Adobe Max Presenter Jonathan Adler Opens Up About His Creative Process

Jonathan AdlerJonathan Adler took the stage at this year’s Adobe Max to inspire and open up to a crowd of creatives.

“I started my business with a real fuck it, I have nothing to lose idea. I was fired from every job I ever had. I was 27 and unemployed and unemployable, so I became a potter.”

Adler launched his namesake brand in 1993 after leaving his day job to pursue a career in pottery. Since then, the designer, who has had collaborations with brands like Clinique, TOMS and Target, has become a household name. He has over 25 stores around the world and a thriving e-commerce business along with a roster of residential and commercial partnerships and projects.  While it sounds like he’s living the dream, life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.

“My adorable husband says I am sort of like Ariana Grande. A pop sprite who has this positive approach to live. And the other part of my personality is brooding, self critical and depressive. Those are two essential personality parts to being a creative person.”

Adler opened up about the honesty of his work and how none of it exists without a bit of darkness.  After all, the creative process is a tortuous one and that torture is key to getting the work done.

Jonathan Adler Design

“What I really want to talk to you about is how much I hate myself. I absolutely hate myself and I absolutely love myself. That dichotomy between self love and self loathing is the fuel to all of my creativity.”

The beginning of the process, he says, is the idea. After that up, comes the down. “I immediately think this is going to be a disaster, that this is going to fail because I am me.” Then comes the uphill battle of overcoming that feeling and the creation. And that is where the real fun comes in.

We sat down for a one-on-one talk about creative processes, how to score his favorite pieces,  and just what he thinks about other artists ambitions.


Your presentation allowed us to see you in a different light, as a vulnerable artist. Was it difficult to share your private thoughts about the  creative process?

No, I think it’s hard to package me as post norm. I think that it’s a reflection of the fact that my company is quite insular. I try to stay focused on what I make. I don’t know how not to be straightforward and honest.

Were you nervous?

I guess I have wasted too much of my life listening to dreary speakers. I want to keep it real.

What was the most important piece of advice you have been given?

I think the best advice I ever got was from my dad. He told me never to ask anybody for advice. And the only other good advice I have gotten was from my husband. He told me, “ If you want to get ahead in business, always show up ten minutes early.”  The people in my office who are there 10 minutes early, I’ve got my eye on them.  And the people in my office that show up 10 minutes late, I’ve got my eye on them, also.

You talked about some of your unique pieces like the grenade piece and banana sculpture – how they just came to you in an instant. Is it always that easy?

Usually, honestly, it’s all just quite spur of the moment.  I was having an ice cream cone and thought, this would be kind of a cool surreal vase. And then I made it. The ideas are easy, it’s the execution that is hard. That takes  talent, skill, effort, determination and, most importantly, self critical facility.

Jonathan Adler

Do you have a piece that was your least favorite or one that the execution didn’t quite finish and it didn’t come to life.

One of the nice things about being prolific is that i make tons o stuff and try not to think about it too much. I look ahead instead. But there have been many that just didn’t work. One interesting thing is that often my favorite pieces are often the worst sellers and end up in a sample sale.  The truth is, people need to go to my sample sales. That’s where the great stuff ends up! Sad. But great.

You have done some cool collaborations. How do you pick the partners you work with?

It’s pretty intuitive. I try not to be too annoyingly strategic. I hate annoyingly strategic people. It’s like a real buzz kill quality in someone. We live in a world where everything is mapped out, strategized and action planned and I find it a complete buzz kill. That’s not how I roll.

You talked about knowing when the timing is right, how knowing when it’s your moment to shine and to “dance on the cube”?  Are you ready to help someone else shine when it’s no longer your turn to be dancing on a cube?

Yeah, No, I’ve never really been focused on others.  I just want to make really great stuff as long as I can.