Need a distraction from the constant barrage of negative news at your finger tips daily? Looking for a way to bring more self-reflection into your life? Or maybe you just really need a new hobby? Adam J. Kurtz might have a suggestion—and if you’ve ever met him, or even just seen his Instagram, you know he gives sound advice.
Enter ADAMJK’s latest Kickstarter: OK Tarot—a perfectly pink set of tarot cards with all 78 major and minor arcana “as understood and interpreted by artist Adam J. Kurtz.” HOW had the chance to chat with Kurtz about the new project.
So, why a tarot deck?
Tarot is something that’s newer to my life, but beloved by people around me, including my husband. This deck actually started as a gift idea for him, something he could incorporate into his growing pile of books and decks (because you can never have too many decks).
But, and he and I have talked about this, tarot and astrology are huge trends right now. I think it comes down to a kind of spirituality that is missing in a lot of people’s lives. The world seems to be getting worse (mostly we’re just hearing about more injustices in real-time thanks to the internet—and it’s important that we be informed). People are looking for new ways to feel connected to that sort of intangible magic energy that makes being alive so special.
Did you work with any tarot pros during your creative process?
I consulted Mitchell’s books, especially Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Wisdom, which I had been previously ignoring on his nightstand for like probably two years. But I also reached out to my own networks. Facebook was a huge tool for me, and the members of my private “support group” proved invaluable. I was able to receive design feedback from an audience of people who both understand my whole deal and care deeply about the tarot.
Tell me about translating all of the typically detailed images of tarot into your classic style. Were there any challenges?
One amazing thing about tarot is the tremendous variance in decks. The most well-known might be the Rider Waite deck, which is richly detailed and layered with tons of meaning and symbolism. But it’s also chock-full of white dudes and religion (despite being illustrated by a woman, Pamela Colman Smith, who was hired by Arthur Edward Waite).
My primary goal was to strip that out so that the experience of using OK Tarot could be a personal one, devoid of the knee-jerk reaction and sentiment of these existing depictions. In some ways it resembles a Lenormand-style tarot, which is much more icon-driven.
Any significance to the color pink?
IT’S FUCKING CUTE AS HELL!!!!!!!!!! I just wanted to make something that could be fun to use and look cool sitting out. So many people I know have created these like, mini-shrines to self-care in their homes, whether it’s the top of a dresser, or a small corner of a vanity or desk. My husband Mitchell keeps all his colognes and moisturizers and shit on my dresser—his is reserved for incense, palo santo, a few crystals, and a bunch of plants. It’s a small space that allows us both to sort of check in each day and set our intention.
Do you have a favorite card based on the illustration? What about based on meaning?
My favorite card is The Fool (a sort of bookend to the major arcana that’s regarded as both #0 and #22 in the tarot). Before learning about the tarot, I didn’t really understand what this card was about. As I learned, I understood that The Fool is each of us, embarking on a journey through life as told through the cards. My own interpretation borrows a dunce cap—the classic uniform/punishment for idiots—and reimagines what ignorance can actually be. In my own life, I find that a certain amount of ignorance can be the key to self-preservation. We are inundated with information at a volume that can be debilitating. Sometimes I find that not-knowing everything can be the only way to get up in the morning.
The flower represents an admiration of beauty in the world, a foolish pursuit if it’s all one looks for, but also a wonderful quality. Stopping to smell the roses and appreciate the small things is one of the surest ways to find happiness in life.
Have you been getting good readings with the cards?
The very first reading with this deck was done on camera by Kelsey Anderson, of AmunarHealing. She’s a Brooklyn-based Spiritual Counselor, Lenormand Tarot and Palm Reader who had previously read Mitchell’s cards. Her reading is available to watch on the Kickstarter page, and really speaks to my own creative journey in making this deck. The initial idea, the doubt that kept me from executing it for TWO YEARS, and then the eventual continuation to trust my strengths and inspiration. If you have five minutes, it’s a really encouraging reading that speaks to a lot of us as artists and designers.
I have no idea how to read tarot. I had a deck that came with a tiny instructions booklet, but that didn’t help much. Any tips for getting started?
I find that the tiny instruction booklets that many decks come with are a nice little addition, but barely enough to go on. For this reason, the OK Tarot deck doesn’t even come with one. Instead I’m encouraging people to look to some amazing resourcest that already exist, from free guides on sites like Biddy Tarot, to incredible books such as Rachel Pollock’s (that I used for research), or the newer Modern Tarot by writer Michelle Tea.
Part of what I think can be so special is the solo journey of not just reading cards but also learning how to read, finding the deeper meanings, and spending time. It’s a process that invites us to sit down in a quiet space, without our phones, to learn something new every time. Learning new things daily is an important step in battling depressive tendencies and it’s also just exciting to be excited about things! A win-win.
Where can HOW readers grab their own OK Tarot deck?
The OK Tarot deck is available for pre-order on Kickstarter for $25, or in two other combinations with bonuses for those who want extras. It’s a great gift for someone who loves tarot already, but also for your one friend who you wish would GET INTO IT ALREADY.
Your Kickstarters have done really well. Any tips for illustrators looking to crowdfund their own projects?
I really identify as a designer first, and an illustrator second. Or third. Or not at all. As designers, we understand that you can’t start a project until you’ve considered the final product. We know that form must follow function. But often with illustration it can be a more expressive process first. I see a lot of illustrators who are brilliant artists but struggle with how to apply or produce work from that art.
When you launch a Kickstarter project, you’re asking strangers to not just trust that the product will be worth paying and waiting for, but also that you personally are trustworthy and will deliver. Kickstarter as a company doesn’t (and can’t) personally manage creators to ensure they meet their promises. So a simple campaign with clear objectives, detailed documentation, and true transparency is important.
I wrote a guide for the Kickstarter blog a few years ago that boils down everything I know into simple steps (and includes a printable zine version you can make and refer back to in your process). I also strongly encourage people to browse the website, look at other successful projects, and BACK OTHER CREATORS before launching. Kickstarter’s community of users love to dig through the website to find new stuff they can’t buy anywhere else. But when you see that a project creator has backed zero projects, that’s a red flag. It’s hard to show up brand new in a community and then ask for money.
What’s next for you? What’s definitely not next for you?
I’m currently working on my Unsolicited Advice planner for 2019 which will be out sometime in August—still self-published after 8 years! This year I’m switching up the format, the content, and the production process so it’s going to be less expensive and more accessible to people, especially internationally. I’m also quietly working on some other little bits and pieces, generally trying to take things slow and figure out who I want to be as I enter my 30s in October. No big deal!!!!!
What’s not next for me is a new “real” book with my publisher. Though I love working with Penguin Random House, I’m proud of the three books I’ve made, and feel like they deserve a chance to live on their own and find new audiences. I was supposed to have pitched a new concept in April 2017 and didn’t. I still haven’t. I think it’s really important as creatives to take stock of who were are, what we have to say, and who we want to be. If you aren’t sure, then you can’t confidently create and stand by your art.
Any speaking engagements or events coming up that you’d like to promote?
Speaking is becoming one of my favorite things! It was so weird to watch my own 99U lecture, Perfect Isn’t Better, and realize just how much I’ve made, done, and learned over the course of my 20s. My work has always been about the creative process and self-discovery, and speaking feels like such a natural, more immediate evolution of that. Also it’s fucking FUN. I’ll be a speaker and vendor at both Adobe MAX (Los Angeles) and Creative Works Conference (Memphis) this October.