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Adam J. Kurtz and Tuesday Bassen: The Double Interview

Adam J. Kurtz—also known as ADAMJK (which is the name of his product line)—is an award-winning designer, artist, author, and creator-of-all-sorts-of-stuff, much of which features advice and inspiration for creative types. His third book, Things Are What You Make of Them, will be released in October 2017. Tuesday Bassen is an award-winning illustrator, designer, art director, and creator-of-all-sorts-of-stuff. She recently released a clothing line inspired by her grandmothers. For a while now, Tuesday and Adam have been on our list of “people we’d like to interview.” Then we found out that they’re best friends, so we thought, “Why not save ourselves some work and just have them interview each other?” We put them in a room with an audio recorder—the result is a conversation that addresses topics both personal and professional, as well as the very wide space where, for them, the personal and professional overlap.

BEING A PERSON-SLASH-ARTIST-SLASH-BUSINESS

Adam: Hello and welcome to “We’re Having a Conversation”! Do you want to say hi?

Tuesday: Hi!

Adam: So, we’re here at the Line Hotel in Los Angeles, and we have a few topics that we’re going to talk about—and we’re talking about this stuff because it’s our life. We actually had to put a pin in some of these topics and then wait until we were recording. And I think that’s really a product of the fact that we’re both people who have made brands out of our personas and our personal work, so as a result, when someone says, “How are you?” it’s almost impossible not to—

Tuesday: Yes, it’s impossible to separate business from that and not be, like, “Aaaah, I’m terrible; my whatever is late!” or “This contract got canceled!” or “I'm doing great, because all of Adam’s books got put online.”

Kurtz’s third book, Things Are What You Make of Them, is a handwritten book of essays that offer advice and empathy, from one working artist to others.

Adam: Right. In my mind, I don’t even feel like I’m talking about business when I’m talking about that stuff—I don’t have another job, so my day was literally about “I got an amazing email” or “I had to solve this problem.”

Tuesday: It’s so intrinsically personal, no matter what.

Adam: It’s weird, though. I feel guilt sometimes. I worry that it either sounds like I’m massively complaining or hugely bragging.

Tuesday: It’s very socially limiting, too, because the problems are very specific. So I feel like I end up just having to call you or another friend in a similar situation. Otherwise, it just sounds so dumb and so boring. But maybe we are just dumb and boring!

Adam: I would agree that I’m a dumb and boring person. But you—I don’t think you’re dumb, but I do think you’re boring.

Tuesday: It’s true; I’m boring.

Adam: I love when people talk to me about you; they’re like, “I can’t believe you’re friends with Tuesday Bassen; what is she like?” And I say, “Exactly what you think she’s like. She’s getting her nails done, and she’s eating cute stuff, and then she’s shipping a shit-ton of jackets.”

Tuesday: There’s no time to be interesting. I have responsibilities!

Adam: It’s weird to be your own business because you’re always on. You’re always at work; you’re always on call. And then when you’re your own business and you have all the tools  to be making stuff or doing stuff, any time you’re not doing that, you’re like, “Ugh, I really should be doing something!”

Tuesday: That’s how I feel all the time! I’ve been trying to “set personal boundaries”— like having a day off where I don’t do any work stuff—but then it always creeps back around, and I feel guilty for not doing it anyway.

A sampling of the wisdom shared in Kurtz’s Things Are What You Make of Them.

Adam: And sometimes it’s not even that I feel guilty. Sometimes I’m really excited. I see on my phone that I get an email, and I want to jump into it because I’m so pumped, and that doesn’t feel like work. I think, “Yes, I get to do this!” But then I step back and realize, well, actually that was work, and I guess I have technically worked every single day for the last two years, oops.

Tuesday: But then I think it’s kind of fun, too, because we’re both so excited about what we’re doing…. Business does become so personal, and it is fun to share that. But it’s exhausting to be on all the time, even if you personally feel like you’re doing what you want to be doing.

Adam: I feel like I have accidentally slipped into this space where a very large percentage of my friends is similar. Our creative networks are pretty much made up of of the same sort of artist-slash-business or person-slash–whatever the thing is that they do—and sometimes you forget that other people aren’t like that.

Tuesday: I feel like it has damaged some of my non-person-slash-business friendships. I think it becomes frustrating for them to interact with me when I’m constantly mixing my personal life and my business life, and I think that can be really alienating for people.

Clothing designs from Bassen’s fall 2017 line, available on Shop Tuesday.

Adam: I think that’s true. I mean, you and I have been eating breakfast and then one of us gets an email, and immediately in the middle of a conversation we start talking about the cool email we just got.

Tuesday: But I like doing that with you. I feel like that’s how we operate. But then with other people, they’re like, “What the fuck are you doing? You literally just answered an email while I was talking.” But I wouldn’t expect anything less. I would prefer to hear about an email that you’re excited about.

Adam: That’s part of the fun of having friends who innately get your weird, crazy, always-on thing, is that you have the freedom to be a trash-monster.

Bassen and Kurtz (self-portrait).

Tuesday: We do enable each other.

Adam: In a gross way.

Tuesday: Is it gross, though? I feel like it helps me feel more sane.

Adam: It’s good for us. I think it would be gross to people who didn’t know…but that’s true of every friendship. Some best friends have, like, a secret language of girl talk, and we have a secret language of overseas production.

Tuesday: “Oh no, my factory messed up 50 jackets; I don’t know what to do!”

Adam: “Ugh, I need to over-order because Chinese New Year is coming”—that’s too real. I hate this.

Tuesday: Yeah, this conversation is no longer fun for everybody else.

Adam: We’re being boring again.

NEW PROJECTS

Adam: So Let’s talk about our new projects because, of course, we want to not-so-casually mention them. But also I feel like you and I are people who really thrive on like always having a new thing

Tuesday: Totally.

Adam: So you just dropped a whole new line of clothing around a specific theme. Which, OK—can we start from the top? You started a line of clothing partially inspired by your lesbian grandmas.

Tuesday: Yes.

Adam: Which is, one, so specific, and, two, so specifically cool. Other illustrators and designers drop T-shirts and so on, but you really started from scratch with jackets and well-thought-out apparel and accessories that not only look cool but also are made to fit actual human women.

Sweatshirt design from Bassen’s fall 2017 line.

Tuesday: It’s interesting because in some ways I think the line is really accessible, because it’s T-shirts and sweatshirts and coach jackets, which are a unisex fit, but in other ways it’s very specific—with slogans like “Happiness is owning a chainsaw.”

Adam: I love that one so much.

Tuesday: Women’s sport socks…I wouldn’t even say that they’re niche interests, but it’s definitely not a pizza rolls T-shirt or whatever. And the line is very dear to me. My grandmas basically raised me, and I think I owe a lot of my aesthetic sensibilities to them. It’s like a combination of a Birkenstock and a comic book. So I really wanted to pay tribute to them through one specific jacket—I mean, it’s through all of this stuff, the socks, the T-shirts, and the sweatshirts. But this coach jacket has the year they met on it, the lake they have their cabin on, the hall they play bingo and poker at…it’s a poker-themed jacket, and it’s very specific to their relationship, and I feel like it’s a lot more special when you can infuse meaning into what you’re doing instead of chasing a trend.

Adam: That’s a very good point about what you do, because your work is very rooted in contemporary cultural trends—you’re very, for lack of a better word, cool. We know that bigger brands look to your work to see what’s going to be hot next year. You are the queen of the mood board for a lot of people. But whereas it’s easy to go to some store and find, for instance, a sweatshirt that has a made-up high school name or an arbitrary year, you’ve made a jacket that has a reason to it. You didn’t just pick a cute number; it’s not just “Wildcats.” And it’s interesting to think that people who don’t even know the story are wearing this garment that was made with such intentionality…. This is the reason to buy clothing from independent female designers—this was made because of women, by women, and for women, and that matters more than—

Tuesday: Any sort of trend forecasting.

Clothing designs from Bassen’s fall 2017 line, available on Shop Tuesday.

Adam: I think what’s interesting about Tuesday Bassen and Shop Tuesday specifically is that there are a lot of really awesome and cool brands that are very small, but your brand is you. There’s something extra special about buying something from Tuesday Bassen because you’re buying this from an actual woman named Tuesday Bassen. The art is yours, the designs are yours, the packaging is yours, it’s shipping from your store—it’s all you.

Tuesday: It’s all extremely personal, right.

Adam: You can see that. It’s not like supporting a cool small brand; it’s like supporting a cool small person.

Tuesday: Medium person.

Adam: Yes, medium person—not to imply—

Tuesday: I mean, it is a really small brand

Adam: But it’s so personal is what I meant by “small.” We’ve been friends since before either of us was where we are now, and we’ve always been this.

Tuesday: What I think is interesting is that when you and I met, we were both making work that was very personal and then putting it out on social media because we have this need and impulse to share and make work that is intrinsically us. And I think it’s really interesting that we’ve kind of split off into two different directions, whereas before we were presenting our work similarly, and we both went into accessories, now we’ve splintered, with me doing more clothing that’s inspired by illustrations and you doing full books and stationery lines, and I think that’s really interesting and exciting that we both get to do something that is so specific to our output, and really valuable in different ways. And, so, your new book is coming out really soon.

Adam: It is. It comes out so soon.

Tuesday: Are you dying?

Adam: Yes. I am dying. This will be my last interview. Please play this recording at my funeral.

Tuesday: And this book is going to be a little bit different from your other ones because it’s less of a workbook.

Adam: It’s 100 percent not a workbook. People who are used to my books are used to me taking lessons and ideas about what helps me get through life, and making them interactive, or turning them into tools in some way. And this time I’ve connected the dots all the way for people, with 13 essays—with the same insight and inspiration and backhanded optimism and my way of distilling my experience into actionable lessons. Something that I learned from social media is that people were sharing the pages of my first two books that just had writing on them, almost more than pages that they had filled in themselves…. I said, “OK, well, I have more to say, so I might as well do it.”

Kurtz’s new book, explained.

Tuesday: It’s interesting because all the pages are perforated, so it’s like a literal sharing instead of sharing an idea online. There is something so personal about a handwritten note…. I think both of your other books were very true to you, but to my mind this book is such a return to form for you.

Adam: I feel like that’s true. In the case of this book, I realized I’d already written most of it. I’ve been sharing it in different forms—the book kind of made itself. I mean, it didn’t make itself at all, but it sort of did, in that chapters were written over two years. It wasn’t like I just sat down, picked a bunch of topics, and just wrote them. It was more like living as an independent working creative in real time and very carefully compiling lessons as they were learned.

Tuesday: It’s like a reflection of you. You are so good at dissecting any situation and looking at it from a logical standpoint—like, maybe it took you a second to get there, because we’re both insanely neurotic, but I think it’s really interesting and beautiful that you waited until you felt as though you could really pick it apart for yourself.

Adam: Yeah, the book’s content is me, and as an object it’s me: it’s pocket-size, and it has postcard-size tear-outs

Tuesday: You’re pocket-size?

Adam: I’m not pocket-size, but I love small stuff. And I hate carrying shit around. This book is so me, and it’s a fucking rainbow, which I love, and I have been patient…. Penguin wanted it to come out in August, and I had them push it two more months. Which is wild because I’m not a patient person.

Tuesday: Why did you have them push it two months?

Adam: I think both of us really tie our happiness to keeping busy and to always creating new work, and in this particular case I thought it had been long enough since my last project for me, but not for everyone else. I felt like people needed to catch their breath, they needed time to get excited about new stuff, and they needed time to digest.

Home and gift items designed by Kurtz.  

HOW PUTTING WORK ON INSTAGRAM IS LIKE PLAYING SQUASH

Tuesday: You raised a good point about tying happiness to business success.

Adam: Or to our productivity. There’s almost no line between Adam the person and Adam the brand, which is why the brand feels authentic. But that also kicks me in the ass…. I mean, that’s an artist thing—we communicate either to ourselves or to others by making or doing visual things. We transmute emotion into stuff. It’s why some people go to the gym—like, my great aunt like loves to play squash—

Tuesday: Yeah, this is our squash.

Postcard designed by Kurtz.

Adam: My squash is very literally writing how I feel and putting it on Instagram, and then you get like that tiny dopamine rush and you feel better for a minute.

Tuesday: It’s interesting because I feel like there have been times when my body is telling me that I need to stop working in this way or communicating with people in this way, that it feels disingenuous. But there’s another part of my brain that says no, says that this is working—and I want to hold on to it so desperately…. We’re talking about essentially having your happiness hinge on whether or not people are receiving your work well, but I feel like I sometimes let that get in the way of new work, new output, or trying new things.

Adam: Right, when you tie your happiness to professional successes, whether it’s the success of making something new or just getting 5,000 likes on a piece of art, it’s so hard to let go of that because you want those benchmarks. I feel like the Internet almost gives us immediate feedback, and sometimes we get stuck feeling like we rely on that, when the reality is that we create our own happiness not by sharing work but by making things that make us feel better, whether that is a different piece of work or something like cooking. Sometimes I sit down and I’m like, “What do normal people do to feel good?”

Tuesday: Totally.

Adam: I’m probably not going to play squash every time I’m mad like my great aunt, but maybe I’ll go for a walk or have a nice date with my boyfriend. Sometimes I ask myself, “How do you be normal?” I don’t always know the answer.

Pin designed by Bassen.  

Tuesday: I bought a fixer-upper house last year, which was a super big deal for me…and I’ve been trying to do a lot of fix-it stuff around the house, as a different way of achieving self-satisfaction. And I’m hoping that will help me re-center my art practice, too, to feel something that is intrinsically satisfying for me.

Adam: That’s one way to find new inspiration, is to live more things for yourself and have these new kinds of experiences of “Oh, wow, I knew I was good with a brush and ink, but I’m also actually really good with power tools. Surprise, I have these skills I didn’t know about. Now how can I take that experience and bring it back to the other skills—how can I combine all my powers into one?”

FRIENDS THROUGH THICK AND THIN

Tuesday: It’s kind of amazing that we’re still friends.

Adam: I don’t even think so.

Tuesday: We’ve been through so much and we’ve stayed on the same page with each other is what I mean.

Adam: I think we are great motivating forces for each other and we’ve both accomplished so much over the last three or four years. We’ve both seen each other through so many ups and downs and different hardships.

Tuesday: Right.

Adam: First it was normal single-person stuff or relationship stuff, and then through weirder stuff.

Tuesday: Like lawsuits.

Adam: Creative professional issues. It’s so weird to grow at the same pace with someone. And I feel just crazy proud of everything that you’ve done, and seeing where you are now is so cool. You mentioned before that there was a moment when your work and my work were much more closely aligned. I feel like there was this pin moment, and we were very early on that trend, in the beginning of 2015, and for a minute people lumped us together in that way.

Illustration by Bassen.

Tuesday: But our work has always been so different.

Adam: Well, people just know we’re friends.…I'm so curious about where we’re headed. Having seen what we’ve accomplished thus far—what do we do next?

Tuesday: Do you have anything new coming up that I don’t know about?

Adam: You know, what I have coming up is the absence of a new project.

Tuesday: Is that exciting or is that terrifying?

Adam: I actually told Penguin that I don’t want to make any new books until 2019.  Which for someone who has had three books in three years—

Tuesday: That’s impressive that you were able to say no.

Adam: Yes, because it’s money, and I can always use money, and I’m getting married, and I’m not really in a position to say no to money or work. I'm not so financially stable that I can afford to do that. But from a creative perspective, I needed to sit tight and to ruminate on what I’ve made. I’m very excited to just take stock of what I’ve made and let that breathe. So I'm touring for the new book, and I’m speaking at some events and conferences…. I have this pipe dream of doing—not a conference, because I think there are too many conferences—a sort of retreat. I don’t want it to be an “uplift and inspire” entrepreneurship retreat. I want it to be a “sit down and shut the fuck up” retreat. Like, “Everyone, be quiet; we’re making marshmallows now.”

Tuesday: I’d be down.

Adam: It would be like an intervention. It wouldn’t be inspiration; it would be intervention.

Tuesday: You need to relax! Let’s do it.

Adam: I really am excited about learning from others and sharing what I know. So I do hope that in 2018 I can do more readings and more community engagement stuff, and make some more friends—I’m not going to replace you!

Tuesday: I’m not worried about it; you could never replace me.

Adam: I can actually only handle one Tuesday Bassen.

Tuesday: It’s a lot.

Adam: So what are you going to do next? I feel like you could do anything.

Tuesday: I am someone who always wants to have something new, but I’m excited about clothes, and ultimately right now I feel like I just want to fine-tune making clothing so that I’m making it as ethically and mindfully as possible. I’m such a newbie to the fashion world that I really want to take the time to fine-tune the practice and better understand my voice in the fashion world. I’ve definitely made rookie mistakes in the year that I’ve been making clothing, and it has only been a year, which is nuts.

Adam: It feels like three years.

Tuesday: It feels so long, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had 80 gray hairs already.

Adam: Your hair is a special kind of blond where you would never know.

Tuesday: You would never see it until it was just fully gray.

Adam: You’re going to be so beautiful with gray hair.

Tuesday: Aw! Thank you.

Adam: Yeah, you’re going to be extra cool. Should we just bleach our hair?

Tuesday: Yeah, let’s dye it right now!

 

Editor’s note: We don’t think that Tuesday and Adam actually dyed their hair after this conversation—but you never know. The best way to keep up with their new projects and potential hair-color changes is to engage with them on social media platforms.