“When you have a pencil and paper, you can do anything.”
Working in a creative industry means you’re more likely to be your own boss. If you’re lucky, you won’t have anyone to answer to — aside from the occasional clients, of course — but yourself. Recently, I found myself reading books like YouTuber Lilly Singh’s How To Be a Bawse and Walter Isaacson’s iconic biography about Steve Jobs to get that extra push.
Reading biographies by two highly functional and motivational people wasn’t in the plan, but I found myself gravitating towards their stories. When the opportunity to interview writer and illustrator Adam J. Kurtz came up, I knew I had to take it. Adam is known for his bestselling book 1 Page at a Time. Last year, he released Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives, which catalogues his experience working in the industry — and himself eventually — while writing a column for lifestyle blog Design*Sponge. From staying positive amidst failure to dealing with paperwork to working with friends and family, the book is full of advice for newcomers and seasoned creatives.
It’s not always easy; I can tell you that much. But seeing Adam’s handwritten words on perforated paper (yes, you can tear out pages from the book and give them to your other freelancer friends; they might need it) made me feel that I’m not alone. And in an industry where you are often your own worst boss and worst critic, we all need the help we can get.
We sat down with Adam hours before his book signing in National Book Store to talk about his measure for creative success, his favorite fonts… and fonts, fonts, fonts.
YOUNG STAR: How did you get started?
ADAM KURTZ: When I was 15 or 16 years old, I was building MySpace layouts and I actually got some freelance work doing that for bands. And I was like “Oh, I should study graphic design at university,” so I did. I learned how to apply that creative energy to different kinds of things. You realize that design is so broad and every industry needs design. When you have pencil and paper, you can do anything.
Do you have any favorite fonts? Aside from your own handwriting, of course.
I don’t really have any cool favorite fonts. I have a tendency to work with Franklin Gothic, which is, like, so boring. The reason is because it’s simple and boring. I use it for body copy. It was my university’s font and I work for the university marketing department. I just got so used to using it for whatever paragraph of text that I just continued using it in my invoices. (Laughs)
Have you ever tried creating a font out of your own handwriting?
I have a handwriting font. They use that in foreign translations of my books, and nothing else. My work is so simple. If I’m not even going to handwrite it, then where’s the effort? To me, that intangible, magical, personal quality comes through in handwriting even if you see it and you don’t realize.
Do you have a go-to phrase that you write to test new pens?
I don’t but I find myself writing the phrase “Now what?” many times and I have done many different versions. “Things are what you make of them” is my most important mantra, that’s why I call the book that and it appears on the back cover of 1 Page at a Time. I’m constantly thinking of that. Making the best of a situation and what you have at hand.
What is your measure of creative success?
Success varies so wildly by project, by person, by type of work. I think it’s up to each of us to define success each time and to continually redefine what success actually is. If you don’t have a clear vision of what your version of success is, then you’ll never know if you’re successful or not. For me, if I can help one person in the world somewhere, that’s pretty amazing. I’m not someone who’s super obsessed with legacy. One day I’ll die and I’ll be dead so who cares. But it’s cool to think that you can make something that can help someone communicate a feeling and can then trigger another conversation or action. It’s cool to think of the domino effect of your existence in the world. To me, that’s the kind of success that I’ve already achieved. I’ve already made something nice that some people like.
Check out Adam J. Kurtz’s book Things Are What You make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives in all National Book Store branches nationwide.