Earlier this year, I got a friend request on Facebook from a super close friend of my good friend & surrogate-kid-sister Tuesday Bassen (who I interviewed here). His name is Adam Kurtz and he lives in New York. We had 18 friends in common and I noticed he is a fellow illustrator, so I hit “accept.”
In the months that have passed, I’ve gotten to know Adam through Facebook and Instagram, and I’ve fallen head over heals in love — not just with his wit and wisdom — but with his work in general. A few weeks ago, Adam sent me a package containing a bunch of his amazing products which you can see here. I then started reading his fantastic series on the Life & Business section of my friend Grace’s blog Design*Sponge and my crush got even more serious. Last week I sat down virtually with Adam and asked him about his childhood, his work and his voice as an artist. I present to you Adam J. Kurtz, the latest inductee in my Interviews with People I Admire series!
Lisa: Adam, I LOVE YOUR WORK! Tell us about you. Where did you grow up and what was your path to becoming an artist and designer?
Adam: Thank you, Lisa! That’s high praise coming from you (insert incoherent art crush rambling here, then a pause where I regain my dignity). I grew up in Toronto and have always been the “creative child,” which is code for “everyone always bought me art supplies for my birthday.” We moved a few times and I didn’t have a ton of friends in my early teens so I learned basic coding and built fan sites for fun. It was making and exploring those networks of people, just before social media was a thing, that kept me entertained. So I figured I should study graphic design in college, and that’s kind of how it went! Design is so much about organizing other people’s words and images in useful structures, and eventually I decided I wanted to make work that used my own voice. I like to think that’s the difference between art and design, really. Still, my art is all about functional objects. It’s a balloon, it’s a postcard, it’s a pin. It serves a tactile purpose beyond being nice to look at or carrying a message.
Lisa: One of the reasons I love you & your work is that you tell the truth. Also, you manage to be really funny in your honesty without being overly sarcastic or cutting or mean. Tell us about your “voice” — and how you express it, not just your work, but also your presence on social media.
Adam: That’s my real voice! I’m kind of an idiot, lots of dad jokes and backhanded compliments. Life is big and scary, but small jokes and those shared experiences are what connects us to each other and makes it okay. The nice thing about being myself full-time (as opposed to making work under a studio of another name) as that I can be that person without worrying about being “off brand.” While there’s a legal difference between Adam J. Kurtz the human and ADAMJK the brand, it’s all still me.
Lisa: Your work is really conducive to putting on product and you make some amazing product. Tell us what it is about having your work on pins and pennants and balloons and shirts that makes you happy.
Adam: There is something very special about taking a mood or feeling out of your head and putting on a tangible object instead of a tweet or status update. There are a lot of people posting about feeling sad or alone. There are not a lot of people communicating that with a hopeful keychain. For me, it’s therapeutic to say what I need to say this way.
My “ADAMJK GIFT SHOP” is all about exploring what a “gift” really is. Why do we buy small trinkets to begin with? Sometimes we want to remember a place we were. Sometimes we see something that reminds us of someone we love. Sometimes we are feeling sad or happy and want to commemorate that feeling with an impulse buy. Other times we needed to get someone a present because of some holiday or occasion and then we “accidentally” keep it for ourselves. The items I make are simple, and generally inexpensive. I want their value to be defined by how they are selected and gifted to ourselves or others.
I’m not a fine artist, but I don’t consider myself a store either. I am an artist who wants people to easily own something they love. If I was wearing my pretentious glasses right now I’d tell you they’re “artist multiples” but I am wearing contacts today.
Lisa: Tell us about your new spots on Design*Sponge. I love them!! How did that come about and how much do you love working with Grace?
Adam: Writing for Design*Sponge has been so cool! Grace Bonney is a really smart and funny woman, and I wrote a guest post a long time ago thanks to another contributor, Sabrina Smelko. Grace and I became friends online, and I just kept thinking “wow, I totally agree with almost everything she has to say.” I guess it was mutual enough, because she suggested a monthly column.
I don’t consider myself a true writer (whatever that means????) but it’s been really nice to share some perspective in a fun and maybe unusual way. The response has been so great and I am happy to be a part of such a fantastic blog. Now I’m just embarrassing myself. I love you, Grace!!!!! Okay bye.
Lisa: Tell us about your book 1 Page at a Time. What’s it about?
Adam: 1 Page at a Time is a goofy little daily journal that asks you to write, draw, reflect, or act every day. Some pages are childish, some are straightforward, and some get weird or dark. The hope is that at the end of the year you have a time capsule of who you were, and you can see how far you’ve gone. It’s loosely based on my annual Unsolicited Advice weekly planners that I self-publish. An editor at Penguin found it on Kickstarter in 2013 and we met for coffee and it just… happened? It still blows my mind, and that was like three years ago.
There are a lot of journals out there. At first, many people compare 1 Page at a Time to Wreck This Journal, which I totally understand (and we share an editor). Then they’ll come back and be like “hey actually it’s kind of the opposite? I want to save this forever!” The title isn’t even subtle at all – this is totally about making it through, making it yourself, and coming out the other side. It can mark the beginning of a new year, a new journey, or a fresh start. Like a lot of what I make, I try to allude to mental health ideas without being too cheesy or clinical. This is a fun book, but it’s also a book that fucking gets it, because I fucking get it.
A fun part of the book is the hashtag throughout. People all over the world are sharing their pages online in several languages. Though the book reminds you that life is a solo journey and being alone with your thoughts shouldn’t be terrifying, we are also all alone together. My secret hope is that two strangers will find each other through their posted pages. What if people across the world fell in love because their outlook on life totally overlaps? What if two people got married????? Ahhhhhhhh!!!
Lisa: And you have another book coming out? Can you give us an idea about what it’s about and when it will come out?
Adam: I do! This first book has done well enough that Penguin is like “okay please make another book, we get it, you’re weird, that’s cool.” It will still have interactive elements, but it’s not exactly a journal either. It’s even more me than the first book. It’s darker, it’s more hopeful, it’s more honest, and I really want people to get it and be like “what the hell is this?” and then flip through and feel like they’ve found exactly what they needed in that moment. It’s hard for me to explain exactly what I’m trying to create because I’m still in the middle of it all.
Lisa: What’s the most fun or wacky illustration job you’ve ever done for a client?
Adam: Earlier this month I got to draw a ton of adderall, that was pretty great! I also do the menus for my local coffee shop in exchange for free drinks. It’s probably the best paying gig I’ve ever had.
Lisa: What kind of stuff makes you want to get out bed in the morning?
Lisa: Where can we find you on the Internets?
Adam: I’m @ADAMJK on all the good stuff!
Lisa: Thank you Adam!! Great having you on the blog today!
Friends, I’ll be back SATURDAY. Yes, Saturday! Confusing, I know, right? I don’t normally blog on the weekends, but I’m having a Small Business Saturday Sale starting Saturday so I’ll be posting some new items in my shop plus a discount code. So stay tuned for that!
In the meantime, have a happy Thanksgiving!