There was not a single moment when I said to myself "ok Adam let's start a brand." Some people have the idea, make the plan, save or secure funding, define and design a brand… I did none of that.
ADAMJK is just "Adam J. K." is just my name. That "JK" is also internet slang for "just kidding" is simply one of the better coincidences of my life, and that I grew up on the internet is just a fact of being an awkward teenager with not that many friends.
I taught myself very basic HTML in 1999 so that I could join the "staff" of a Pokemon fansite, spending the next five years building webpages in Notepad and MS Paint. At 16, I started college (long story) and having zero other interests, I studied graphic design, which I assumed would be fully what I did with the rest of my life.
Professionally, I worked for my university after graduation, a video production studio, a web design agency, at "Advertising's Weirdest Agency" (R.I.P. Barton F. Graf), and then at BuzzFeed. In all these roles, I used my graphic and web design skills to make work for other people, to communicate what the brief or client needed, and in very few cases was my own voice really required. To keep sane and happy, I started making personal work.
When some designers think of "Personal Work," they think of fully-formed pet projects like slick websites or publications that showcase the scope of their ability and can lead to future client work. My personal work was a bit more… personal. It took the form of Tumblr posts, printed postcards, stickers, and zines. It was truly personal. It was exactly how I was feeling, scribbled in pencil, or in a flashing GIF. It was completely unnecessary and purely a source of creative and mental relief. And then people started noticing it.
I sold my cheaply-printed zines through PayPal, tried Etsy, then moved to my own online shop with Big Cartel. The early sales of one project funded the next project. My SORRY I'M SUCH AN ASSHOLE Balloons started getting written about on blogs and encouraged me to try making other non-paper objects. A weekly planner was so popular in 2011 that I kept it going. I got a book deal. People started following me on social media. After years of doing all of this on the side, I finally felt brave enough to go full-time freelance. Just kidding! I got laid off from my job and then just… never got another one.
None of this was organized, and I made a lot of mistakes. I miscalculated shipping. I attached hundreds of pins to little printed cards. I printed a hundred books with a typo on the cover. I sent thousands of packages from my Brooklyn apartment, carrying boxes and bags up and down five flights of stairs.
My personal definition of art is Feel something, then create work that will evoke that emotion in others. My version of art isn't one painting one time that one person gets to own. It's an open edition of artist multiples that are highly accessible at a low price point. I want to make nice things that people like, and I want them to be able to collect their favorites. I want to make things that say what other people might be feeling, so they can gift them to others to communicate a difficult or too-earnest sentiment. I'm just trying to connect, and aid in connection, and it really means so much to me but I did not think it was a "viable business model." Nobody makes zines expecting to turn a profit, you're kind of just lucky to break even.
Over ten years since I sold my first postcard prints for $1, I am a brand. I have a logo (barely). I have a "body of work." I wake up every day and am my own boss (which turns out to be extremely hard). This was never the plan, there was never a clear path, and I don't think it's forever. Through it all, it's still just me doing what I can with what I have, and hoping for the best.