Adam J. Kurtz describes himself as a ‘designer-author-illustrator-creative director-writer’ whose self-effacing work is funny, frank and full of honest insights. Adam manages his own brand and has worked with Vans, Microsoft and Sharpie to name just a few. Adam travels the world public speaking and spreading his positive creative self-help message.
Hey Adam, where are you based and how long have you been creating?
I’ve been creating in various mediums my entire life, from fan websites at age 11 through design school and now as a fulltime solo artist/author/brand. My husband Mitchell and I recently left New York for a new life in Honolulu, Hawai’i, his hometown.
Your brand of open honesty is refreshing and rooted in exposing your personal fears to the world. Where does this openness come from?
Many of us worry about sharing anything less than perfect in case it somehow makes us look bad, or seem less dependable, or desirable. In reality, everyone is dealing with their own shit and so preoccupied that they’re hardly paying attention. Nobody needs us to be perfect. Nobody needs us to be fearless. Everyone is a little bit afraid, and peeling back a layer or two is the only way to connect on a human level with others.
Being known for not having a filter, is there such a thing as sharing too much in your work?
Everything is balance. I’m vulnerable, but I’m not an open book. I am often “unfiltered” but only within the context and consciousness of my work, my voice, and the safe bubble I’ve built for myself. We all get to choose how open to be, and when. Art is an amazing vehicle for sharing complex or intimate truths, because you get to craft the narrative almost fully.
Copy and color are instrumental in your work, but you almost never use traditional type. What makes you hand-write and craft your copy?
I see my handwriting as my “visual voice” – so obviously handmade and human that you can’t help but feel the emotion behind it. That’s not to say I don’t incorporate traditional type, or that I only work in my own personal “house” style, but when I’m my own client, it’s nice to focus on the message over the aesthetics of the delivery.
Plus I just love when the edges are visible in creative work. I want to feel it. I want to see some of the process in the final. When it comes to design and illustration, I admire the talent necessary for near-perfect or photorealistic work, but I’m also kind of like… ok then take a photo? This is just my personal preference for what I’m most drawn to.
Your language and style of writing often feels like a post you would read online, yet your work is very much hand made. Is this deliberate, and if so why?
Mostly I’m just communicating the way that comes most naturally to me, and my language has been shaped by growing up on the internet. Most of us do the majority of our writing online or by text message, so it makes sense that we’ve all been conditioned to short form.
But more than that, the sense of humor is somewhere between defense mechanism and coping strategy. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!
With such an analogue style, how does Procreate fit into your workflow
My finals are always pencil on paper, so I kind of work backwards. I’ll use digital pen for first round sketches, for tidier type in vector format (in merchandise production, for example), or just to mess around for fun.
You spend so much time providing helpful and insightful advice for creative people, who do you turn to when you need advice?
My husband, my therapist, and my friends.
I’m grateful for a network of friends in overlapping creative industries for professional advice, because so much of my job is just me figuring shit out as I go and hoping it works. I believe in luck, but more so I believe that every success is the product of others quietly supporting, uplifting, and championing each other.
Emotionally, my husband has helped me dissect some of my habits and communication style (loud Jewish person) to find a more solid middle ground between who I was and who I’d like to be. Love is real! Imagine meeting a stranger and deciding you want to navigate the rest of your lives as a pair, growing separately and together, filling in the gaps and keeping the plates spinning. Honestly it’s kind of a miracle.
Your website currently says, ‘I'm taking some time to rest.’ How has taking some downtime been and what have you been doing to relax?
I’m back now! But I did close my entire online shop for almost three months. Which was scary, because that’s my only source of income that’s not tied to the whims of clients and collaborators. But I felt myself seriously burning out after COVID Holiday 2k20, a nightmare blend of delays and mishaps with shipping and deadlines.
The hardest part of being an artist-business is finding the balance, and for the last few years I’ve felt more business than artist. It’s like, you can either ideate or execute, but doing both all the time while also handling the logistics from production to finance? Literally kill me!!!!!! Art is hard but I am grateful this is my job for now.
What does the future hold for Adam JK?
My new book, YOU ARE HERE *FOR NOW, will be released in October! It’s a collection of art and essays on themes of personal growth, transformation, and all the beautiful/scary parts of being alive. Sounds like a lot but I promise it’s more like sitting down to commiserate over coffee than it is some expert telling you to fix your life with a foolproof method. I’m not an expert and I don’t have a method. I’m just trying to stay alive.