They say that unsolicited advice is like singing out of tune–no one wants to hear it, but ADAM J. KURTZ has a cheeky way of hitting us with the right notes that would make us listen. Although the last two letters of his social media handle suggest that he might be joking around, @adamjk’s virtual ramblings are here to laugh with you, not at you.
Let’s be real. You know that whenever you type #WIP in your IG post, you’re really talking about yourself. Our life is one big artwork we’re all polishing to be something we’re proud of, yet we choose to mask our anxieties through self-deprecating memes and seek validation through the likes, retweets, and LMAOs we get, hoping that our social media reach makes up for our lack of drive. This is something that Adam J. Kurtz knows too well. “It’s amazing to feel the unlimited potential we all have and to realize that you can do anything,” he digresses. “Conversely, it’s a little bit overwhelming to tap into your power and build your own world.” With a marker in hand and his wit intact, the Brooklyn-based artist has been embracing that millennial angst with a dark touch of humor by posting virtual sticky notes that make you feel like everything is okay. “I try to make nice things that people like, but I always want to make sure it feels like me, so I’m talking to the voice in my head, calming my nerves, encouraging myself, or finding funny ways of looking at scary things,” he explains.
Building a portfolio out of writing down relatable #feels on postcards, balloons, pencils, and every other wholesale item he could get his hands on and then eventually putting up an online gift shop, Adam sprung out of the digital platform to put his internet fame to a test as he got his sheets together and released an unconventional self-help journal entitled 1 Page at a Time. Soon following it up with Pick Me Up: A Pep Talk for Now and Later, his latest project Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives turns a page from his previous interactive diary format as he literally puts his thoughts on paper. Carefully crafting motivational words of wit that sound kind of dumb, the illustrator/author sets out to draw from a realistic sense of optimism. “I always say that people can feel when you’re faking it on some level. I think ‘positivity’ is a trend, and for good reason: the world needs it,” he shares. “But empty optimism doesn’t work on me. I need my encouragement to be realistic and speak to me like I’m not an idiot.”
“It’s amazing to feel the unlimited potential we all have and to realize that you can do anything. Conversely, it’s a little bit overwhelming to tap into your power and build your own world.”
There’s a little bit of stigma when it comes to self-help books–people usually approach it with hesitation as most come off detached from reality. How do you manage to keep it real for your readers?
Adam: I think the most effective way to communicate is to invite people into the process, give them some pieces, and let them make their own conclusions. My books are self-help, but it’s more literal. I provide a template or some activities, but you’re going to connect the dots and write the book yourself. It’s different when you’re the one giving yourself the advice. Besides, I’m not an expert. I’m just some guy–it’s up to each person if they want to even trust me when they pick up my books.
Being an illustrator and writer at the same time, is there a difference between these two mediums in terms your creative approach?
A: To me, it’s all the same. Sometimes, words alone are the best way to convey something, but in my experience, some illustrative detail or a surprising medium such as a keychain or a balloon can really be the most fun, interesting, or useful way to communicate a thought. I’m really excited about finding new mediums to create work in. Ways to communicate more with less words. New subjects to tackle. New forms of fear to dissect and laugh at. New tools that help me as I try to grow as a person. I’ll be turning 30 at the end of the year, so I’m thinking forward like, “Hey, what are challenges now that I didn’t have previously?” I just got married! I went from not understanding love to finding it, to learning more and more about what it means to care for another person and building a life together. It’s really wild. My work has always reflected my own journey, so I know there are lots of new ground to sift through and think about.
“Positivity’ is a trend, and for good reason: the world needs it! But empty optimism doesn’t work on me. I need my encouragement to be realistic and speak to me like I’m not an idiot.”
We heard Pick Me Up was your own version of a next step. What about it made things bigger for you to do?
A: In 1 Page at a Time, I was very concerned with being useful while also very silly and a little bit vague. In Pick Me Up, I’m like, “OK, we’re just going to fucking talk about the hard shit now. Thank you. Let’s begin.” Both are good, but the intention got more serious in the second. It’s my natural progression as a person and reflects the growth I made in between both. Life keeps moving forward, right? I figured my readers were growing too.
How has your perspective evolved with Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives since your first two books?
A: The latest book is an interesting change for me, because for the first time, it’s specifically about a single topic: Understanding why different kinds of people create similar roadblocks in their minds. There’s this idea that artists are “tortured” and many famous artists were and are–but why? I wanted to share some insights into my own growth, lessons learned after quitting my job to do what I do full-time, and of the doubt and fear that I feel about making art. It took me years of books and sharing online to realize that we’re all a lot more similar than we think.
I’m very proud of making something that focuses on the challenges of my everyday life while still maintaining my sense of humor, my need for realistic optimism, and not trying to be some pretentious expert. I wanted to make sure this book would appeal to people even if they don’t think they have issues to work through or don’t normally read self-help books. In that way, it’s just like my first two books. I’m tricking you into helping yourself a little bit, just like how I trick myself.
Do you ever have a hard time taking your own advice?
A: YES, OH MY GOD. Knowing the answers doesn’t make them any easier. We all know that life is hard sometimes. We all know that we should make our beds, but does that mean we should make our bed every single day? Not me.