Brooklyn-based artist and designer Adam J Kurtz is launching his second book, “Pick Me Up: a Pep Talk for Now and Later” (the follow-up to “1 Page at a Time”), and it’s very much an activity guide for grown-ups. Not only are there spaces for drawing and writing poems, the majority of the pages are full of relatable modern-day anxieties and plenty of existential, dark humor. In light of the new release, we spoke with Kurtz about creating for himself, being a quasi-therapist for his audience, his process and what he hopes his words and art deliver to his readers.
Your author’s letter sounds like “Pick Me Up” was made partly for yourself—do you find that journalling, writing poetry, generally being creative and acknowledging your feelings on paper helps with your anxieties?
Everything I do is basically me talking to myself. When I was first making art it was just my way of coping and communicating with the world around me, and that hasn’t changed, I’ve just been given opportunities to share in a larger way. This new book is a personal journal that is funny and weird but also not afraid to get real.
“Pick Me Up” serves as a reminder that:
Knowing “the answers” isn’t enough.
“Expert advice” doesn’t necessarily apply to every single person the same way.
Life is actually kind of scary sometimes and admitting that to yourself does not make you weak.
The internet can be overwhelming, but it is nice to know you’re never fully alone.
Everything is a little bit hilarious.
Is the concept “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” true for you?
Oh my God, is it bad that I’ve never heard this phrase before?! It seems accurate though. I have a dark sense of humor that gets me through the dark parts and late nights and I think it’s good and healthy to find something to smile about even in the worst of times. I think some people would call that a silver lining? That said, I didn’t fill “Pick Me Up” with pure snark, because the book isn’t about me—it’s about you.
Can you tell us a little about your process when writing the book?
I knew that one of the things people love about my first journal, “1 Page at a Time,” is that it really becomes exactly what you make of it. But I also learned a lot by seeing how they were using that book via what they shared on social media (thousands of people have posted using the provided book hashtags) and tried to build on some of those things.
The funny thing about my book is that it is entirely written and drawn in messy pencil. That’s by design, so that you’re never afraid to write or draw because no matter what you do it’s going to be more beautiful than the book. But as a graphic designer, it was funny doing the rough draft in ink, then going backwards to pencil! I also laid the book out traditionally, building out my production files before handing it off. So it’s kind of misleadingly simple looking.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
I tried to capture a lot of the cautious optimism I feel in my own life. I’m not a #POSIVIBES kind of guy—that seems exhausting and dishonest. Instead, I find comfort in very realistic truths and backhanded compliments. It’s like if a jaded New Yorker did his own take on “mindfulness” (because that’s exactly what it is).
Have you seen anybody’s take on one of your pages that really stood out to you?
The first book is a bit lighter and open to interpretation and I was still really surprised by how honest and open people were in sharing their pages online. One of my favorites was this sort of Google search bar looking page, where I thought people would write in “what they’re searching for”—instead someone drew two hands holding each other. It was so fucking simple and I saw it on just the right day at the right time and it got me.
The community of people who share from the first book (and soon to be the second via #PickMeUpBook) really surprise me sometimes. I see people going through and making new friends and penpals. My ultimate dream is two people meet through their shared pages and fall in love and get married and have babies and live happily ever after.
Lead image by Cool Hunting, all others courtesy of Adam J Kurtz