Pick Me Up, Adam Kurtz

Journaling is a powerful way to capture our messy, muddy emotions and inner experiences. Because when we write about what’s happening inside our hearts and minds, we can process it. We can sit with it. We can make sense of it. Journaling creates a kind of tunnel that lets our emotions travel through. Which is why I often feature interactive journals here on Make a Mess. Interactive journals are one helpful, healthy tool among many in our coping collection.

This week the interactive journal Pick Me Up: A Pep Talk for Now and Later was published. It’s written by artist and author Adam J. Kurtz, and includes prompts such as: “Describe your mood in 1 word every time you visit this page,” “Apologize to yourself” and “What can you build with a small step now?”

I got to chat with Kurtz about everything from what inspired the book to how creating helps him navigate tough times to what he really wants others to know about creativity.

Q: What inspired you to create Pick Me Up?

A: Pick Me Up reflects my own growth since my first journal, 1 Page at a Time. Ultimately, we are responsible for ourselves, and all the “answers” and “expert advice” can’t help you if you don’t connect with it and take it yourself. This journal is a space for you to reflect on your own life lessons and give them a home so you can come back to them time and time again any time you pick up the book!

Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned while creating the book? 

A: Being honest is kind of terrifying!!!!!!!! It’s one thing when you are journaling for yourself, but sharing your own emotions, even just the more relatable ones in ways that are helpful and not scary, can still be nerve-wracking. I learned to be not just honest, but to be okay with that honesty.

Q: How has drawing or creating in general helped you through difficult times?

A: Both of my books combine traditional art therapy and mental health techniques with the humor and distraction that get me through my own life. I’m really just sharing what I learn as I learn it, which is why it doesn’t feel preachy or clinical. I’m not a therapist, I’m just a weird, nice guy trying to figure it out with you.

Q: What else do you turn to when you’re feeling bad or gives you a healthier perspective? 

A: Have you tried potato chips? Ice cream? Bread? Oh and cigarettes! I haven’t found enlightenment yet, so I still find myself turning to some of my vices when things get stressful or tough. My advice is to slowly trade your vices in for other ones. Switch liquor for beer then beer to soda then soda to kale juice. Switch nail biting to journaling. Success!

Q: What’s the biggest obstacle that stops you from creating or messes with your creativity? (For instance, for some people, it’s digital distractions or self-doubt or perfectionism). How do you navigate this obstacle? 

A: I actually think it’s really easy to share because in 2016 every website or app wants to suck us dry for “content.” That can be anything from party photos to how you feel today. I’ve had to learn to SLOW DOWN and SAVE SOME FEELINGS FOR YOURSELF. I can’t channel an emotion into a creative project if I’ve already tweeted the punchline and moved on.

I do find Twitter to be really distracting, because I hear my internal monologue in soundbites. I have to resist the urge to tweet things like “big things coming” and instead actually DO the big things.

Q: What’s one thing you really wish people knew about creativity? 

A: Creativity is not an exclusive club. Choosing what to wear or what order to stack a sandwich is creative. It makes me sad when people say they aren’t creative because I think that’s years of not being good at painting or drawing, and you know what? Me neither. Somehow I have two illustrated books on creativity. It’s not about technical skill, it’s not about being born with it, it’s just about making stuff and seeing what happens.


Adam J. Kurtz is a Brooklyn-based artist and author whose first book, 1 PAGE AT A TIME: A Daily Creative Companion, has been translated into 15 languages. In addition to personal work, he’s collaborated on products for retailers such as Urban Outfitters, Strand Bookstore, and Fishs Eddy, and made work for companies including Pepsi, Adobe and the New York Times. In 2016, he was named one of PRINT Magazine’s “15 Under 30” New Visual Artists.


How do you navigate tough times? Do you turn to certain types of art-making? Does it help you to create?