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WHO: Adam J. Kurtz
Adam (@adamjk) is an artist, author, illustrator and designer based in Brooklyn. In 2016 he was named a New Visual Artist by Print magazine, stood up against art theft, published a book and got engaged. It’s been a busy year to say the least.
Kurtz is known by many as ADAMJK—his gift product line and username across social media. He’s held numerous positions in the creative world, including time with BuzzFeed, Houpla, Barton F. Graf and Ads Next. In 2009, Kurtz graduated with a BFA in Visual Arts/Design from University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Since February 2015, he has been working on his most recent release: Pick Me Up.
Kurtz’s first journaling book 1 Page At A Time was “a sort of linear path through a tough year” based on his own experiences. “But life didn’t get easier just because I learned new things. My creativity wasn’t magically unleashed forever. I realized that knowing the answers and reading what the experts have to say isn’t everything—we actually have to take our own advice and put solutions into action.” And thus Pick Me Up was born.
For anyone who has ever used a guided journal, be warned: Pick Me Up is much different from your average positive-vibes-only coffee table book. Kurtz’s raw illustrations complement his overtly honest journal prompts. When you grab your copy of Pick Me Up be prepared to feel challenged, encouraged, interrogated and inspired. You might even shed a tear or two like I did.
“Pick Me Up is kind of a literal self help book, where you write and draw things for your future self to stumble upon in future uses.
I made the kind of journal that I would actually use, with advice and inspiration that people like me (too smart for their own good, jaded, a little lazy, optimistic but also realistic) will benefit from.”
What makes Pick Me Up stand out from the saturated world of self help books and guided journals? For starters, Kurtz doesn’t try to convince readers that life should be all sunshine and rainbows all the time. It’s easy to get lost in today’s hyper-curated world of social media. Online, it seems things are either perfect or totally falling apart without any gray area in sight. We tend to forget that life is allowed to have dull moments—and that those moments are okay.
“As someone in this journal world who owns a lot of others,” explains Kurtz, “I can say pretty confidently that this has some of the same elements (I mean, it’s a guided journal, it’s going to have spaces for writing and drawing) but it is much weirder and more raw than any other I can think of. It’s hard to describe the overall mood of it, but looking back I have definitely accomplished what I set out to do.”
HOW: The Making Of
What did the process of creating the book look like? How long did it take to complete everything involved?
“I’m used to managing my own projects from concept to production, so I’m fast fast fast all the time. With a major publisher, there is a nearly two year process of pitching, internal meetings, cover and title deliberation across teams… it’s a long journey. This book began in February 2015, but really much earlier than that in terms of the concepts and art that ended up inside.”
Did you hit any major roadblocks during the process? What did you do to overcome those blocks?
“There were definitely pages where I knew what I was trying to achieve but it just wasn’t working. Metaphors that were too convoluted, prompts or tasks that felt unclear, and it took time to sit down with my agent, editor and Penguin copyeditors to figure out how to take what I understood in my head and make it work for others. We also had some design challenges to work through with the back cover design, which I wanted to give a little seriousness to. I designed this book from start to finish, so the final penciled art might be misleading but I am actually a real live graphic designer.”