think maybe your presence over there among those engineers and scientists influenced what they are
[00:22:18] Forest Stearns: [00:22:18] That’s a good question Nir, and, um, I honestly have a hard time with this question. I don’t like to be boastful about my own influence on anything.
[00:22:27] But so perhaps you should ask one of my colleagues about that, but I will say that the influence that I had inspired a fresh perspective, it inspired a diverse conversation that may not have been totally intuitive. It inspired questions that weren’t normally expected. Like, Hey, how can we make this more beautiful?
[00:22:51] Why is this designed this way? When it could look more like this, if this is called a dove, why doesn’t it look like a dove? If this needs to go in space, why doesn’t it do this? I was asking all these non linear questions and providing a fresh. Way to see things. Uh, the amount of collaboration that happened out of the gate was really inspiring to the team where I started working with different silos of teams and asking them about their influence.
[00:23:20] One of the things that immediately was influenced was the employees would take me back to their own workstations and tell me all about the work that they were doing. And then I would bring them to the art station and tell them all about the work that I was doing in the problems that I was needing to solve in order to make this thing beautiful.
[00:23:38] And the vision that I had to translate it to the spaceships and the themes and the subject matters in the compositions. So it was definitely. An organic conversation in the works that inspired collaboration throughout the team.
[00:23:54] Great. So, you know, Forest, I took your advice and I know you don’t like to speak about yourself.
[00:23:59] So I went to speak with your colleagues. Let’s see what they have to say about your influence
[00:24:05]Hey Joe, can you introduce yourself briefly?
[00:24:08] Joe Mascaro: [00:24:08] Sure. I’m happy to. I’m a tropical ecologist and a remote sensing scientist and I’m director of science programs at Planet. Uh, and so most of my job involves coordinating scientific engagement in the university sector.
[00:24:22]Nir Hindi: [00:24:22] you’ll meet an artist inside a satellite company. What is the first thing you have in mind?
[00:24:28]Joe Mascaro: [00:24:28] It was inspiring. Yeah. I vividly remember my first.
[00:24:33] Tour of the office. Of course, there’s a lot of dazzling technology that I learned about, but, uh, for us was kind of standing in a room with some engineers and, you know, a number of his pieces of art were on the walls. And I remember getting a quick check-in on, on what arts on a satellite panel looks like, which is something that had never occurred to me before.
[00:24:54] So the idea of putting art on satellites, which. Was kind of Forest’s original reason for being a planet and, um, yeah, it was really inspiring and I would say surprising.
[00:25:05]Briand Monteiro: [00:25:05] my name is Brad Montero. I’m a mechanical engineer. I design satellites. And I’m also an artist. I had always thought of sort of an engineering firm being this very. I guess sort of like linear and, um, controlled environment where everyone sits in their cubicle and office and does their independent, sort of like math and science.
[00:25:31] And I came into planet and Forrest was there and he was creating art in the middle of this open office space. And he had these huge canvases and I would walk by and he was. He was one of the people that I felt the most comfortable talking to when I first got there, I found some sort of like solace and being able to like connect with him while doing this was my first job in engineering.
[00:25:56] I had done an internship at NASA, but this was my first like real job doing engineering. And, and having that ability to connect with him on this like different creative level was really, um, inspiring and also comforting.
[00:26:08]I think having artists and residents, it adds this sort of feeling of freedom and, and definitely contributes to this like creative energy, like you were saying.
[00:26:19] And I think the type of company that would have an artist in residence is also going to want to give the employees, that sense of freedom and that like availability of creative space and time.
[00:26:35]Nir Hindi: [00:26:35] Forest, in one of the conversation we had, you spoke about how Robby so your importance for developing this community and culture in inside the company inside Planet. And I want to ask you, what did you do exactly to create this community? What did you do to create this culture that brings people together?
[00:26:55] Forest Streans: [00:26:55] Well, I don’t want to take credit for building the culture or building the community. The inherent drive to make this space company happen is amazingly intoxicating to be part of. When you’re part of a startup, I feel that you have this urge to conquer the world and to, to be, to change the world, to be better humans.
[00:27:16] And I just happened to find myself in that conversation, which was beautiful. The way that I was able to add to that let’s “change the world” is I was able to help people articulate how it looked. To change the world from, to the outside audience and to each other, you know, quite often you have teams of people that don’t work well together, or don’t know how to communicate cross topic.
[00:27:42] And when you’re making art and having art nights, you can get to know each other on a very fun and sober and exciting manner that that’s what the art brings. The art brings fresh perspective and inspiration and excitement that maybe looking at your computer all day, doesn’t bring, there’s a beauty to good code.
[00:28:02] There’s a beauty to writing a beautiful coded language. I admire that and I see that, but quite often, people don’t see that they’re, that they are making something creative. So when I show them a painting and tell them my strategy towards succeeding at a painting, and then they take me back and I see the beauty in their code, it helps the common conversation that helps everyone think a little bit more abstractly and weirdly.
[00:28:27] Nir Hindi: [00:28:27] And what are some of those activities that you did?
[00:28:29] Forest Streans: [00:28:29] We would have art nights and the art nights that we would have would be kind of social hours that got people together with lectures and lessons and classes and examples of what is the art world doing right now? What are these specific themes being explored in art? And can we do them as well? So many people across the world say, wow, I’m not an artist. Well, What I did was provide artistic creative permission for people to not need to be great artists.
[00:29:00] They just needed to show up and try to explore. This is what I did at Deviant art. Let’s, let’s give permission to practice. So at planet I pulled from the same game and said, let’s give permission to practice. And it turned out that many people loved to make art. At first, there was apprehension. And how I broke that apprehension was I had people give me their favorite quotes and I hand wrote their favorite quotes on the spaceship in my own handwriting, because I love a good handwriting.
[00:29:27] I love
[00:29:27] Nir Hindi: [00:29:27] So wait there are some employees. Now, there are some people in the world that have a satellite in space with their quotes. I don’t know a lot of people that can say they have a satellites with their quotes in space. Right? I mean, tell us some of those quotes.
[00:29:42]Forest Streans: [00:29:42] The quotes that I got somewhere gorgeous, philosophical pieces, stanzas from poems, some were Epic haikus and some were super duper silly.
[00:29:52] You know, comedic. And that showed me that, wow, this team may not be able to articulate itself through drawing. Cause that was my jam, but they are funny and they do have a soul. Some of them were help. I’m stuck in a satellite factory or who let the doves out or Yolo you only launch once. So. In this situation, you know, how can we bring out the soul and the spirit of the people that speak their own unique science language or technology language or entrepreneurial language?
[00:30:24] The key to me was I knew that I wasn’t the most creative person in the room. And I also knew that I could probably draw better than everybody. The challenge for me was how can I get people to step into their own creative permission and find inspiration in the Dwin day of making art of looking at art of talking about art, art, making, and traditional art and have lectures and classes to get people involved to me, it’s not important if people can do it.
[00:30:54] Great. To me, it’s important if people do it and it helps them shine, you know, and help try and come better people at least. Yeah. To try. And they’re showing up to do their best work, to put, to put this technology in a place where it’s never been and create these algorithms and software models that have never happened before.
[00:31:14] Like great. If you’re going to show up in front of a canvas that has nothing on it, it’s a very similar. You’re looking into this nothingness to create something from the abstract into something that is real. And that says something to an intention. So going from the quotes on satellites that got everybody involved that wanted to be involved.
[00:31:34] And of course there was always people who were genius, wallflowers that. Had no problem with the program and, and loved that it was happening, but they just chose to watch from afar. And I like to stoke that as well and try to get them involved. And then I said, all right, a couple of years, in many hundreds of satellites later, I said, all right, we’re going to start having art nights where I’m going to invite your family and your kids and your community and your moms and your dads and your grandmas to make art with us.
[00:32:02] So we can put that art on spaceships. We had art nights at our new office that you came and visited. That was much bigger and much more apt to have social gatherings. And we would have gatherings of people who brought their favorite people to make drawings, to put on spaceships and like teachers that I have had that have said to me, like, you don’t need to be the best right now.
[00:32:25] Just show up and make, make work that represents you and say what you need to say, what you want to say through this drawing through this sketch. And we had some of the most beautiful pieces put on spaceships that I didn’t draw, which was rad. I didn’t want to be the only artist there. I wanted it to be a collective mission.
[00:32:44] I want it to be a community mission that connected people. I had a woman who said, Hey, I watched Sputnik go to space. And I was very afraid of it. And she drew her own driver’s license to put on the side of a spaceship because she said, wow, “this makes me not want to be afraid of space anymore”. She grew up apprehensive about space, and then she got to her own image and her own ID on a spaceship and said that that made her trust space and inspired by space again. That’s amazing.
[00:33:16] Nir Hindi: [00:33:16] Yeah. I think it’s a great example, how you can actually create a culture and build a community. Everyone speak about how important it is to have your employees engage how important it is to have. The sense of belonging, but not a lot of the founders and business managers that I know see the art as the space has the potential to actually create a blank canvas that everyone can contribute and not to be led by who they are in their professional role.
[00:33:46] I’m not the CEO, I’m not the lead engineer, but everyone comes to the blank canvas. What you did even better with their kids and family to create something beautiful, really a forest. I love this project and I think it’s just kind of straight to the point example, how artists can contribute to the vibe of company.
[00:34:05] And Forest is because you gave me also the permission. I went to speak with more colleagues of yours, and I ask them what they think about how you contributed to this community and culture. And I want to let our listeners hear what they had to say.
[00:34:20] Forest Streans: [00:34:20] Awesome.
[00:34:20] Andrew Z: [00:34:21] Hey, I’m Andrew Zali. And I oversee what we call global impact programs at planet all the work we do on social and ecological and humanitarian issues I touch in one way or another
[00:34:32]Nir Hindi: [00:34:32] Art That planet is actually under your supervision. Is that correct?
[00:34:39] Andrew Z: [00:34:39] Yeah, the Arctic planet program, uh, involves lots of people at the organization.
[00:34:44] It’s not one person’s job, but, uh, I have a significant role in, in moving that program forward.
[00:34:50]We really think that that art has three big roles. One is, uh, it humanizes our mission. And it, it allows everybody on earth to say, well, I’m not a rocket scientist. I’m not a computer scientist. I’m not an artificial intelligence expert, but you know, I love to draw. I think in creative terms, this gives people a way in.
[00:35:12] That’s really important. A second reason is that it amplifies our own culture. It makes us more creative to have creative people around who don’t think like AI experts and scientists and technologists. And the third one is that it makes our organization, um, more attractive. It’s a, it’s a distinctive thing that we do. So it’s a way of pulling new and different talents into our organization.
[00:35:39] Even as we’re trying to communicate this complicated mission to the world
[00:35:43]Nir Hindi: [00:35:43] Who is Joe again?
[00:35:46] Joe Mascaro: [00:35:46] I’ll tell you a story about one event. So we hosted a primary school, basically great grade school students. So around the ages of eight or nine for a science fair some years ago, and we did a bunch of different sessions with them.
[00:36:02] Mostly it was engineers and aerospace folks running engineers teaching them how to use rockets. They basically sat and drew art, which, you know, wasn’t revealed to them until kind of halfway through that basically a couple of those pieces were selected and. Laser etched on spacecraft and went to space. Um, and I think watching these younger students engage with that idea of that they’re on arch would be orbiting. The earth potentially was really inspiring and quite delightful. And it was a really fun event for the company to be involved in, I think because so many people, so many other employees inside the company were involved in it absolutely can bring people together.
[00:36:43]Cyrus Foster: [00:36:43] my name is Cyrus foster. Um, um, I’m an aerospace engineer
[00:36:48]Nir Hindi: [00:36:48] why would you recommend having an.
[00:36:53] Cyrus Foster: [00:36:53] I’d say there, there are a few reasons I can think of for one, just having the artist, having somebody creative, making art in the office, even if you’re not involved with that, or we don’t even interact with that on a personal level.
[00:37:07] It still provides inspiration for the company, you know, something’s being creative mean it’s being worked on and it kind of lightens your day and builds a promise to a better future. But also other than that, I mean, for one, you know, your art is being created for the company that the company can, can put up and as show pieces to tell the story of behind the company and show visitors. So it is building an art gallery relevant to the company. And lastly, you know, something that. I I benefited from on a personal level was just opportunity for employees to dabble in art themselves, and to, they’ve never been involved with art and to get involved in art. So I saw that as a great perk of the company, even though it was maybe not what, you know, what was in mind of the, of the onset of the program, but it gave me the chance to, to paint, which I never would’ve thought I would be doing.
[00:38:01] So Forest you keep Nir Hindi: [00:38:08] talking about creative permission and how it is essential in a company. Do you feel that there was maybe certain? I would say based on a change that you saw among your colleagues or how the fact that they started to create art how they respond to that? Because when I was in, in your office, I think I came at around 9:00 PM at night and people like, it seems like I’m in a house of a family, not in a company, there were a group of people as some of your colleagues playing music, some of them playing the video game, some of them, uh, were eating over there. It was 9:00 PM and we were there on in San Francisco and it kind of felt like a very, very good vibe. And. Obviously in order to have a good vibe, you need to have a good individuals.
[00:38:51] And I’m asking kind of interested to know how the presence of you and the other artists in, in a second, we will speak about those other artists and maybe how you develop it, influenced your colleagues. Any thoughts on that?
[00:39:03] Forest Streans: [00:39:03] Yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s a pretty heavy, that’s a lot of, lot to have that question and.
[00:39:08] To the point of you came and visited and it was late at night and there was still people working and taking breaks from work to be social. That’s really proof that at this situation, we had a lot of people that one wanted to be at work to do the mission driven work. And there was definitely a beautiful social connection that was maybe not inspired by the art, but it was definitely the art is an additive to that mix. Some people congregate around the keg. Some people congregate around the coffee. Some people congregate around the cookies.
[00:39:42] Some people congregate around the conversation. You know, I created a situation where people could congregate around the artwork. They were surrounded by artwork in the space. I create very good artwork. I’m happy to say that. And I surround the people with that artwork. So by creating the common conversation of the art is also a part of the cultural aesthetic.
[00:40:08] I have to work super hard to curate that and know that I can’t take total credit for the culture, but I can take credit for it looking. The way it did. And people also had the artwork that I made on their shirts and on the posters and on their desks and tattoos of the artwork that I was making. So it went all the way to under the skin.
[00:40:29]as an art director of the company, I had to push to put art everywhere, not just on spaceships, not just talk about it, but I had to prove that it was valuable too. And get people involved in feeling that proof, you know, it’s a fine line between like, is this a quantifiable thing or did it just feel right?
[00:40:49] And it has always felt right. And there’s always people that aren’t willing to see the value of why you’d have an artist, but when people get involved and you get their family involved and you really change the way that they value their human experience, when they’re part of that company. You know, I think that’s what a company wants.
[00:41:07] It wants its employees to feel valued. It wants its prospective hires to be inspired when they come, it wants to have retention of their veterans to have pride in where they work and create a brand that they can brag about and align with and have feel good about showing up, you know, there wasn’t assholes at this company.
[00:41:29] There was a lot of good people and I had nothing to do with hiring, but. I really appreciate it. And the fact that they didn’t hire jerks and that helps.
[00:41:39] Nir Hindi: [00:41:39] Yeah. I mean, you know, I always say there is no such thing, innovative and creative companies. There are only innovative and creative people that build those companies or people that understand this important and creating an environment for it to grow.
[00:41:53]And obviously, you know, the fact that Robbie Hired you as the number 24 25th employee into a startup of a space shows the, the vision of a founder. So fast forward, five years you created doubt is the new residence. Actually, you expanded it, move from you creating to cross collaborating with other artists.
[00:42:14] How many artists do you had overall in your way artist-in-residence program of planet?
[00:42:19] Forest Streans: [00:42:19] Yeah. After five years, we had 15 artists that had been part of the alumni roster, and it was amazing to have worked with such a diverse group of artists. As the company grew through theme from a space company, really focused on satellites and hardware to a software company, delivering pictures of the whole earth every day.
[00:42:44] That transition really was mirrored in the theme in the subject matter that each artist would choose to do and the conversations that they would have,
[00:42:56]I don’t have every answer of, of how art will win the day but I can say, Hey, if you give me permission to try, I will provide an artist and I will provide the set and setting so that artists can share their work and inspire the team.
[00:43:14]We had lectures. We had classes. We went out on field trips and had adventures. I had the artists set up in the common space, so the audience could watch the art being made and have impromptu day-to-day conversations with the pieces as they’re being made.
[00:43:30] There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing a very stringent and hermetic and stair riles space. Turn into a more abstract and weird and unique space. I would say that the artists and residents program was awesome, was unique and was awkward. And it’s all of those things be it’s awkward because what do you, think’s going to happen when you introduce an, a traditional artist or painter illustrator to a aerospace engineer, you don’t expect it to work, but you see that the common thread between those things is passion and is the ability to show up and finish strong.
[00:44:15] And when you see, wow, there’s an artist that just had a crazy challenge and made their giant painting really ugly for a long time and then at the last 20% pulled that piece that was wild and ugly and energetic into something gorgeous and finalize the piece to be glorious or interesting or wild. That’s the exact same situation that if someone making code struggles and struggles and struggles, and then they press ship, and then the code works perfectly, you know, it’s never beautiful, always. And it’s in that challenge to create that beauty or that to nail the intention.
[00:44:55] That’s when the interesting things happen, you know, it’s between the shipping things that is super interesting.
[00:45:01] Nir Hindi: [00:45:01] Yeah. In the limbo. Yeah. So you took actually all your experience and now you’re actually doing it in Google, AI Quantum Department in Santa Baba. And I wonder why quantum computing scientists want to have an artist next to it?
[00:45:18]Forest Streans: [00:45:18] I don’t really see a difference. I don’t know the ins and outs of aerospace nor quantum science. And AI so to me, it’s just another amazing challenge. Where can I put my art next? What team can I work with next to help humanity in my own community? And I may not change the world, but I want to work with like-minded individuals who want to be mission driven.
[00:45:40] So why quantum computing? Well, the manager, the director of the quantum computing program at Google came to me and he said, “Hey, I’m building out a team. I’m building out a space. I would love for you to be part of this. I heard that you do have done great work in aerospace”. We are creating a new laboratory and doing giant murals for this laboratory.
[00:46:07] We are creating collateral for the team to wear and to be surrounded by. So they step into this new laboratory with the inspiration that dwindled, the awe of, wow, this is a space where I’m inspired to work, to do my best work, to show up as a human and to bring my magic and we are also creating beautiful, large, fine art pieces that will go around every single quantum computer, every quantum engine that’s made.
[00:46:34] And what that means. That’s kind of an abstract idea. Like what does it mean to put art on a quantum computer? Well, I will share the photographs that Eric Lucero has taken of these quantum computers to show you that. Inherently, these machines are beautiful. They look like steam punk. Jellyfishes hanging upside down and the industrial racks made of gold and platinum and silver and copper and bronze with tendrils and wires.
[00:47:00] Going to these quantum chips where they’re manipulating electrons. It’s absolutely wild. Yeah. I
[00:47:10] Nir Hindi: [00:47:10] saw the photo and it’s beautiful. Yeah. Okay.
[00:47:13]Forest Streans: [00:47:13] When Eric reached out to me and he proposed that we collaborate. He said, we, as quantum physicists are speaking the language of nature and you Forest Stearns drawing pictures of all of these amazing wild places and things that inspire you, you are drawing the language of nature.
[00:47:32] Nir Hindi: [00:47:32] Well, for it’s I want to give the listeners opportunity because, you know, I took the time also to speak with Eric and I asked him, why did you choose to work with an artist? Why did you choose forests?
[00:47:40] And I want you to hear what he had to say.
[00:47:43] Forest Streans: [00:47:43] Nice.
[00:47:45]Nir Hindi: [00:47:45] Hey, Eric, can you introduce yourself quickly?
[00:47:50] Erik Lucero: [00:47:50] Sure. My pleasure. Thank you for having me. My name is Eric Lucero. I am a quantum research scientist at Google and I lead Google’s quantum computing service.
[00:48:01] Nir Hindi: [00:48:01] Great. Eric we will have you on our show for a much longer a conversation when we will talk about quantum computing, and art, and your photography experience. I want to ask you quickly, what is the value of having an artist in a quantum computing scientist-based department?
[00:48:21]Erik Lucero: [00:48:21] it’s a wonderful question. And I would say that this is an important part of the way that we are tasked in our job here at Google to really invent the future and to have the kind of innovative minds together with an artist. I think that is an important part of just bringing that together both artists and scientists, shoulder to shoulder, into the laboratory together.
[00:48:46]I would say that just the kinds of networks and communication that have happened because of that Forest coming on site. Painting with, uh, the, you know, the engineers and scientists together brought different kinds of, you know, collaborations and just different conversations that would otherwise wouldn’t have existed.
[00:49:04]and then of course we have this really great product at the end of that as well, which is a beautified space and inspiring space that everyone on the team remembers when Forrest was there painting with them. But also is inspired to think about what we’re going to be building together. So, uh, it’s hard to put exactly what that value is, but I see it impactful across the team.
[00:49:26]Nir Hindi: [00:49:26] So Forest I want to go back to your relationship with Eric. How does it feel to work with a person like Eric is the lead production quantum hardware at Google is a research staff. You do a lot of things. In this department?
[00:49:41] Forest Streans: [00:49:41] Eric is amazing. He is one of my heroes. He came to me and said, Hey, do you want to work in quantum?
[00:49:48] And I said, Hey, that sounds awesome. What is quantum? He sent me photographs that he took of his dilution frigerators that they were building his photography.
[00:50:00] Is wonderful. He won me over because he is a great photographer and he eloquently tells the story of why quantum computing connects with nature, why it’s important and why his team would want to be more creative in their quests to have solutions, you know, it’s, it’s no new thing that science needs to innovate to go anywhere new, any anywhere further that science needs to innovate to go to the next level.
[00:50:35]So around every quantum computer, I’m painting large fine art pieces that are 10 feet wide and four feet tall of landscapes of, uh, world heritage sites, UNESCO sites from around the world.
[00:50:50]Imagine walking into a quantum computing lab, where all of the machines are covered in beautiful landscape paintings, and you’re surrounded by giant walls with big abstracted murals on them that speak the language of nature.
[00:51:04] No, that’s the vision.
[00:51:06] Nir Hindi: [00:51:06] Forest, we are getting into our end of our conversation and I want to kind of finish with maybe one question that I’m interested and I want to ask you, what is the role of the artist?
[00:51:19] Forest Streans: [00:51:19] I think the role of the artist in my humble opinion is to aluminate ideas. The idea itself is a morphous and abstract and if theorial and elusive, an artist takes these ideas and puts them on paper so then it creates a solid piece, an artifact for other people to study the role of the artist. In my opinion, that I want to be the role of the artist is to be help be the storyteller, helping the people who are creating awesome things who are doing great things who are being good humans to tell their stories, to put them down forever and make them accessible to others. You know, these entrepreneurs that we work with, these visionary scientists that we work with, these venture capitalists, these teachers that we work with, we all are trying to tell the story and the artists have this way of doing it.
[00:52:14]And I feel that illustration is one of the most honest ways to work in, collaborate with people because it’s a direct conversation and it’s honest, you know, if you make it that way.
[00:52:25] And my kid is a much better artist than I am because she gets down and she’s able to draw things straight from the top of her head and say, this is this dad look at this story. And I’m like, yeah, Oh,
[00:52:35] Nir Hindi: [00:52:35] the pictures that you’re sending me are beautiful. I mean, if you would like we can share this as well on our website, so beautiful.
[00:52:41] Amazing to see what she drew when she was four
[00:52:44]Forest Streans: [00:52:44] my daughter is living that as well before she was three years old she had her first art show in San Francisco of giant works. And now she’s going to be six next month, a little. She leans in as an artist. She’s fearless. And you know, I want to say let’s all be fearless with art. Let’s all. Let our six-year-old self step up to the canvas and let’s not say I can’t draw. Let’s say, what can I draw next? And can I draw with you ?
[00:53:11] Nir Hindi: [00:53:11] Forest, I think it’s a beautiful message to a end our conversation. I think you touched in so many interesting aspects that every a business leader or at least every business leader that think about the future of his company, should think about the community, about the culture, about putting a vision about taking the leap about stepping into the unknown by creating different intersections, allowing ndifferent conversations.
[00:53:38] So many important things that I see them relevant in every aspect of the business. You are such an inspiration for me, at least that I’m positive for many other people live forest. I want to. Say big, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today and our listeners thank you for joining us. Everything you want to see about the work of Forest will be available on our website, obviously with the links to his Ted talk, his website, and many other things, forest.
[00:54:08] Thank you very
[00:54:10] Forest Streans: [00:54:10] Thank you NIR for trusting the power of art and seeing its value. And I’m honored to be here in this social distance context. What a wonderful and weird and surreal world that we live in. What a wonderful time to be alive.
[00:54:25] Nir Hindi: [00:54:25] Thank you, forest. Have a great day back in Auckland, Yusimiti, at the San Francisco wherever you are now,