The Shop Blog
A Chat with Adam J. Kurtz aka ADAMJK March 18 2016
Adam J. Kurtz is possibly one of the more well-known “small artists” we carry at Strange Ways. You might have seen his book 1 Page At A Time, or bought some the products he released in collaboration with Urban Outfitters. His commentary on modern appropriation by referencing Joy Divison's “Unknown Pleasures” artwork is still being shared around the internet today. In fact, you may have seen much of Adam's work online, as he's amassed a large social media following. This is probably because he's able to add emotion back into everyday life. His simple, yet insightful drawings bring a human touch to online media which can feel forced, fake, and unfulfilling.
Adam is one of the few artists we've carried from the beginning of Strange Ways, and he still has a presence at our shop today—larger even. It's been great to watch his career grow, and appreciate him taking a chance on our little shop when we first began. Adam is a friend, and I'm happy to be able to talk with him more about his background and insight into the art he makes.
Let's just dive right into it and discuss how you began creating your artwork. What was some of your earliest pieces and inspirations?
I don’t know that I had early “pieces” necessarily. My “art practice” was born out of a hobby, I was never intentionally building anything until people started calling me an artist and then I was growing a “body of work” and then I had a book and then I turned real. But I’ve always really enjoyed bright colors and simple shapes. That’s a sort of visceral childhood thing, right?
Your work can seem both hopeful and sad at the same time. What inspires you, and what are you hoping people take away from your work?
My work is really personal. It’s usually actual emotions or feelings or events that I’ve experienced, translated into something a little more universal or digestible. I am hopeful and sad at the same time! I am sappy as fuck. I am afraid of myself. I am proud of some things that other people aren’t proud of. So I cover a range.
“Oh, I am definitely a graphic designer.
But ‘artist’ encapsulates so much more
of all the other things I do, too.”
A lot of what you create are tangible objects. In many ways they are “useful” items—or “small gifts” as you've stated you enjoy. What's the idea behind art in this type of medium?
Not everyone is, or can be, an art collector. Some people just like nice things that they like. So I try to make work for those people. You can’t necessarily buy a bunch of $500 prints, but you can treat yourself to a $10 pin, or gift a couple to friends. It’s all about making things affordable and easy to collect. I’m also not a huge fan of owning too much “stuff,” so I gravitate to little things.
On a related note, do you ever consider yourself a designer versus an artist? Do you consider there to be a difference? It seems nowadays that the lines between the two slowly blurring.
Oh, I mean I am definitely a graphic designer. But “artist” encapsulates so much more of all the other things I do, too. I’m sort of an “illustrator” and kind of a “product designer” and slightly a “brand” and it just all wraps up nicely in “artist.” I channel feeling into something else. I think that’s art probably.
An assortment of popular lapel pins designed by Adam J. Kurtz.
One of your more popular projects is the Unsolicited Advice planner that you crowdfund each year. Can you talk a bit about them, and why you think people are willing to invest in them every year?
Unsolicited Advice is another example of accessible, digestible art. I love zines, but you read them from time to time and then put them on your shelf. The planner has some zine-like elements, a fun and DIY spirit that feels personal and small-scale, but a practical purpose that serves you daily. It’s also just a fun, nice thing. If you’re going to use a calendar it might as well be one that makes you laugh!
Correct me if I'm wrong, but these planners influenced your first book backed by a major publisher. How did the planners and your other work inspire 1 Page at a Time?
The planners have a lot of weird little surprises, and tiny nagging reminders to help you get your shit together. When I first met with my publisher at Penguin, she told me she loved all of that good stuff, and knew it could be expanded into a standalone book. 1 Page at a Time embodies a lot of my ideas about life and how to live it, but is also weird and surprising. It’s simple enough to not be overwhelming, and like the calendars, it becomes whatever you make of it as the year goes on.
I assume creating items that allow the viewer to interact with them is something you enjoy. Your books ask the readers to draw in them, write down answers, and express themselves. What do you appreciate about this type of interaction?
When you make work about life and feelings and introspective thinking, it can’t be a monologue. I can’t tell someone how to process their world. Our experiences are not the same. “Self-help” is kind of a misnomer. Self-help books are more like “I tell you what to do” books. When you instead choose to interact with a book, write down your own feelings, and process them as a whole, then you are truly helping your self.
You've been invited to have an event at MoMA, you've worked at Buzzfeed, you created a shirt for Tumblr plus exclusive product for Urban Outfitters... Any insight into working those big name connections? How did most of these partnerships come about?
Every single situation is different, and I don’t know if there’s a “life hack” to making cool opportunities like these happen. BuzzFeed was a day job, and I applied for it the same way you apply for any job. I uploaded a resume to a website.
I think one thing that does seem to work sometimes is being genuine. Your honest enthusiasm for a brand or a project is palpable, and some of the coolest opportunities I’ve had simply came out of being excited in a casual conversation.
Other opportunities are flukes. My book editor found me through my personal projects. MoMA invited me because my book is a top seller… I didn’t even know they carried it there. Life is unpredictable and sometimes coincidences line up.
You now live in Brooklyn, NY but you're originally from Canada. Was the move to NYC a part of pursuing the Big City dream of being a “true artist”?
I was actually living in Baltimore after college, and was in a little bit of a rut. A friend got a job offer in New York and randomly asked if I wanted to move up with him. I kind of wasn’t doing too much else, and worked remotely for a marketing firm. I said yes and moved three months later. It was only a 3 hour drive, we just threw our shit in a truck and I’m still here.
You're a popular guy on Instagram and other social media outlets. Do you find online interaction a key part of your work?
To be honest, I am not sure my whole thing would work without the internet. So much of my simplest work relies on human connection, whether implicit in the words, implied in the style, or tied to me: a real, live, open, human person.
How did your moniker and online handle ADAMJK come about? I think it's pretty obvious, but it seems like many people know you by this nickname more than your full artist name.
I’ve gone by Adam J. Kurtz since grade school and I don’t know exactly why. People were calling me ADAMJK before I was, it just makes sense the way we find variations of our names for usernames. It started a little earlier on the internet, before our full names were attached to everything. It was definitely me, but afforded a tiny amount of anonynimity.
For the past month or so you've taken a break from selling your art (which we've happily worked with you to sell many of your items in our shop during this time). You've been working on finishing your second book to be published by Penguin. Can you say how this will different from your other books, and possible your other work in general?
At this point, it’s actually been three months! Three glorious, amazing months of not processing daily orders. I love having a shop and sending work directly from my hands to someone else’s, but it is time consuming, and I did really need that time for this new book.
PICK ME UP: A Pep Talk For Now & Later is similar to 1 Page at a Time in that it’s an interactive book that I made. Everything else is pretty much different. This time, it’s not linear at all, and pages don’t end after you write on them, but rather build over time so you can see how you grow, and take your own advice when you’re losing your shit.
Most notably, this new book contains a lot more writing! It’s still very much about whoever is using it, but there is also general advice and reflection on life. It’s still very casual, and I don’t present myself as any kind of expert. I’m not telling you what to do ever, because I have no fucking clue either.
A lot your work revolves around phrases, bits of advice, and thoughts to ponder. Would you be so kind as to end our interview by leaving readers with one of these anecdotes?
NEVER GIVING UP IS HOW YOU WIN.
Up North in the scenic terrain of Canada lies a promising, emerging brand. Founded in 2012 in Vancouver, BC, Explorer's Press aims to help you personalize the everyday with a variety of tangible goods. Their pins, patches, keychains and more remind us to keep exploring, and have some fun along the way. By combining a vintage aesthetic with a modern flair, the designs feel current while tied to something timeless. It's a refreshing tone that's building Explorer's a strong following far beyond its mountainous homeland.
Strange Ways had an exclusive chat with the founder of Explorer's Press, Brendan Megannety.
Can you explain the history behind Explorer's Press? How did it come about?I was working as a screen printer in Toronto, making zines and shirts in my spare time, and I ended up doing a few patches just for fun. I was planning on having them to include with zines and trade with people, and they kind of just blew up. That's how Explorer’s started.
Do you have an artist background? Do you come up with the products mostly solo, or is a team involved?
I don’t have any formal training, but I’ve always drawn and painted pretty much since elementary school. I do all the art myself, unless its a collaborative piece which I’ve done a few of.
You're one of the top selling brands at Strange Ways, partly because of the popularity in flair like lapel pins and patches. I think you're one of the first brands I really took notice doing this. Can you speak to what influences you in making these?I’ve always collected patches since I was in Boy Scouts, there is something I really like about embroidery and how imperfect it is. I’ve also been in to lapel pins for a while. In Toronto, I used to always go down to this flea market on Sunday where there was this vendor that just had huge binders of lapel pins. I’d always grab 3 or 4 every Sunday. I like how simple they are.
“I’ve always collected patches. There is something I really like about embroidery and how imperfect it is.”
A lot of the mottos and imagery used in Explorer's Press relates to finding your way in what seems like the midst of a struggle, or being outcast. Is this a theme you actively try to inject into the product?
For Explorer’s my concept has always been to make things that I want to wear or use, and not cater to a theme or trend. I guess in that, the message varies depending on how I’m feeling or whats happening in my life. I think the brand is pretty loose and leaves me a lot of room to play around with concepts and ideas.
Being a self-taught artist and establishing your own company, would you say there is a sense of independence or self-discovery in what you do?I think that I learn a lot about myself from running Explorer’s Press. Running my own business has been a huge learning experience, as well as just pursuing a creative endeavour as a full time job. I’ve found that I need to have other creative outlets that are just for me alongside the brand, just to keep myself feeling fresh. I take art classes and practice different disciplines of art that have nothing to do with Explorer’s.
You're based out of Canada, a land full of scenic outdoors. Does this influence the “explorer” part of Explorer's Press?
Big time. I get outside as much as I can, and have been into camping and hiking since I was a kid.
What's up with Canada, anyway? There seems to be a lot of hip + edgy brands emerging from that region—something I'm going to call “Canadian Cool.” Is there something in the air when you go further North?
Less pollution, maybe! Or maybe the crippling winters make it easier to stay inside and design cool shit.
I suppose the simplicity and straight forwardness of design from the 80s and 90s is what draws me to stuff from that era. You thought you were a bad boy? You bought a t-shirt that said bad boy on it. I see that coming back a bit. I am really drawn to design from souvenirs from that era and even earlier. Pennants, pins, patches, matchbooks, fridge magnets and stuff like that.
You mention the aesthetic of Explorer's Press is nostalgic. What draws you to the past? Do you find there to be something missing about today's culture?
I don’t know if anything is missing from our culture—I just don’t really care about a lot of stuff that goes on. I just do my thing.
What's your goal with the brand? Where do you see it going in the near future?
Besides world domination, I’d like to get some in house cut and sew items going. I just want to keep having fun doing what I love!
Follow Strange Ways & Explorer's Press on Instagram
for a chance to win the prize package below!
1 People to Kill Sketchbook, 1 Headed Somewhere Keychain, 1 Knowledge Patch, 1 No Time For Anything Pin
- 2 CHANCES TO WIN -
Details announced this week on Instagram: @shopstrangeways + @explorerspress
An Interview (+ Giveaway!) with Artist Sara M. Lyons January 20 2015
Sara M. Lyons is an artist based out of southern California. Her doodle-like illustrations splashed in bright colors have a carefree attitude that give them a uniquely West Coast vibe. Strange Ways is stoked to carry items created by Ms. Lyons including our exclusive nail decal sets and Cry Now, Cry Later tee that was just released. Below she talks about her retro comic book inspirations, her obsession with Lindsay Lohan, and what it means to be a 'professional weirdo.'
Your style is very distinctive—the linework, colors and imagery you use all feel like your own voice. What do you get inspired by?
I pull inspiration from all over the place, but I can definitely trace my style back to my earliest influences, which were Betty & Veronica comics. I used to spend my allowance on Double Digests and could while away whole afternoons drawing my own characters in the Dan DeCarlo style. I also get a lot of inspiration from pop culture in general; both the mainstream and the fringe. John Waters movies, early punk rock, '90s cartoons, Toddlers & Tiaras, trashy tabloids, the girls' toy aisle—there's so much good stuff out there.
Your work can come across as both cute and dark. How do you mange to pull that off? Is that juxtaposition something you strive for?
It's not so much something I strive for as much as it's just who I am. I sometimes feel kind of at odds with myself because it can be hard to reconcile the part of me that collects Hello Kitty stuff with the part of me that knows all the words to GG Allin songs. I think I can't really help but let both of those sides out when I'm drawing.
You call yourself a “professional weirdo”—I take it you're proud of your off-beat tendencies?Yeah, I was a weird little kid and then I was a weird teen and now I'm a weird adult. There were times in my development when I wanted really badly not to be weird, and times when I was ostracized for my weirdness. So as an adult, to have been able to embrace it and make a living out of it, it's very gratifying.
How did you get involved in creating nail decals? Is it what most people know your work by?
I'd say yeah, my nail decals are probably the most popular thing I do. I started making them a few years ago because I already had all these cute little drawings that stood alone as icons, and I was friends with a lot of girls involved in the nail art community. Back then there weren't many options for nail decals with original artwork on them and I thought, “There has to be an easy way to transfer these drawings onto my nails.” I did a ton of research, tested out a lot of products, and figured out how to manufacture them from my apartment—the rest is kinda history.
Since then I've released a ton of new styles, and worked with a bunch of cool clients on custom and commissioned designs. I never meant to be a “nail decal designer,” and I still consider myself an artist first and foremost, so it's been a really fun and unexpected ride.
We must talk about Lindsay Lohan... You've created a zine on Lindsay Lohan, replaced Andre the Giant for her in your Shepard Fairey parody, illustrated an art piece based on her mugshots, and more. Why the fascination with Lilo?
I LOVE LILO. Lindsay has always stuck with me. We're about the same age, so I feel like she's been on the periphery of my consciousness for most of my life. I loved her in Mean Girls and was really fascinated and horrified by how her huge fame really affected her life. Watching her kind of downward trajectory was like... I wanted to help her out. I was kind of struggling myself at the time with my own issues, and I guess I could see myself in her. I just felt like I wanted to get her on my couch with a Golden Girls marathon and work it all out.
I still feel like that. There's something about her that's just very relatable to me in spite of how wildly bonkers her life is. I really want to be her BFF. My friend Jerry from Von Zos (through whom I released the “Fast Cars, Cheap Thrill” mugshot piece) jokes that “her people” have my name on a list somewhere, and if I ever try to get near her they're going to take me down. But I just love her. My Linds-centric work definitely has some irony to it, but there is no irony in my affection for her; it's truly genuine.
To an extent. It was probably one part Linds, one part my nostalgia for the '90s (Jawbreaker was a major favorite for my witchy friends and me in 9th grade. We would watch it over and over at slumber parties and sigh over Rose McGowan), and two parts general affection for that kind of neo-pinky-violence high school girl gang oeuvre. It was also kind of a reaction to the recent resurgence of interest in Clueless, which I always felt was a little overrated. Don't get me wrong, it's great, but it lacks the darkness of Heathers and Jawbreaker and even Mean Girls. And as someone who had kind of a shitty time in high school, the darkness is part of what interests me about reflecting on that stuff.
Did this obsession with Lindsay Lohan kickstart the inspiration for your “Social Hierarchy print” that features Mean Girls, Jawbreaker, and Heathers?
On Wednesdays do you wear pink? You don't seem to be afraid of pink...On Wednesdays I do indeed wear pink. I also wear pink on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays.
Your work has been featured in Nylon Magazine, Complex, refinery29, Urban Outfitters and more. How has press like this come about?
Honestly, I don't really do much self-promotion beyond using my own social media, so I'm always surprised and flattered whenever I get any press at all. But I think that if you're working really hard and making stuff that hasn't been done before, people will take notice.
Your work seems mostly product-based. Is there a certain aspect you enjoy about working with lifestyle products?I love that it makes my art accessible to everyone. Not everyone can afford an original piece or even a fine art print, but most people can afford a pack of nail decals or a pin or a postcard. Right now my drawings are literally at the fingertips of women all over the world, and that's really cool. The most satisfying thing about my work is how it connects me to people.
Any big plans for the near future? Your own brand? Gallery shows? Or just continuing to with what's been successful?
2015 is going to be pretty hectic, I think! Right now I'm finishing up a small body of work for a gallery show at Sally Centigrade in Denver. “Whatever Forever” opens on February 19th and will feature new work by Mandy Hazell and Betty Turbo, as well as myself. Fans should also download the PicCollage app if they don't have it already; I'll be releasing more new sticker sets with them this year. I'll continue to roll out new products in my own shop over the next few months—I'd love to expand into apparel this year and find a manufacturer for my nail decals to make them better than ever, but we'll see!
I also have a few exciting projects that I have to keep under wraps for now, but I promise y'all are going to be seeing me this year
Follow Strange Ways on Instagram for a chance to win!
Autographed “Social Hierarchy of the High School Female” art print
Signed by artist Sara M. Lyons + filmmaker Darren Stein (writer/director of Jawbreaker)!
Details announced this week on Instagram: @shopstrangeways
Linnea Quigley + Kenneth J. Hall Talk Horror Workout October 27 2014
Twenty-five years ago a horror writer and a horror star teamed up to make a spoof of their beloved genre. Kenneth J. Hall (Puppet Master, Critters) and Scream Queen Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Demons, Silent Night Deadly Night) created a send-up of two popular tropes at the time—fright films and exercise videos.
That video was Linnea Quigley's Horror Workout and until recently, it was owned only by the most devoted cult collectors. Found in old video collections, rabid fans would grab up copies at conventions and vintage stores. It was almost an urban legend of sorts to many people, but as video clips surfaced online it only spread current interest. Recently the video was released for the first time on DVD, along with brand new features, in a special edition run.
First things first: how did this crazy idea for a mash-up of fright films and exercise videos come about? Did it take convincing for anyone involved to actually get it made?
KH Dave DeCoteau (Creepozoids, Sorority Babes in the Slime Bowl-o-Rama) was doing pickups on a film called Murder Weapon at an insert stage in Hollywood. I dropped by and he was filming a shot of Linnea attacking someone with a (rubber) sledgehammer. To stay in frame her aim had to be precise, so the up and down movement looked very mechanical.
I joked that it looked like an exercise routine and said “We should do Linnea Quigley's Horror Workout.” Everyone laughed, but it wasn't long before I convinced Dave to produce it.
Part of the charm of the video is it's lo-fi, B-movie quality found with independent productions. Nowadays digital technology makes it easier to shoot and edit a video, but I imagine it wasn't that simple back then. How was the filming process?KH It actually was shot with state-of-the-art (at that time) Betacam equipment on a two day shoot. But shooting and editing old-school linear video was an absolute nightmare. Everything technical that could go wrong did. I go into detail about this on the commentary and interviews in the new release.
LQ I remember the second day all the sound was off on this huge bit I had to do, so we had to film it all over again.
One of the stars of the movie, besides Linnea, of course—is the hair and wardrobe on the actresses. Linnea, if you have still have that studded bra and underwear set I bet that would sell! And the 80s crimped hair, the nightgowns, cut-up tees... was this a personal style, a style of the time or was more thought put into it ?KH Linnea is better to answer this than I, but I do remember our makeup artist, Cindy Warren, not only was responsible for the big hair—but she was cutting the t-shirts as well.
I still have my studded bra, but I am attached to it! And I still have the belt and bottoms. You see that belt in a lot of movies.
Kenneth, what was the scriptwriting like? The film spoofs zombie films, slasher movies, exercise videos, slumber parties, and more. It's almost set up like vignettes. Was there a certain thought to the narration? Did you every think of making a feature length movie?KH The project was always conceived as a novelty video, so I never thought about making it a feature. I just wanted to make something fun that Linnea's fans would enjoy. Remember, it was still the 80s and most horror films had some degree of humor in them. It was very different from today, where these movies, in my opinion, take themselves far too seriously. Anyway, I liked writing comedy so the entire script was written in a matter of days.
Once we got into it, I realized that the exercise sequences would have to be long if the running time was going to hit 60 minutes. At one point, I suggested we cut it down to 30 minutes. The producers wanted to keep it at an hour, so that's the way it stayed.
How was the original video released to the public? Was it put out in theaters? Without the help of the internet, like in this modern era, how did you promote it?
In the case of the workout, there was never a question of theatrical because it was shot on video. Video did not play in movie theaters… period!
LQ I remember we did a lot of PR through Entertainment Tonight and E! channel too. It got out there that way to the public, then it kind of took on a life of its own.
Linnea, you've been titled the “Queen of Scream”—did you look at this video as sort of a “stamp of approval” to being an official (if not the ultimate) scream queen? Or was that status already achieved before filming?LQ I did it to do something fun; not to cement myself into “Scream Queen-dom”. That wasn't a thing back then. It became one a few years later—people wanting to become scream queens. However, I am glad to say Playboy just voted me “Sexiest Scream Queen of All Time” this month. So get your workouts in now while you can stay in shape! Haha.
Did you two ever think that 25 years later people would still be interested in a vintage horror workout video? What prompted you to put out a re-release on DVD?
KH We weren't looking to the future back then. Over the years since, the VHS has been in constant circulation and it's been bootlegged shamelessly, even on YouTube. I wanted to put out a better-quality version on DVD for a long time and was finally approached by some people to do so. They produced the extra features and went back to the original 1" tape master, which hadn't been opened since the 80s, to digitize it.
LQ No, never even thought there would be a 25 years later. I was really proud of it and that Ken and I had thought of this great idea, but didn't know who would buy it. It was in VHS format and I get a lot of people bringing the original up to me at conventions. Now we have the new DVD! It's good memories.
Some people even do it on their birthdays every year and I have pics to prove it! They'll have a cake of me... its very flattering! Guys and girls too.
Linnea, you seemed to step out of the spotlight a bit in the past decade. Now, your career is having a resurgence with doing more film work and classic movies you starred in like this one getting releases.LQ I am working, but the problem is I'm not in LA. My parents got sick and since I'm an only child I had to move back home to help. I miss LA like crazy where it is easier to get stuff going. I gotta get back there for more!
Any chance you two will team up again for a new feature? Linnea Quigley's Horror Workout: The Sequel?!LQ Yes, I'd team up with Ken to do another. It would be a lot of fun! This was so original, it would be hard to beat it, but I'd love to try.
KH I would love to work with Linnea again, though a sequel would hardly be my first choice. This was something we did for a laugh many years ago, and it's nice to know it's still remembered; with a new generation of fans discovering it.
On a side note, Linnea informed us she actually wrote and recorded a song with her band The Skirts called “Strange Ways”! A video for it was filmed as a part of Beverly Hills Girls.You can see the excerpt here.