Personal Brand Manifesto: Who Do You Think You Are? | Adam J. Kurtz | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

Personal Brand Manifesto: Who Do You Think You Are?

teacher avatar Adam J. Kurtz, Artist, Author

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Your Assignment


    • 3.



    • 4.



    • 5.



    • 6.

      Money, Money, Money


    • 7.



    • 8.



    • 9.

      Final Thoughts


  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

Join designer and author Adam J. Kurtz for 5 quick exercises you can do TODAY to get clarity, focus, and renewed direction for your yourself & your creative career. 

Sometimes you have all the techniques, and you just need a little push to make sure you're in the right direction. Other times you're so overwhelmed that you kinda forget the whole point of everything!

Each of these simple exercises will get you thinking about what really matters to you — setting the foundation for your creative decisions going forward. We'll hang out together and talk about how crazy life gets sometimes as you work through the 5 steps.

This class (/pep talk/art therapy/joking around with a guy you don't know) is perfect for freelancers, creative business owners, designers, makers, creators, emerging artists... basically anyone who's working so hard that they're forgetting they're actually a human being with their own unique core values.

Image courtesy of Adam J. Kurtz

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Adam J. Kurtz

Artist, Author


Adam J. Kurtz (aka @adamjk) is an artist and author whose illustrative work is rooted in honesty, humor and a little darkness. His books including 1 Page at a Time have been translated into over a dozen languages and his “very personal” work for clients like Facebook and Urban Outfitters has been featured in the New Yorker, VICE, Adweek and more. 

Kurtz speaks frankly about channeling human emotion into our creative work, delivering lectures to conferences, organizations, and universities. His latest book, Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives is a handwritten essay collection that digs into the emotional realities of being any type of modern day creative pe... See full profile

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • 0%
  • Yes
  • 0%
  • Somewhat
  • 0%
  • Not really
  • 0%

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Introduction: My name is Adam J. Kurtz. You might know me as Adam JK, and I'm a designer, artist, author, illustrator, etiquette guy. A lot of what I do is all about human experience, my own and others translated through physical objects. It's about tangible feelings and figuring shit out and once you get there, not letting go. This class is maybe different from other classes you've seen or taken before. It's almost more of an emotional journey with a physical output. We're going to complete five exercises that might make sense or might feel totally weird and at the end of it you'll have created a single tangible object. Your envelope manifesto and that's going to be the thing that you hold onto and walk away with. Each of the five exercises in this class is a fairly unsettled metaphor for different stages of being a creative person. This is going to help you think about the experiences that you'll face, the challenges, the rewards, and what really matters through all of that. I think I've fallen into this aesthetic that's very hand-drawn and has a feeling of authenticity. It feels real. That said, I come from a design background, so everything's really considered. So, it's like an overripe naive style that somehow works. So, in October 2014, I released a book called 1 Page At A Time published by Penguin Random House, which is totally insane, and they found me purely based on my personal projects, self-publishing, and they reached out, and wanted me to create an interactive journals based on the things that I care about and try to help other people care about. This class is really for anyone who's looking to find focus in their creative endeavors to really get to the heart of who they are, and why they're doing what they're doing. Hopefully, that renewed focus will help you accomplish whatever your goal is. So, at the end of this class, I hope that you will leave with maybe a better sense of who you are, and what you want do, and of course, you already know the answers to this. I'm not giving you advice. I'm just maybe helping you draw it out of yourself. I think a difficult thing with emotions and feelings is that they're so intangible. So, today through these exercises, we're going to create a tangible manifesto that really contains who you are and what you want, and it will be something to remind you of those things when maybe you forget. So, your project today is to create your own envelope manifesto. We'll do a few quick exercises together and then they'll all go inside it. That's it 2. Your Assignment: For this project, we're not necessarily going to be writing or drawing, but actually completing a series of exercises that have sort of tangible, sort of intangible results, and at the end, they'll all go into the envelope. So, here are your five exercises. One, create a list of things you care about. Two, take a nearby pen and scribble a piece of paper, hard. Three, take a nearby piece of paper, and tear it up into as many pieces as you can. Four, treat piece of money, just like a piece of paper, and five, let go of something personal. Ultimately, you'll take all these exercises, and put them in an envelope that you can seal, but you might put them in a box, or a drawer, or a sock, or throw them to the wind. It's really up to you at the end of all this. For this project, you'll need a few sheets of paper, something to write with, a dollar bill, and a personal momento or token. Most importantly, you'll need to be here present, emotionally, physically. It sounds sort of silly, but that's really the most important part. Do not buy anything. Do not get any special supplies. The beauty of this is that you already have everything that you need, and the truth is, you always do. 3. List: So, the first exercise of this project is to create a list of the things you really care about, that you feel identify you, and what your motivation is. That's really what this is about, is getting to the heart of what you want out of life. So, you're going to want to grab the sheet of paper, it might not be eight-and-a-half by 11. Fuck it, actually eight-and-a-half by 11 is a terrifying amount of space for lists. So, I'm going to make it small. I can handle that, I think. So, grab whatever you're writing with, and you're really just going to start listing out what you care about. I'm going to call my list Shit I Care About, and you can be a little silly in your setup. I find that that helps because the next things are going to be terrifying. Like what really matters to you? What is your motivation? What do you want? For me, the first thing is just this need to create. The truth is that, I was making this sort of thing I was making anyway without thinking about what it was. I've been leaking feelings and thoughts out into the world so that need to create sort of like an artist curse. My second thing is tied to that, and it's narcissism. I'm sorry, it's narcissism. I mean, there's a certain level of narcissism that comes with putting yourself out there and being seen by some, and also just like assuming that anyone wants to see you. The narcissism isn't necessarily bad, if you're aware of it and try to take control. I care about money but I care about it more as a way of staying alive. So, I'm going to write staying alive, which is a great thing to care about, and that is sort of encompasses money, but also stability and a little bit of freedom. I think that is really important for people who freelance or on their own business, that's usually like a huge reason to do that. So, if that's you, write it down if you want to really maintain that. Followers, I really care about having a lot of followers. Like this is super important to me, like I need that, and that's tied to narcissism but it's also a numbers game. I'm very obsessed with numbers. I also, I guess I want to help people, so embarrassing. I make things as I grow, based on my experience, and I do want to help people. For me, it's a very personal like a one-on-one almost, where I'm connecting with certain individuals who get what I'm doing, but you may be in a position to help people in a totally different way. I care about love. I know, this is getting so gross but I really do, and I'm going to write one more thing because I have space for one more thing, really glad I tore this in half. Something that I like to write a lot, something I have tattooed on my arm is that one thing, and it's sort of a joke. That one thing is like, "Hey, what's that thing you care about?" And you're like, "Oh that" That one thing, what is it that one thing? That's sort of a joke, but I also think that that one thing, is that like really deep core thing that is super personal, that no one knows, that you don't tell your spouse or your partner or anyone, that even in a sealed envelope, you probably can't write down. So, maybe all of us should have that one thing on our list. So, this is my list, Shit I Care About, it's done. So, I think that you should probably have like five to seven things on your list. You might have more, if you're a little wordy, I am, obviously. But if you have five core things that you really care about, I think that's great. I think that your list is going to be a serious or as funny as you are. I think if you're not funny at all, try to be a little bit funny because it will make this process easier, but also, this isn't a total joke, you really should be thinking about what matters to you and what's important. I titled my list Shit I Care About, because that's how I would communicate what I really mean here, and what I mean is creating a list of the things that are your core drive, in your core motivation for everything that you're doing. Because this is so personal, you'll probably title your list however you would say that or however you would think about it. If you're feeling stuck and you're sort of having trouble identifying who you are and what you want, a really great resource is yourself. So, maybe look at some recent tweets, some Facebook statuses, look at your Instagram because that is where things get really real, and maybe, yeah, use a little bit of time like research you. I know what that sounds like, but research you and maybe see what you've been presenting lately and then you can call yourself out, like is that authentic or is it not? If you're still not sure, go for walk, honestly, go for walk. I think lists are really great because we're not all like wonderful writers. I think lists are less intimidating than full sentences. You don't have to enunciate every feeling, and this is for you, so this is like the shorthand. This is like if you had to communicate to yourself later, these are the notes you would give yourself. If you are a wonderful, talented writer, this might be a good experiment and boiling it down to the very nitty-gritty of what you're about. Maybe you should stop hiding behind quite so many words and really get to the point. 4. Scribble: So, now that we know what we want, now that we have our list, our motivations, we sort of have to get to the work part of this whole process. So, you're going to need another sheet of paper. You can use the same paper you are using. You can use a different sheet. I'm going to use this thicker white paper, and here's why. When you're working, this is like an insider tip about work. Sometimes work sucks. Sometimes work really, really sucks, and you work so hard, and we're going to sort of feel that feeling. So I'm actually going to use a thicker pen and that's because we are going to fill our sheet with scribbles. You don't have to draw and it don't have to be beautiful. But we are going to scribble the hell out of this sheet, and you are going to feel it in your hands. You're going to grip this pen. You might get a blister like this is the work and the parts where it suck maybe you scribble a little harder. When work is tough, you get tougher. So, we're going to feel all of that. So, I'm just going to get to it and scribbled this whole page. If you're using a marker with a chisel tip, like I am, you can turn it in different ways and you get your thin lines, and your thick lines, and streaky lines, and perfect lines, and some of the lines start out really beautiful and then by the end of that line, it's all like shitty. If you haven't caught on, this is a metaphor. I think we hit that home right. This is all a metaphor. I'm just going to keep doing it, just litter. I mean, and you don't have to talk the whole time when you do yours, and after you've done this for a while, you'll find that some parts still aren't filled in. You have these tiny gaps and these little spaces to fill. Places where you don't work hard enough and maybe you have to go and catch up. Places where you work super hard and it just wasn't enough, and places that, it's a pure coverage and no one knows that you secretly did like nine layers underneath. So, it looks just like a flat sheet at the end. But you've been working your ass off the whole time, and it's just us here. So, you're working hard and maybe your fingers are hurting, your arm starting to cramp. So, at this point, my hand is kind of sweaty. The pen is slipping out of my hand unintentionally. Of course, I touched the paper, so my hand is getting dirty. That's it. You're exhausted. You want to take a nap. So, I'm going to put this pen to bed. Get it out of my way. This is what I've come up with, and it doesn't look like much but it took me forever and my hand hurts, and this is it. This is what we made. So, this exercise is the metaphor for hard, tireless, possibly thankless work. You may have already experienced this type of work. You definitely will continue to. When you're on Hour 15 of your longest day ever with your meeting in the next morning and your hands are cramping and your brain hurts and you cannot, cannot drink any more coffee, not because you can't handle it but because there is no more coffee, that's when you're going to remember this. You're going to remember that this sucked and then you got through it. This was miserable, and then it was over. Just like you put this away in your envelope, you will tuck this like super hard work night or the month from hell, you will tuck it away. It will be done, and hopefully, it will be worth it. For this exercise, you're going to cover the entire page or as much as you can stand before your hand cramps, or your pen dries out, or your pencil breaks. You might break the pencil tip six times. You might sharpen it down to the eraser. That's the point of this. So, go over your lines over and over. Get it as dark as you can. Fill all the space. Really work at this until you are sick of this. Then the next step is going to be a reward. 5. Tear: So, we just scribbled a whole page, your hand maybe still hurts a little bit. We got through all that really hard work. But, what do you do when you don't know what to work on? What do you do when you're staring this vast nothingness in the face and you're just like, "Holy shit, I have to live 60 or 80 more years of this world and I don't know what I'm doing?" So, for this exercise, we'll get a blank sheet of paper, that is the unknown. I'm going to use white because it is the most terrifying. But you can use maybe a softer pink if you want to approach this in a more calm way. To me this is scary. If you're a writer, an illustrator, if you're trying to plan an event. If you're trying to plan your wedding. If you're trying to write a letter. A blank sheet is a really scary place to start because there's nothing there yet because it's pristine because you don't want to fuck it up but you still have to start somewhere. So, we're just going to tear it into chunks. So, this is today and today, I'm doing this class with you. So, this I can handle. This is tomorrow and it's like I don't know what I'm doing, I've no idea. I'll get there when I get there. This is later this week. This is next week. I'm going to be on vacation for these. All of these are my vacation, so I don't have to worry about that anymore. All right. Now, it's like, I don't know, back to school time, my favorite time of year we're approaching the holidays. Oh, God, we're approaching the holidays. This is thanksgiving. I can't with thanks giving. Now, the real holiday is black Friday bottle my gifts and we're just going to keep barreling through. I mean, now it's next year. It's spring again, plants cool, great. Ten new projects, hopefully. By now I've paid a whole bunch of rent so that's horrifying. I'm just going to keep going and you're just going to keep getting through. I mean, I'm not even halfway there yet. But I know that we can do it if we just keep at it. I don't even know what this one is. Totally lost my train of thought, it's like three years from now. I still haven't gotten a haircut, still have a nose ring. It's client work, a meeting that could have been an email, probably 10 of those. This is nice brunch, I can handle that. All sorts of things happen and when you see that whole sheet, it's terrifying. But, we're basically making confetti, terrifying confetti but at the end of this, we'll have broken it down, we'll have a party. This is my wedding. This is the part leading up to the event which was hard and then that's the end. We're almost through. Maybe this isn't your life, maybe the paper is just like a really big project. Maybe you're 20 chapters deep in your 24th chapter novel. Maybe this is like a huge rebrand. This could be anything. Whatever that daunting thing was, look we're almost done. I mean, that's it. That's scary thing is this now. We can handle this. This blank sheet of paper could really be anything and it's up to you to define it as you do this exercise. It could be, if you're an a worrier like me, it could be your whole life that you're trying to get through. But it could be one tough project. It could be setting up your business. It could be finishing publication. It could be launching your brand, launching your website. This could be really any challenge that feels vast and daunting to you on whatever scale that it is. For me personally, this repetitive action is really soothing, it's almost like you're on autopilot halfway through. You don't need anything or you can just take a sheet of paper. I'm always playing with little scraps of paper and tearing things anyway it's. Almost like a nervous tic that I have transformed into a useful exercise. It's like I was doing it and now I want it to be something. You might view this as destructive but I actually think that we've created, we've literally made confetti. I'm pretty sure this is the official confetti making way. 6. Money, Money, Money: So, we just got through the terrifying unknown, whatever yours was. Now we're on to money. We have to talk about money. I don't want to talk about money. You don't want to do it, but we're going to do it. It's okay. Money is everything and nothing at the same time. Obviously, we need it. It's like how you live. It's part of being stable and purchasing goods and services, but it's also just paper. Money is just paper, and it's important to maybe remember that, that it's not all about money. You and I are going to give up some money. I'm pretty cheap, so I'm only giving up $1. But, maybe you're doing something where you want to give up five or 10. I'm not promising that the more you give up, the more rewarding this will be, but maybe it will be. Maybe this would be important to you. So, we are going to bring money back to what it is, paper. We're going to use it as paper. You can do anything with this. Truly, use it as a sheet of paper. What would you do? So, I mean, I cannot resist because there is a face on this, but I'm going to dye the hair black. That just seems like showing the age a little bit, so wrinkling, too. So, just blacked out this face completely. I'm going to flip it over and I'm going to write an encouraging note to myself. One of my mantras that, I have a lot of mantras. This is like my whole deal, clearly. But, I like to say things are what you make of them, and that is true of everything creative and life. I mean, no matter what's going on, what you have is some of their parts, and what you're making, and what you're doing. So, in this case, money is money, but it's also just paper, and we are making this just paper. So, things are what you make of them. The interesting thing about this exercise is that, now that I've written on this side and doodled on this side, what is this worth? This started out as $1, but is it worth more now? It might be. Is this an original artwork now? Could I sell this for more than $1? Is this more worth to me emotionally? Would I pay more than $1 to not lose this, to not give it away? I think understanding value and worth, and thinking about the differences, similarities. What that means to you is really important, and something I think about all the time. For me personally, something that I have to think about a lot is not a loss of money but sort of like a loss of gaining money, if that makes sense. When I do my personal projects, when I produce T-shirts, or pencils, or recently, rubber erasers, sometimes you just want to make something and see it in the world. It's your art, and it's your project, and then extension of that is sharing it. Maybe a good example is when you make a painting, and then it just doesn't sell. You do an illustration that deserves six color screen printing. You make three T-shirt designs because you just need to, and you couldn't pick one, and you just hope that someone will buy them, or hope that someone will license your artwork, or hope that someone will purchase your product, or hire you for your service, and that not gain is also valuable. It doesn't feel as valuable as having the money, but sometimes that's something that you need to do for you, and you don't know how it will help later. In the case of my personal projects, I haven't always known what I was doing, what I was building, and money that felt like it was spent with no reward. Eventually, it became my whole practice. It's just personal projects and has led to product collaborations, and books, and all of these things. It all started with like kind of throwing money into the world to not knowing what would happen or if it would ever come back. 7. Memento: So, now we've come to the final prompt and this one's a little bit different. This whole time we've been creating in different ways through straightforward thinking and writing, through a physical action that maybe hurt, through destroying, we created by destroying, and then by taking one thing and giving it a value that it didn't previously have. But this time we're not really creating anything and this might be the hardest exercise for you. It's the hardest exercise for me if I'm being totally honest. We are going to give something away. We're going to give something that is really personal that feels very tied to who we are and what we love, and that could be anything from a photo, to a birthday card, to a post-it note left by someone who loves you. When you go out on a limb, when you go out in public, when you share your work, when you share your passion, when you turn yourself into a business, when you create a personal brand, any time that you take who you are and you put it out into the world, onto the Internet, into a book, you are in a way losing a part of yourself. So, you're going to take something that means a lot to you and you're going to put it in this envelope manifesto. You still get to own it, but you don't necessarily get to look at it. So, I have something, and you have to promise not to laugh. It's been with me for nearly 10 years. So, something about me that you might not know or maybe you know is that I really like Michelle Branch. I know that sounds ridiculous, but she's a musician who when I was 12, I heard one of her songs and it meant a lot to me. Since then she's built sort of under the radar creative career that has been inspiring to me, creating her art, her way and she opened a bakery. She has this lovely life and she's not necessarily under the crazy public scrutiny. Anyway, you can tell I'm a fan. Michelle Branch is someone that I care about. When I was a teenager, I won a meet and greet with her at one of her concerts, and for 10 years, I have saved my meet and greet pass. I have lived with this. I have kept this longer than most things, and I am going to give up this personal memento. I'm going to put it in the manifesto. I'm going to know it's there, but I'm going to give away something personal to me. For you, your personal item could really be anything. For this exercise, it would be useful to think about what is really personal to you, but that could be defined in a lot of ways. Is there something that you've been hanging on to for years that you can't bring yourself to throw out, but maybe it's also not framed. It's personal secret that you've been carrying with you. It could be a photo from your happiest day ever. It could be a note from someone. It could be a ticket stub from the concert that changed your life. It could be a friendship bracelet that you still have and it's on your wrist and about to fall off and you just cut it and you put it in here. This is your way to still keep that thing, right? Physically, you're not necessarily giving it away, but you are giving it up. You won't get to look at it all the time. So, think about that thing that you've been hanging onto that means a lot and maybe that's your thing to put in the envelope for this exercise. Probably, a lot of us are immediately thinking about photos because of the way that they really capture a person and a memory, but remember that this is a physical project. So, it needs to be a physical photo whether that's a printed four by six, if it's a Polaroid or Instax photo. Also, the exercise is about letting go. So, if you're going to put one and copy in and then go print another one from the photo kiosk, that is cheating. You can't cheat. It needs to be something that you only have one of. It needs to be a special physical memory. So, if your object is a photo, you got to really make it count, Again, the point of this entire exercise, this giving up something of yourself is to experience some of that personal loss that occurs when you go public with your business, when you launch your brand, when you share a personal story on Instagram. In all of these cases, when you're a creative professional or really any type of professional or person or employee or business where you give off of yourself. At the time that you do that it may not feel like a loss. When you post an Instagram of your vacation, it might feel like you're just sharing your vacation, but in truth, you have taken a private moment and made it public and accessible to the entire world. This is a way to acknowledge that loss, to prepare for it, and also to think about it maybe before you do it. Maybe this exercise will help you keep some of those important personal moments to yourself as you move forward. 8. Envelope: So, now, we've completed our five exercises. We have five physical manifestations of the experience that we shared, and this is maybe a sad part or maybe a really exciting part. We're going to take all of these physical scraps of this journey, and we're going to put them in an envelope, and the envelope will become the object that signifies all of this. So, I'm going to go ahead and just grab all my stuff. I almost said shit, but obviously, this is emotionally significant, very serious, don't call it shit. So, my personal memento is first to go in, then the money. I'm sort of doing this backwards from the order we created it. Luckily, I have my scribble to hold all of my torn existential dread. So, shove all the confetti in. Naturally, that didn't go as smoothly as I would have liked it to go on camera. Next, the big scribble. All that hard work that we put in, that tireless energy, that hand cramping garbage, those late nights, put that in, to be forgotten about, made it through, and then, we go all the way back to that list that we started with, at the beginning of this, the shit I care about. That core motivation, that we explored later, put that in. I'm going to fold this up tight so that the fillings don't leak out, fairly small, and I'm going to put it in my envelope. This is it. This is either the sad part or the happy part. I have some anxiety about this because I'll never see my Michelle Branch meet and greet pass again. We're going to seal the envelope and probably forever. I'm going to look at it one more time, just really quick before I go. Man, that's a long time to save something. Okay, that's it. It's done. It is sealed. I cannot open it. This is now a single physical relic of this experience, and this envelope or envelope, depending on which you started with, is it. Now, this is yours. This is an object that you can walk away with. This is a bunch of feelings you can hold onto when everything you're doing feels insane, and you have no clue who you are anymore, and no time to remember, and you can stash this in the bottom of your desk drawer, you can hide it under your old socks, you have your fresh socks up front, and then the old ones, that no one will look at, you can mail this to yourself. I actually am going to mail it to myself, and you don't have to do it, but I almost encourage you to do it because we were talking about worth and value, and when you mail something, you put a bunch of pretty stickers on it, and those stickers have a cash value. It leaves you, and then it comes back to you. That journey adds an emotional value. I'm just going to put my name and my address. This is it, and we made it. We did it. The cool thing about this exercise is that you can do it again. That's really the cool thing about this is that you've created the time capsule, and in five years, you will be a totally different person, and some of your motivations will change, and some of the stuff won't feel as important, and you can do it again. Maybe in 20 years, you've got four envelopes. You can share this. I think that's another really cool thing about this is you can take a photo of your envelope, and you can post it online. You can tell your friends that you did this exercise. I am going to take a photo right now because I think that would help me, just to remember that I did this. So, take a picture. I'll post that later with correct hashtags. This is it. This is the thing that you can hold, and I think it's amazing. 9. Final Thoughts: Now, it's your turn to share your envelope manifesto. The really cool thing about this project is because it's so personal, each piece of the project will say a lot about you and who you are. So share as much or as little as you're comfortable with in the project gallery. It might be your list, it might be a description of the feelings you felt tearing that paper, a photo of your blister from scribbling would be really cool, or maybe it's just a photo of your envelope, maybe you've decorated it after. I would personally love if after you've had time to process this experience and continue on in life, you come back to the project gallery and maybe tell everyone how it went and how you feel. Three months later, do you feel more focused? Have you embarked on a new project or experience that maybe this helped prepare you for? Do you feel like you've already changed your mind about something and you totally regret it, but you also don't regret it because it was useful? So, put all that stuff in the project gallery. See who else is there and where those viewpoints line up. Did you both cry when you teared the paper? Did you both give up a really similar thing? You may find, I don't want to say soulmate, but you may find someone who is really closely aligned with who you are, and maybe that's a future collaborator. You never really know, so check it out, and I will be stalking you, casually stalking you, and I can't wait to see what you do.