It’s hard to spend time on any social media platform without seeing the work of Adam J. Kurtz, an artist and author who’s honest and funny illustrations resonate with almost anyone. With a full stationary line including notebooks, pencils, patches, pins, keychains, and more, each piece is designed with witty sayings and simple illustrations. Also the author of several books including Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives and Pick Me Up: A Pep Talk for Now & Later, Adam’s work is a breath of fresh air for all of us who need a little push.
KC: One thing a lot of your work focuses on is acceptance, which is something that’s so difficult as a creative person. We seem to always be the most critical of ourselves and the things we’re putting out into the world. When did you start putting your work out for public consumption, and when did it start to gain attention?
AK: I've been making and sharing bits of creative work since I was a teenager, through early fansites, Livejournal, and more. When I joined Tumblr in 2007 that was when I really finally had a "home" for all my scraps where the context was me and everything fit even when it didn't. Somewhere along the way that started getting some attention. I had a lot of great connections with others on Tumblr, and people were calling me "Tumblr famous" to my face, but even when my first book came out in 2014, I only had 7,000 followers. It's hard to say what "gain attention" means I guess. I also feel like we're desensitized to numbers, maybe, but I spent years in a fun Tumblr bubble with what felt like lots of people and it inspired and fueled me.
KC: You’ve said that “talent is not the only component in being successful” - which I think is true. So much of success is about timing and connections. How did you begin to receive work through connections, and how do you decide what offers to take and what offers to pass on?
AK: I mean, so much happens through connections one way or another. I got my first job out of college at a video production studio through the "connection" of having been the token graphic designer in a video spot they filmed for my university a few years prior. Later, I met a girl at a party who had a remote job at a web design company and mentioned she could recommend me. It's easy to forget that we all have "connections" one way or another. And even now it's not like "okay well he has 200,000 Instagram followers so that means 200,000 work opportunities." I'm still pitching if there's something I want. People aren't typically just handing me awesome work opportunities.
That said, people do just hand me things sometimes, and they're often favors disguised as opportunities. I think a lot of us know what that looks like. "Hey we'd love to invite you to our artist print platform!" means "hey upload your art here and then promote our website to your followers and then you get 25% commission." Or "we'd love to have you on our podcast that we are launching next month" means "hey promote our podcast that doesn't have an audience yet." Do I sound jaded? I just want to clarify that the success I have is subjective, I am still working very hard, I haven't "made it" etc. It's a journey! Am I smarter and more connected now than I was at age 20? Definitely. But I'm still crawling towards legitimacy in so many ways.
KC: Do you feel like studying graphic design in college was beneficial to your career? Did you ever work as a graphic designer or something similar before going freelance?
AK: YES. Graphic design teaches you so many tools. Not just the software but also ways of thinking about the hierarchy of information, how to communicate, how to package things, how to sell things, it gives you the power to make the things you need in the digital world and that's very, very special.
I have had many jobs in the creative industry, from being a designer at an internet marketing firm (designing and coding newsletters, making Wordpress adjustments) to studio designer at an ad agency (formatting presentations, doing pitch work, mocking up keyframe for commercial scripts). I didn't bust out the door at graduation, age 20, diploma in hand, with a book deal and a product line and all the answers. I still don't have all the answers.
The Indecisive Spinner Lapel Pin by Adam JK
KC: Your products often feature a mix of honesty and humor, sometimes dark and sometimes hopeful. I know I personally am always fluctuating between the two. Did you ever question what type of content you want to present to the world?
AK: I don't really know what I am doing I'm kind of just being myself except a little bit more open so you don't have to be exactly a cis male gay Jew who loves Alanis Morissette and bread to appreciate it.
KC: Why do you think your work resonates so much with such a wide audience?
AK: A lot of it is a pretty direct observation or optimism on experiences we all share. I don't think it's that deep! And when you sit down to really workshop why a cute, nice thing works, you often kill it. Sometimes you just gotta throw shit in the air and let it land wherever it wants to.
KC: If you could tap into the future, where would you see your work going in the next few years? Are there any creative projects or dream jobs you’d like to accomplish?
AK: Oh my god "few years" I don't even know what I'm doing in six months. I have no idea. I have some idea but not enough to share. It's okay to not have a 10-year plan I think. The plan is to just keep trying to be a happy person.
You can find a selection of Adam's work, include books and lapel pins, for sale at both Rare Device Divisadero and Rare Device Noe Valley.