Adam lives in New York City and makes his own line of products and art, from pins and balloons to his wildly successful books. We collaborated with him recently on a product for the Big Cartel Shop, and this felt like a great time to take a minute to share more about Adam and his work.
You’ve run multiple successful Kickstarters for your Unsolicited Advice Weekly Planner, but also have a huge social media following. And now you have a book deal for Pick Me Up. Obviously the path wasn’t that straightforward, but how has putting your work out there in different ways has been an important part to your process?
Making the first book, 1 Page at a Time, gave me a cornerstone that helped new people find my work and figure out what I’m all about. I have been sharing personal projects and figuring out my voice for a long time, but the book helped people digest it all easier. I keep going, so this new book Pick Me Up is a big part of that. My work is truly, actually personal. It’s just how I interact with the world - being able to share honestly matters, and people being able to see for themselves that I’m a real person who means all the things he says makes the difference. You don’t need to know me at all to enjoy these journals, the annual weekly planners or the humor of my projects, but it helps.
You made a lot of your work while keeping a day job - what was it like balancing the two while refining your style? When did you know it was time to do your own thing full time?
“Day job” is almost a misnomer. Since moving to New York I’ve had two “dream jobs” that many people would be completely satisfied by. Working at a very cool ad agency with industry legends, working at a website like BuzzFeed, that could have been enough. But I wasn’t ever going to stop being myself, and for me, that means making lots of little personal projects. They came from different parts of my mind, but new ideas and technical skills I picked up at work informed new personal things I was making. Finding my voice but then also keeping it broad enough for others to find themselves in, that’s really what advertising is all about. As for creating social media content, it doesn’t get much more hands-on than working at arguably the biggest and most successful website doing that, no matter how much or little of the website you care for.
Was there a specific moment when you felt like you’d found your style and voice?
I’ll let you know if that ever happens.
As your work gets more attention, has that impacted your approach at all? Do you ever feel more (or less) hesitant to put your work out there?
I’ve been posting on Tumblr for 10 years. I have been doing this thing, oversharing, turning feelings into graphics, talking out into the universe for a long time. Not much has changed, and it was the early years that taught me how to be honest but also not give everything away to the point where I feel fully dependent on internet response as the motivation.
I have a good grip on what is too much or too little, I think.
You keep your products updated and aren’t afraid to retire something after awhile. How’s that helpful when trying to keep things fresh?
For me, my online shop is still a single larger project that explores how and why we gift things. The “ADAMJK GIFT SHOP” is all about trying to make communication aids that speak to people with one or more messages.
I’m happy to be earning a profit that lets me make more things, but the goal has never been to get rich making balloons and pins. If it were, I might make even simpler, digestible work. I might keep selling stuff that people like even when I don’t like it anymore. I’m not doing that.
What led you to write Pick Me Up?
Pick Me Up is me taking a step back, analyzing my life since my first journal, and realizing that having coping mechanisms and understanding more about yourself doesn’t mean your problems go away. I needed to take my own advice: Drink more water, sleep properly, try yoga, try breathing. I don’t always do those things. Pick Me Up is about reminding yourself what you need and then forcing yourself to read your own advice over and over again so you have no excuses. It’s also a further step in the direction of my weird humor and that voice I’m sharing in the smaller projects, tweets, and posts.
I’m glad Penguin trusted me to make what I wanted to see, and because they handle the publishing and distribution, you can find both books at major bookstores and all the usual online retailers. I pulled some shopping links together at pickmeup.adamjk.com or you can just go straight to Amazon if you want. It’s $10-15 depending on where you buy it.
With a publisher supporting you and giving you access to resources, has that changed your process for writing, designing, and promoting your work? Is that any different with Pick Me Up than it was with 1 Page at a Time? (Or as Sarah wants to know: Does it feel differently now that people take you seriously?)
Penguin publishes a lot of books and they’ve given me as much money for promotion this time as they did last time. The events I’m doing to celebrate are entirely self-directed. I am lucky to have some more resources, and I also learned then about what I don’t care to do now. I am not trying to overextend myself this time. But really, book tours and events aren’t about selling books. That battle is won online. It’s just a fun excuse to celebrate, to get friends and inspiring people together to speak or read or share in person, and to feel a tiny bit important. But again, there are a lot of books in the world. People are not taking me much more seriously than they ever have. I’m still an idiot.
Is there a particular project or type of product you’d love to work on, but haven’t had the chance to do yet?
I can’t really think about what I haven’t done yet that I’d like to. I think maybe a larger scale mural in some cool company’s office somewhere. Seems possible enough with how many media and tech and fashion companies are in this city.
What was it like the first time to see your book translated into another language?
Super weird but also very exciting. The dream is to help maybe one person and the odds increase when I can reach people in a language I don’t even understand myself.
Your work has been featured by a lot of great publications, and you’ve collaborated with a ton of cool people and companies. Is that something you seek out? Or is there any advice you have for someone hoping to get some attention or partner up for their work?
I do seek to work with people I really like, and sometimes that genuine enthusiasm leads to fun projects. But I also just don’t take no for an answer. We have all the tools we need to make what we want to make. The internet is an unending resource for production, printing, sharing, and building. You can do anything you want.