[0:01] Brady Walker: All right, welcome back to Pixels and Paint. Today we have Adamtastic, the most perfect name for a person I’ve ever heard. Adam, welcome to the show. And maybe for anybody who doesn’t know who you are already, you can give us a brief introduction to yourself and your work.
[0:22] Adam Levine: Thanks for having me, Brady. I think this is pretty awesome. I am a lifelong artist, been making art forever. Professionally, I was creative director for the last 15 years, doing a lot of agency work, a lot of automotive, even though that’s not who I am as an artist. But that’s the work I was getting. I entered the NFT space at the end of 2020, really jumped in early 2021, and fell in love with the art community there. I’ve been a part of other art communities online in the past, but nothing was really as incredible as this.
The art I make is introspective and filled with elements that invite the audience to connect with their inner child. I make art that you could give to a kid to enjoy, but I also try to have deeper meanings within those pieces. It’s kind of an emotional expressionist version of what I could classify my art as. It’s usually pretty colorful, character-centric, and I’ve been doing it for a few years now.
It’s been wonderful. I’ve had amazing opportunities, met some great people, made some great friends, and really just had time to focus on my own art. Prior to NFTs, I was always making art, doing physical installations, paintings — both digitally and with acrylics. But coming into this space, it’s mostly been digital, and it’s been a wild ride.
Balancing Professional and Personal Art
[2:39] BW: While you were a creative director at All Things Media, what did your art look like at that time? Were you playing in the same kind of sandbox with your art, or was it different from what you were working on for your job?
[3:01] AL: Professionally speaking, I really loved solving problems. Clients would come to us with a car they wanted to show off or a product, and then we would listen to them. I had fun figuring out the puzzle of what they were really looking for and striking that balance. It rarely had anything to do with my art; it was more of a creative outlet.
On the side, I was posting stuff to Instagram or creating art just for myself. My art has evolved but has a very similar feeling to it. It’s always been character-driven, playful, very colorful and bright. Since then, I’ve fine-tuned more of my voice into a more mature version of what I was doing. It took me years to hone myself and my style to the point where people would say, “Oh, I know that was yours.” It’s always an evolution, but if you go back and look at my older work, you can probably see a good through-line of me in it.
[4:47] BW: What did you take away process-wise from that problem-solving practice that you had as a creative director? Does that play into how you approach your work these days, where you have to find the meaning under the thing you want to make?
[5:16] AL: Yeah, I think a lot of it comes into play at the end of what I’m doing. I’ll have an idea at the beginning, but I don’t like to limit myself when I’m creating. Some things I learned from those experiences were that I work well when there are some parameters. I’ve given myself guide rails for what I create, and then I let the work come after I sit with it, walk away, revisit it, and try to dissect what I was trying to get across. I rarely name my pieces before I’m done, and that problem-solving allows me to look at my work objectively.
Sometimes, like I’ve talked about with my wife, it starts to reveal my true intentions. That’s been an interesting process. In the past, I never really did that. Getting into this space, I’ve really opened up artistically to possibilities, letting things flow.
[7:09] BW: Where’s the line between your different projects and identities? You have Fluffy Goodness, Forever Frens, and Adamtastic as perhaps a brand or an identity. How do you think about the work and the online persona as a brand or identity? I started to think about brand guidelines when you were a creative director. Do you fit your projects into that kind of container, or is it shaped differently?
[7:55] AL: No, it’s a good question. Brand guidelines were very important in that world, and I appreciated that. Over the last few years, I’ve found more structure, especially looking back on my work earlier this year. I took inventory of the work I’ve done over the last two and a half, three years, and I found similar themes, colors, and tones. I wanted to distill that into a color palette to further refine my aesthetic. I made myself a mini brand guideline by blurring out my work and looking at the base colors and general shapes and tones. I’ve been enjoying sticking with that palette.
My background in branding has served me well in this world. I don’t have a team of people, so I have to be an artist, marketer, and communicator. I get excited about the idea of branding everything under the Adamtastic umbrella, but I also have Color Coated Artifacts projects like Fluffy Goodness and Forever Frens, and I just finished a thing called Shapeshifters. I don’t want to spread so thin that it’s confusing, but I like having small, more dialed-in collections and having fun branding them.
It has completely informed my work and been to my benefit to be able to easily communicate my intention. Having a background in video production and animation, audio and sound design, has set me up in a way that’s really helpful. Not that you need any of it, but it does help to have some of those skills. And if you don’t have those skills, looking at what other people are doing is super helpful.
[10:56] BW: Yeah, I was gonna ask about film and animation. You were in that world for 15 years doing car commercials, lots of live-action, and lighter on the animation from what I could tell looking through your showreels and stuff. Where does that aspect of your experience play into what you’re doing now?
[11:25] AL: For the live-action part, I think that falls into the category of self-promotion. I’ve done feathers for my fluffy goodness project, or just anything I’m working on. I’m keenly aware of the assets I’m creating while working on things. I don’t like working backward, so instead, I’ll set up a time-lapse camera or a little audio video to talk about the thing. I understand lighting, composition, and other elements that I would apply if filming someone else.
I have a master’s in animation, but I never went fully into animation production. I made a pilot for a kids’ TV show at one point and worked on smaller animated pieces for different companies. Having the understanding of timing, basic animation principles like action reactions, stretch, squash, arcs, and things like that all play into the art itself. A lot of my career was more directing live-action and production. I love leveraging things like knowing how to light for production and knowing how to film something. I feel like that’s where my background comes into play behind the scenes.
The Early Years
[13:26] BW: I want to drill into your aesthetic and background because I know you went to SCAD, Savannah College of Art and Design, and studied animation there. Your current aesthetic, which has been your style for a long time, is very much like a children’s book aesthetic, with perhaps more thoughtfulness put into it. Were you ever the moody artist making a dark epic piece about alcoholism in a small town or something like that?
[14:21] AL: Aside from my Oscar-winning short, “Dark Alcoholism,” no, I wasn’t. (laughs) Sorry to disappoint. I wasn’t into that vibe. I was very much still in a playful, fun, upbeat, positive way of doing things. College was interesting at SCAD. I went there for my master’s to hone down my skill in animation.
Because after my undergrad, I didn’t feel like I really got what I needed. I was among so many undergrads, and a lot of people didn’t take it as seriously. I was there to learn, to push myself, and the people who were doing big things there helped push me further. It mirrors the feeling that I’m in now, where for the last two and a half, almost three years, I’m surrounded by people who inspire me and make me want to be better at my craft.
But no, I don’t think I’ve ever really been in that category of darker. I’ve made some darker things, and some of my work on the surface looks sweet and cute. But if you look at it more closely, there’s something else going on there. I’ve got feelings that aren’t always 100% positive. That’s not realistic. I choose to express them with an inviting veneer on top of it.
I’m fascinated by universal symbolisms, distilling characters into basic shapes to tell a story. That’s where my fluffy goodness collection lives. I like to write stories for these characters that are funny but a little dark, and I enjoy pairing something dark with something very cute and cuddly. People who really understood it, read them and took the time, they got it. Those are the people I want to connect to. I make stuff that I would want, whether it’s fluffy creatures or animated pieces. And I’m grateful that other people want it too.
[18:32] BW: I have a couple of questions and I’m debating which direction to go. I definitely have questions about Fluffy Goodness and the stories, but just to stay back in time for a little bit while we’re back there: Can you tell me about what artists when you were in high school and college really lit you up?
[18:54] AL: Oh, man. Good question. So in my childhood, there’s been a bunch, whether it’s from the whimsy of Dr. Seuss, or the beautiful brushstrokes of artists like Mary Blair, who did a lot of Disney work. But Golden Books, beautiful line work, and illustrations, and color.
I love the simplicity of Mo Willems and what he does with his books, in terms of telling a story with very simple, distilled characters. More recently, in the last 10 years, I’ve been loving what Oliver Jeffers does. He’s fantastic.
As far as quirky animation, Don Hertzfeld was a huge inspiration. There’s also the UPA-style animation and cartoons from the 50s. If you look at that kind of work, it’s sometimes circles and squares telling stories, and I think that it’s brilliant. The universality of that really draws me into what’s possible when you strip away unnecessary stuff and just get to the heart of things.
Behind the Stories
[21:18] BW: Yeah, totally. That was funny. Yesterday, I was looking at your work and I thought there was a kinship between Oliver Jeffers’ style and the style you use for your three one-of-ones on super rare right now. They’ve got this fancy line work and a little more rough abandon to the style. Something I spotted. So to jump back into Fluffy Goodness, I’m curious about these stories.
I was on your Fluffy Goodness website yesterday. And there are three stories on the homepage; there was one who is super type A and drinks 14 cups of coffee a day and doesn’t sleep, and another one who I think was very lazy and daydreaming. Do you have a place where all of these stories are? Do you have a catalog of creatures with their stories?
[22:21] AL: That’s a good question. No one’s asked me that. I do. It’s all Excel documents and Word documents from 15 years ago into now. I don’t reuse the same name and story, ever. But I do have archives of this stuff. I wrote most of them, but then at some point, it got out of hand, and I hired a friend of mine to help me out. But no, I don’t have an available online repository of all the names and stuff.
Sometimes they take just as long if not longer than making the art. Like I’ll sit there and do research on where something would happen in the country, or where the pencil was invented. It’s a rabbit hole of 30 minutes to write a two to three-sentence paragraph that nobody probably reads, but I appreciate it when they do. I used to go to craft fairs, and I would have all my physicals out on a table. And I would tell people each one has its own unique name and story. When they picked up one type and read three different stories, they were like, “Wait, each one of them?” And then they would read each one until they found the one they connected with, and that was my favorite thing. Like someone’s like, “Susan, this is you?” And they’re like, “Oh my god, this is me.” I feel like that’s more fun. That’s something I would want.
[25:15] BW: Right? Yeah, it’s funny, I was talking to an artist yesterday, and kind of explaining my point of view of marketing yourself and how to present yourself in web3. My contention has always been this: no matter what, there’s always going to be more art than anybody can take in. But if you have a story that can hook somebody to your piece, whether it’s fictional or nonfiction, it’s just going to have that much more of an anchor in somebody’s mind. So I really appreciate that you do that. I’d love to read more, I hope you put them on your website someday. Do you have any idea how many there are?
[26:02] AL: Oh, my gosh. I mean, there are a few thousand. I lost track, doing these because I would do a few hundred at a clip and you do that for, whatever it is, 15, 12 years, it’s been a long time. And it was only recently that I kind of slowed down production of the actual physicals and ramped up for NFTs.
But if anyone is interested, they’re on OpenSea, going through the Fluffy Goodness collection. If you click on any one of them, you can go and see in the description. Like that’s their bio, basically, each one has its own one-of-one description. So they are available, it’s just not easily accessible in terms of being able to go one by one by one. But maybe if I have a little spare time, I’ll set up a section of the website for past characters and stories. Because there’s some fun stuff out there.
[27:19] BW: Yeah, I would definitely check that out. Do you sell the physicals with the NFT?
[27:26] AL: No, I don’t actually. So I’ve only sold one physical with the NFT so far, it was sort of like a one-off that was separate from all the other ones that I was making. But no, the way I looked at it was like most people, at least when I got into NFTs, really didn’t care about the physical stuff. And also, production-wise, it was easier for me to just sell the digital versions of these.
Also, I pushed further in terms of the types of things I was offering in terms of colorways that I hadn’t done before on the fabric side. If anyone looks at the first generation of these, I used to make yellow little chicks called Buck bucks. And then I made a few color variants, but most of them were just variants on yellow or different sizes and shapes.
People came to me later and they were like, Why aren’t they all sorts of crazy colors? And I was like, well, because I used to make them yellow. And my brain was like, oh, right, they can be anything. And so the future collection just went crazy with it. Because it was fun to just kind of play with that as a medium. So it’s kind of helped evolve the style a little bit.
[28:48] BW: And you just didn’t have the materials then?
[28:53] AL: I mean, I did have different materials, like tons of different fabrics. But in my head, I was locked into a Buck Buck being yellow, and different shapes, like a little squid thing called Sequins that’s pinkish on the top and purple tentacles. I had it fixed in my mind, especially when making things at scale by myself. I would buy a roll of yellow fabric or whatever it is, instead of buying 15-20 rolls to make the patterns. So that, from an efficiency standpoint, and from a branding perspective, made sense. I never went to mass production. I had opportunities but didn’t want to abandon the one-on-one story part of it. So I just kept it myself and hand-sewed all of it.
The Genesis of Forever Frens
[29:59] BW: Wow. Can you tell me about your other collections? I think it was Forever Frens? That’s also a forever open edition. Did I make that up?
[30:11] AL: You didn’t make it up; there are two parts to that collection. It’s interesting because the genesis of Forever Frens was a combination of things happening at the same time. About a year and a half ago, I had an accident where I fell down my stairs and shattered my femur. It took a lot of time to relearn how to walk. From that came trauma, and I wound up getting therapy. My therapist suggested journaling, but I prefer to express myself with art. So I would journal by making art about how I was feeling, and I started to love the way they were looking.
Around the same time, Manifold, who I’ve been working with, put out the ability to make an open edition last forever. At the end of last year, around September of 2022, I thought it was fascinating because it went against the grain of what everyone had been talking about, which is scarcity. I started to play with the idea of a token being more than just flippable, making it low-cost, something that would stay open forever for the price of a cup of coffee or less.
I made a piece for it and put it out into the world. It felt special. People started getting them and gifting them as tokens of friendship. Since then, I’ve been making a piece almost every day. I’m talking to a friend about putting a book together. I feel like there’s something bigger that I want to do with them because anyone who sees them seems to connect on a deeper level. I love my fluffy goodness series, but I wanted to create something that had more emotion, and more ability to tell a story visually with simple shapes.
Art Journaling and Therapy
[35:56] BW: Can you tell me a little bit more about what the practice of art journaling looks like? I just wrote an article a couple of weeks ago, inspired by a conversation with Eric P Rhodes about art therapy in particular, but I’m curious to know what it looks like, what your practice looks like, maybe somebody, one of our listeners, can take something from that.
[36:20] AL: Sure. It’s a great question. Art Therapy is hugely powerful. I think a big part of that is that you don’t have to be an artist or consider yourself an artist to partake in it. The idea of scribbling and not worrying about how things are going to look in the end, and being messy. So for me, art journaling and art therapy are kind of in two different avenues.
One is where I do want to make something that expresses or distills an emotion, that I, whether I share it with somebody or not, it captures the essence of how I’m feeling. And then the other, which I usually don’t publish, is just raw scribbles. Whether that’s on physical paper or digital. A lot of stuff I do lately has been digital.
I also have moleskins; I have tons of them from the past before I went digital, where I would bring one every day everywhere I went with a pen and a pad. Those are very cathartic. It’s very stream of consciousness, sometimes mixed in with notes from the day. Or if I go somewhere and I’m drawing on a napkin, I would take that napkin drawing into the book.
So for me, it’s very stream of consciousness. And sometimes I find a lot of benefits, mentally speaking, when I do things quickly and don’t overthink because I’m notorious for overthinking everything. But recently, I did a self-portrait that I took time to refine, but in the initial version of it, I sped through it and just put raw feelings and emotions. I would paint something, I would try something that didn’t work, I didn’t like scratch it out, and then leave the scratch out and just keep building layers on top of layers.
I’ve done that both digitally and analog with acrylics and markers. So I feel like for me, it’s not being confined and worrying about an outcome, and just being in the moment and not worrying whether or not I’m going to share it with anybody.
Color-Coated Artifacts and Shapeshifters
[39:06] BW: Yeah, that’s it. That makes a lot of sense. You’ve mentioned a couple of other projects, Color-Coated Artifacts and Shapeshifters. Can you tell me about those?
[39:15] AL: Sure. Color-Coated Artifacts started earlier in the year as the baseline project for me to experiment with the idea of refining and defining my color palette. I also wanted it to be low-cost but with the ability to reward people who were paying attention. I understand that some were upset when I would post something for fun, like creating a piece that’s only available for four hours. Good luck if you get it. If you get one of one, that’s the fun of it. If we have 200, cool, it’s a 200 edition. So that was the experiment.
A lot of it was symbolism-based, picking a central object, and having it appear as though paint drips to create whatever object or symbol I chose. At one point, there was an overlap with OE mania, and I made a color-coated check. I called it verification. I limited it to people who had collected stuff from me in the past, but then opened it up, and 4000 went for free. Some people took the old man and made a million dollars in a day, but I did it for free. I didn’t think it would hit, but I figured people can’t get mad at something that was free. Since then, I’ve used it as a burn for other pieces, and I still enjoy making things and coming up with ideas for it.
I wanted to establish a color palette, and I even put it into every one of the illustrations. That was a really fun project that’s ongoing. I have some ideas for how to end the year with it, but I don’t want to say it’s done. I was also very cognizant of the market and didn’t want to take advantage of people or make them feel like they’re just producing, producing, producing, making money. I like having a conversation with collectors, and I want to respect the market.
When it came to Shapeshifters, I had never done a generative project. I started one in 2021 with a friend, and we never did anything with it. We were going to submit it to art blocks, and then art blocks said they were closing submissions, so there’s a mostly finished Fluffy, Goodness-style 2021 generative project that I never released.
But this one, I wanted to try my hand at it on my own. I wound up taking all those same concepts of working within a specific color palette and taking simple shapes to tell stories.
Pareidolia is an interesting concept to me, so I made a whole bunch of shapes, and colors, and randomize them. I curated that from about 600 down to 300, and then I put that out for whoever wanted it. It’s probably going to close out at a little over 100 mints, and I’m happy that the people who got them are happy with them. I love them. So yeah, that’s that project. It was a really fun exercise to create something with as few simple shapes as possible, to tell a story or create an emotional response.
Navigating the Art Market
[47:00] BW: You mentioned taking the market into consideration. How do you take the market into consideration? What do you do or not do based on whether we’re in a down or up market? I know there’s also concern around scarcity, and you don’t want to flood the market with your work. What’s your strategic thinking around navigating the market?
[47:36] AL: I overthink it for a long time and then don’t put as much out there. It’s tricky. I’m aware it’s wild because a lot of it is sentiment and timing. Like, at the time we’re recording this, Ethereum is doing okay. A year ago, this time Ethereum dipped to just around 800 or 900, so Ethereum hitting 2k and floating around that area, from an outside perspective, doesn’t look like much. But being in this every day and knowing what happened over the last two years, I get it. People aren’t seeing returns on flips for projects that they were easily able to flip a year ago. And I get that, and I recognize that flippers are a part of the ecosystem here. Even though I like it when someone likes my art and they want to keep it for the art, I understand the dynamic of needing a healthy market for trading and price discovery.
So with that in mind, it’s slowing down. We had a bubble that was unsustainable in 2021. If you didn’t know that, it’s wild to me because it was clear. I was scared when Ethereum was as high as 4k; it wasn’t sustainable, clearly. But I have a ton of respect for artists who are making stuff in this and for the collectors who keep showing up, even collecting small amounts or just supporting an artist.
How do I navigate it? It’s not easy. I put out that collection of 300 at 0.03, thinking it would take maybe a week to sell about a third of that. I don’t think I completely missed the mark, but it shows me that times are what they are. I’m working on one of one right now that I’ll put out, but my expectations are adjusted. I’ll start at a low reserve and not stress about it. I think the key is understanding that the crazy times may be behind us. But not flooding the market and consistently showing up is important.
A lot of my peers put more out than I do, and it seems fine. So I feel like I could put more things out throughout the year, but I’m not trying to be pushy. I think just being cognizant of the sentiment and adjusting expectations is important. I believe in this technology and the space for what we’re doing with art here. Minting things and not worrying about whether it sells, just having it existing on the blockchain, is also important. I believe things will pick back up eventually, and the people who keep building and supporting others will have a future.
Creativity, Business, and Strategy
[52:38] BW: Yeah, I hope you’re right. How do you balance the business side and the creative side? I mean, you mentioned earlier, everybody in this space knows you’re not just an artist, you’re a marketer, you’re your own business manager, you’re your own strategist. How do you, in a single day or say a single week, dole out the responsibilities? How do you wear all those hats?
[53:10] AL: Good question. A little bit of pre-planning helps. If you have a drop and it’s just going to be you, I like to give myself about a week of promotion for anything I’m about to put out. Behind the scenes, I think things are more intriguing when you can show pieces or snippets or works in progress. It lets people know something’s coming and gets them excited about it. There’s a part of our community that thrives on hype, but I’m not trying to create FOMO hype; it’s more like pulling on the idea that something is coming. If you can see my genuine excitement, I get excited about what others are putting out, so I manage it by teasing pieces of it out and giving myself a week of lead-up promotional time.
I like to do a little deep dive, a thread that explains my thought process. People who collect art care about who they’re collecting, why, and what. My approach is to explain the story of what it is or why I made it. It’s about connecting deeper with the people who like what you do. In a physical gallery, outside of that first opening night, I miss out on that connection. But in this space, I can talk about it daily, thank people for liking or retweeting, and start a dialogue. That’s a really powerful aspect of this space.
As far as planning goes, have a bit of structure, a plan, a target date, and be a little flexible. If you say you’re going to do something on a certain day, unless there’s a surprise like a Hugo Labs myth, stick to what you’re saying. If you’re like, “Oh, the 15th I’m gonna launch this,” and then the 14 people who actually care are ready for the next day, changing the date’s just going to piss people off. Try to stick to things once you make them public. That’s another thing I feel like people should do.
The Power of Small Changes
[57:00] BW: Yeah. Makes a lot of sense. For my second to last question, I’m curious to know, what kinds of advice you might give your younger self five years ago, about creativity, the creative process, artmaking, or anything related to those subjects? What would you tell yourself?
[58:13] AL: That’s a good question. I think five years ago, it’d be wild to be able to say there’s a path forward with an art career. That didn’t seem possible.
Doubt yourself less and continue to push yourself creatively. If I could do it again, I would push myself to make even more art. I’ve always been aware of the idea that it takes 10,000 drawings to make a good drawing, and I feel like I’ve gotten there in my career. But I would just say, don’t be discouraged about the moment you’re in, and move forward with confidence. Do it for yourself.
Don’t worry as much about what other people think. Be true to yourself.
In the last three years, I stopped caring as much about the outside and started making things I was passionate about. Once I started doing that, a lot of things fell into place. More people connected with the work. It’s easy to get swept up in artificial goals on social media, but if you focus less on the outside and more on the inside, that’s what I would say.
[1:00:12] BW: I love that. I need that advice five years ago too.
[1:00:16] AL: But think about it. It’s good advice now too; we can take that to the next five.
[1:00:22] BW: Yeah. Okay. So travel back into the future five years and give myself the advice that you just gave yourself.
[1:00:32] AL: We just got that advice now, so in the next five years, we’ll have had an outcome like that. I saw something interesting the other day: People are always so afraid of the butterfly effect, that if they did the smallest little thing in the past, it would create a gigantic ripple into the future. Yet people in the present aren’t willing to accept that small changes now will have giant ripple effects in the future. Small things add up to big outcomes.
[1:01:21] BW: Yeah, it’s interesting. This past winter, approaching middle age and living in Portland, I started thinking about when I lived in Brooklyn. I felt like I’d wasted time and missed opportunities. I was getting down on myself, but then I decided to stop and think about what I might be missing now. I imagined myself 10 years in the future criticizing my actions today. Then I started a podcast at work, thinking, “Why not?” I get to talk to interesting people, and it could change the course of my life. So I love that advice, and it resonates with where I’m at as well.
[1:02:34] AL: That’s a good exercise.
[1:02:36] BW: Yeah, absolutely. For the last question, I’m curious to know: Is there an artist you would like to hear interviewed on the podcast, and is there a collector you would like to hear interviewed on the podcast?
[1:05:38] AL: Good question. There are a lot of artists I would love to hear interviewed, but one that comes to mind is a friend named Rocket Girl. She’s an AI artist who also overpaints with physical paint, and her work is great. I would love to hear from her if you can pick her brain. As far as a collector goes, Raptor News. He’s fantastic, very supportive, and big into generative art. You can tell that he collects art that makes him smile. He’s a very nice dude, and if he’d be willing, I think that’d be cool too.
[1:06:36] BW: Cool. Well, thank you for the tip. Adam Levine, where can our listeners find out more about you and what you’re up to?
[1:06:50] AL: Sure. Most of that is going to be up on Twitter. So, at Adamtastic, which I just got my name finally. I’m very grateful that I finally have my artist’s name as my handle. You can follow me on Twitter, Adamtastic across all socials, on Instagram, the same, and I’ve got a website antastic.com. But Twitter is really going to be the most up-to-date place to check in.
[1:07:30] BW: Cool. Well, thank you so much for coming on today. This is super fun. Really had a wonderful time, and I hope to talk to you soon.
[1:07:39] AL: Yeah, thanks for having me. It was great.