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Good Company Podcast #4: Adam JK

by Grace Bonney

The older I get, the more I long for conversations about life and work that embrace transparency, radical honesty and nuance. As the world of “content production” becomes more and more influenced by social media, we’ve seen the rough edges of real life polished down into perfect shiny bite-sized pieces of inspiration™ that are often lacking some of the reality so many of us crave. Thankfully, Adam JK is not interested in perfection, but in finding the beauty and connection that comes from embracing imperfection.

Last week I took the train down to Brooklyn to talk with Adam at his kitchen table about some pretty serious things that we don’t always get to talk about here: life, death, copying, crediting, the meaning of it all, and how we find hope in times when a lot of us are feeling unheard and devalued. Adam shared his thoughts on the power of honesty online, why it’s important to acknowledge life’s down moments in order to appreciate the moments when we’re feeling on top of the world, and how to understand and work with (and not against) the way our culture treats artists and anyone creating work online these days. This is a conversation you will not want to miss. I am going to be going back to this show for years to come when I need a dose of reality mixed in with some serious moments of laughter, honesty and hope. Thank so much to Adam for joining me on this week’s episode of the Good Company Podcast.

Check out Adam’s column at Design*Sponge here (which became this best-selling book of his!), his shop here, his social media, and all of his amazing books and journals here

*Thank you for listening! If you like the show, please consider rating and leaving a review on iTunes — it’s the most helpful thing listeners can do to support shows and help us get support on podcast platforms. To download a transcript version of the show, click here!


“I think my work is honest in that it reflects who I am as a human, and so it’s going to be sad, it’s going to be optimistic, it’s going to be happy, it’s going to be snarky, it’s going to be super fucking gay. It’s going to be all of those things.” (03:46)

“We’re told not to work for exposure, or we’re told, ‘Don’t work for that low rate, they’re taking advantage of you.’ We’ve also all been in a stage in our career where we knew a job was worth more than $200, but we needed $200 that week. I have absolutely in the past worked on projects for free because I needed that exposure, or I really wanted to make that thing, and I hadn’t done anything like it yet, and I knew that it would help position me where I wanted to go. Now I’m able to turn down projects like that, and I’m even able to school the client and be like, ‘Hey, you can’t ask me to work for exposure. That’s so bad, it’s a trope. You’re participating in a meme right now.’ I don’t fault anyone for doing jobs like that, because I mean, the world is hard, and it is hard to get paid as a creative, and you’ve got to make rent. That’s real.” (09:54)

“I think success is doing a thing that you love and being able to help other people, even if it’s one person. If I can positively impact someone, and give them that burst of encouragement when they’re 23 and they’re entering med school, and then that person goes on and saves a life, and the life they save goes on to raise a future president. You know what I mean? It’s a change. It’s human connections. It’s sort of like these bonds of love that connect all of us as people. I would love for that to be a legacy. I would love for my legacy to be I’ve made some creative journals, this book 1 Page at a Time, that is about sort of a daily creative prompt. I would love to, and I don’t need to know this, I don’t need to know, but I would love to, when I get to heaven, wherever you go, I would love to find out after the fact that somehow, some way, in some country in the world, my work kept someone from killing themselves, and that person went on to raise a family, to do some good. Those are the things that matter.” (13:37)

“We know that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. More followers or more money doesn’t mean less problems. If anything, like, I’m more damaged. What kind of healthy person shares their entire life on the internet for 14 years? That’s approval seeking. That is like textbook unhealthy behavior, and I’ve been doing it for over a decade. That’s not a healthy person.” (15:45)

“I don’t think you can have optimism without pessimism. You can’t be happy without sadness. I hate that pressure to constantly be projecting like a perfect life. I also recognize it is a privilege to have carved out a space that I navigate where actually I’m not expected to be positive all the time. ” (20:01)

“I’m so grateful to now be in this space where if I’m like in a weird, moody kind of moment everyone’s like, “Oh, what an artist.” You know what I mean? It’s like a free pass.” (20:10)

“Yes, I’m on a stage right now, but as soon as I get off the stage I’m fucking nobody. Because when we go to spaces like that, we’re seeing these people on the stage, and we’re like, ‘Wow, they’re so accomplished, and I’m not. You know that’s a famous illustrator, and I’m a hobbyist. Compared to them I’m nothing.’ It’s like, when that person leaves, they still have to pay extra for guac, you know what I mean? They’re not special.” (23:22)

“I make a lot of work that is out there, and I don’t think any of us deserve to have our work shared without our permission, used to represent brands or ideologies that we maybe don’t agree with, without permission, or used for profit in any way. This is not an unreasonable request.” (27:51)

“Success is not usually rooted in talent alone. Success is about timing, and it’s about teams of people.” (29:42)

“If there’s anything that proves to me that the world is overwhelmingly positive, it’s the way that, no matter the additional stress that these things bring us, the technology that makes it easier for us to know about the bad things happening in the world, which is good because we should know, and terrible because it is emotionally harmful, just brings so much good. I think that’s what I’m saying, is just like people are still good, and we’re able to connect with people that we previously wouldn’t have been able to. That gives me so much hope.” (37:10)

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  • Woohoo! I’m always happy to take advantage of any opportunity to hear some of Adam’s wisdom, so I’ll be sure to listen to this on my commute home tomorrow.

    I’d also like to say thanks for pulling out the highlights in text form. It’s so nice to have the information in two formats – I know it helps me take it in, and it’s a lovely way of making the podcast more accessible.

  • Great podcast! I’ve been a big fan of Adam since you started featuring him here years ago!

  • Fantastic episode! I especially appreciated the bit about diversity in the creative world ( or rather, the lack of it). No one else is talking about this stuff!
    I’m so happy that you’re podcasting again. After the Jump was the first podcast I ever listened to, and Good Company is shaping up to be even better.