Adam J. Kurtz
Adam J. Kurtz:
Artist and author
Often we are inclined to hide the messy parts of ourselves, but artist and author Adam J. Kurtz is refreshingly unrestrained with sharing his.
For the Brooklyn based artist, the internal mess stems the common quandary of too many ideas, and not enough time.
“I always want to do everything, but obviously that is impossible, so that can be messy. I'm getting better at focusing my energy and not trying to do a whole bunch of things and half-ass all of them.”
Despite being a self-proclaimed mess, there is an impressive level of order to his workflow that has been cemented over the last two years working independently as an artist.
He doesn’t really procrastinate. He handed in his forthcoming book, Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives early to his publisher. He has mastered the art of creating separation when working from home – most of the time. He will ‘follow his bliss’ each day rather than a strict to-do list. He will send rough drafts in an InDesign pitch deck to clients who find the professionalism unexpected.
“I feel like I still have plenty of problems, but the actual workflow is not one of them anymore.”
Finding such balance is impressive for an independent artist who juggles book writing, a bi-monthly column for Design*Sponge, collaborations with other brands such as Urban Outfitters and Fishs Eddy, corporate commissions and his online shop that features a small, rotating range of products, stationery and merchandise.
Perhaps the key to working well is cultivating a sense of contentedness with your work. “I'm extremely lucky to do my own thing and have it be enough money to live on. I could certainly hustle harder, be more stressed and earn more, but I am happy to just be comfortable.”
Having previously worked sixteen-hour days in advertising also provides perspective for his work today. “There was always an emergency and the emergency was a pitch for yogurt! If I can do that, I can do anything!”
Adam has done everything from coding Wordpress websites and pitching commercial advertising scripts, to working at the ‘experimental content farm’ better known as Buzzfeed. He now sees how having a range of jobs and experiences has helped inform his creative practice.
“Often we might resent doing something at the time, but three years later you can see how it informs what you do today.”
Of course, not all our career or life experiences are rosy or perfectly fitting, but even the bad things make you exactly who you are, he adds. “And being who you are is often why you are exactly right for a certain task or job. We are all the sum of our collective experiences and so I couldn't exist without all the shit.”
It’s easier to see how the ducks fall in a row for someone like Adam in hindsight, but when you’re amidst a difficult or uncertain time, it can be hard to feel that you are on the right path or pursuing the right thing. Adam’s advice is to try to let go a little of your own expectations or fears for the future.
“You have to trust that life goes on and you don't always know why or how. Of course, it is much easier for someone who has flexibility or is comfortable to say things like that, and if you are not feeling that you might read these words and hate it, but eventually everything makes sense.”
Adam now has the ‘luxurious’ problem of thinking about the direction of his work to ensure longevity, but reminds us to embrace the unknown. “I don't know what is next, but I hope it'll be good, fingers crossed.”
"We are all the sum of our collective experiences and so I couldn't exist without all the shit.”
I'm not very good at sleeping in, but lately I have been and that's really nice. I'm usually awake somewhere between nine and ten – I don't pressure myself to wake up, I'd much rather sleep in if my body will let me. I usually have an alarm set for a ridiculous time like eleven or just swipe my finger along the hours and minutes as a joke. It's a fun reminder to myself that, oh yeah, you left working in an office and now you can just play roulette with your wake up time. It feels good.
My boyfriend often sleeps in another hour because he will work night shifts, so very quietly I’ll throw some pants on and go into the studio room and start packing the morning's mail, which is anywhere between five and forty packages depending on whether I've been Instagramming any product or sent an email newsletter.
"I usually have an alarm set for a ridiculous time like eleven or just swipe my finger along the hours and minutes as a joke. It's a fun reminder to myself that, oh yeah, you left working in an office and now you can just play roulette with your wake up time. It feels good."
I'm on Instagram throughout the day, but I post in the mornings because that is when people seem most receptive to it. Instagram has become a little bit of a job for me – there is this certain expectation of the type of content I'm going to post and so it is much more career or brand focused now. It's like, oh yeah, I'm a person and a brand and it's a balance. I'm always really open about the balance and I think people get that I'm constantly finding it.
The post office is a block from my apartment and the coffee shop is two blocks, so I pack the mail first thing in the morning because then if I want to get a coffee I have to have dropped it off first and that forces me to get it done.
That is the most important habit for me I think, that I leave the apartment every morning and come back with coffee. It is sort of my commute and helps creates a separation from home and work. The days when I've just thrown on clothing and got to it, the work suffers and I'm not in the right mindset. I really do need to leave and come back, even if it is raining outside.
"That is the most important habit for me I think, that I leave the apartment every morning and come back with coffee. It is sort of my commute and helps creates a separation from home and work."
Sometimes I grab something to eat at the coffee shop or I’ll have a bowl of cereal. I’m less likely to cook for myself, but some days I'll do the whole eggs, salad, bacon and avocado thing if Mitchell is already awake. Or he will cook and bring a plate to me at the computer. On a really good day we will eat together in the kitchen and have a true separation and that is probably the healthiest, but sometimes it is hard to that.
I also always put on socks in the morning – you've got to put on socks to work. Sometimes I put on shoes; shoes mean I’m definitely working.
I keep my inbox really tidy so I will go through and tick off those little tasks that way, and then otherwise it is onto the longer stuff, what do I need to be working on.
I don’t often have a daily to do list, I have a long-lead list of the projects that need to be done. For the most part I'm doing self-directed projects, so on a whim I can be like I don't feel like working on the calendar today, I'd rather work on this pitch-deck or shop products or something else. I let myself follow my bliss a little bit and that helps.
"I also always put on socks in the morning – you've got to put on socks to work."
Being your own boss is a lot harder than people realise, or people very quickly realise how hard it is – you have to be a happy employee and a happy boss. So having a little bit of flexibility is the reward and I have found a sort of sweet spot that works for me.
Even when I had day jobs I always doing these projects from home or working on nights and weekends, so I have a strong sense now of what works best for me and how to keep myself going.
"Being your own boss is a lot harder than people realise, or people very quickly realise how hard it is – you have to be a happy employee and a happy boss. So having a little bit of flexibility is the reward and I have found a sort of sweet spot that works for me."
Lunch is not usually set, it really depends on the day and where I'm at. There are some days where I need to get outside, there are some days that breakfast is a sandwich at midday or lunch is cereal at eleven and then I don't eat till dinner.
That stuff isn't as regimented as maybe it should be. I have written advice about working from home and there are definitely instances where I’m not taking my own advice – I don't always eat lunch at the table, I’ll be eating it in front of the computer!
When you hit that flow, sometimes you don't want to break it by taking lunch. If you are someone who is in it every single day that's a problem, maybe take a step back, but I think if you have one day where you are working super hard and you are loving it, that's okay too. It's hard to find that sometimes so when you do find it you're like, I'm going to stay here I am being productive.
I don't often have a last minute cramming situation happen and I think that is because I know now what I need to get things done and so I give myself that time.
I guess I’m not really a procrastinator. For me procrastinating will be waiting longer than I normally would to start something, but I am still going to give myself plenty of extra days for padding and I turn work in early, a lot. I turned my book in like a month early. There is always some back and forth and I find it helpful to give everyone else extra time, too. It is just better when you don't rush stuff, it is better to have time to let things sit and then come back with fresh eyes. I think it can help when everyone can breathe.
A lot of the time I can sort of ideate in the back of my head when I’m doing other things so the actual execution of my work is usually pretty straightforward because I’ll have a strong sense of what it is going to be.
Sometimes I'm really sitting with things and thinking about the right words, and other times I will have a vague sense of an idea and I will start writing first. Sometimes you just start writing and you see where you end up.
Sometimes I’m working late, sometimes it will be five o’clock and I decide to go watch a bunch of TV on my laptop. It's so sad I just go from this room to that room and oh I’m looking at another screen but this is my relaxing screen.
I eat meals, I have friends, I do things, but I am definitely not the New Yorker who is going to fancy parties or events or staying up late on the weekends. It really depends on the week – some weeks I’m super social, but I'll see friends maybe twice a week and I live with my best friend, so I see him every day.
I will sometimes have friend FOMO when see on Instagram that friends are all at the same thing or a bunch of your friends hanging out. You're like, oh, I wanted to go sit on her couch and do nothing like that they are! Sometimes I think I really do want that and I need that and then there are times when I just want to be doing what I’m doing and get through it.
Other times even if you've had a successful or productive seven or eight hour day you have computer eye glaze and you're kind of brain dead and you know if you went out you'd be no fun anyway so you just don't.
My work has been my hobby for ten years and it's only the last two years that I've been doing this full time, so I kind of need a new hobby. I think it would be healthy to have some more diverse interests and experiences.
Sometimes Mitchell and I will cook together, sometimes we will pick up food, or there are a lot of restaurants around here, so sometimes we will hop out and get something.
Later in the evening
A regular workday might be six hours or it might be twelve. When you get in that sweet spot, you don't want to break it and so sometimes I can be on my computer until midnight and not realise.
I usually shower at night – there is nothing more relaxing. I will shower in the morning if I feel like a zombie and really need to wake up, but often it is at night time to chill out. We have two different soaps – a lavender which is great for putting yourself to sleep and a eucalyptus to wake you up, we are ridiculous. My fiancé Mitchell is responsible for all the plants and that sort of thing, he is very in touch with his body and mind and spirituality and has an influence on me because I'm crazy! I'm a crazy person!
I'm often in bed by ten-thirty, but then I’m on my phone for an hour and a half. I’m on twitter a lot, I tweet dumb jokes and bullshit but I also read a lot of news. I follow a lot of journalists and people that I think are smarter than me, so if they are retweeting an essay on whatever website or some journalists take on current events I will just be in bed reading all of that.
DAY OFF ROUTINE
Of course there are still days when I take a three-hour nap – we all have those days when we realise nope, nothing, nothing is happening. It’s a few emails and that's it. I probably have one lazy day a week where I have things to get done and I’ll maybe work for an hour or two and then I'll go and play Candy Crush on my phone for two hours.
I don't really have weekends – that's not because I don't have the time, it's just because my life is not structured that way. Sometimes Wednesday is my weekend. Though usually Saturday or Sunday I will spend the day with Mitchell and we will do something or just sleep in and watch tv. He is a good grounding force for me that way.
“There are harder periods in our life that where the only out is through. You don't always have a miraculous 180-degree recovery, you just learn to be who you are now. It’s like if you lose a limb, you don't grow a limb back, you adapt, you will process life better soon, and you will come to terms with your changes and learn to have that be your new normal."
– Adam J. Kurtz