Freelancer Spotlight: Adam Ziskie

Freelancer Spotlight: Adam Ziskie

Illustrator and Designer

Ron Toledo

Dec 4

studio_adam ziskie


The Kalo Freelancer Profile series highlights the best and brightest in the independent workforce. 

Name: Adam Ziskie
Location:  Berkeley, CA.
Skills:  Illustration, painting, graphic design, singing along with Bob Dylan songs.
Expertise: Illustration, Children's books
Find me: Website, LinkedInDribbble, Instagram
Everything else: Children's book portfolio, Artwork 

About Adam

How long have you been freelancing?
I first started freelancing in college, making album covers for bands, designing products for local shops, and illustrating a couple of children’s books. At that time most of the freelance work I was doing were traditional watercolor illustrations. Since then, my freelance projects have varied from leading a mural workshop with Facebook Academy to illustrating blog spots for a local agency in Austin to designing a logo and brand identity for a SF startup. Most of my work for the last few years has been digital and it wasn’t until recently that I started pursuing it full time.

Why did you become a freelancer?
I liked the idea of being able to pursue my true passion: illustration, and serve as a specialist for it. There was a time when most places had in-house illustrators but those days were decades ago. Recently there seems to be a renaissance for illustration, although those in-house positions are still pretty few and far between. Hopefully one day the illustrator position will return to its previous prominence. 

How has being a freelancer changed your life?
Being a freelancer allows me the flexibility to pursue artistic growth and exploration. I love being able to take on opportunities that are unexpected because I can shift my schedule around.

What's the best thing about freelancing?
The ability to work on projects that you specialize in. The freedom it allows for your schedule. The variety of projects. The ability to work with multiple teams, gain new perspectives and help bring new things to life.

What's the worst thing about freelancing?
The worst thing about freelancing is probably the lack of community that comes from working by yourself most days.


Workflows and Habits

What does your typical workday look like?
I’m an early riser and get my best work done in the morning. Once I have a cup of coffee made, I sit down at my desk and get to work. I usually take a short lunch break and maybe a quick walk or bike ride. Working from home makes it all too easy to not go outside or see the sunlight if I don’t make a point of it.

What do you have any quirky workflows or habits?
I feel like my workflow is pretty standard. Working all day on executing visuals leaves a lot of ear space. I’ve always got music, podcasts, or films that I’ve seen for the millionth time playing in the background. Depending on what the image is or if it’s based in a certain time period I’ll try to listen to tunes from the era to get in the groove. I’ve also recently been picking recording artists I like and listening to their entire catalog in chronological order. I love this approach because it eliminates any decision fatigue and lets you explore some of the less popular stuff while seeing their growth as an artist in a sped up way. 

What's your workplace setup look like?
I’ve got a nice section of my apartment set aside for my studio. I’ve got some plants and reference books to bring some life and inspiration to my desk. I’ve got a harmonica for breaks and a tiny little figurine of Paul McCartney for some good vibes. I work on an iMac with a Wacom Intuos tablet. All of my sketches and most of my digital paintings are tackled on an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil.

What's your favorite place to freelance from?
Ideally it would be the foggiest place you can imagine. Unfortunately so much of my work is tethered to my desktop that I guess Berkeley will have to do (aw nuts). When I’m in the sketch stage I usually take advantage of the mobility that the iPad pro gives me and will work from a coffee shop or a park bench.

What's the first action you take when you start your day?
I make sure I have a cup of coffee in my hands first and then I set out to find some music that fits the right mood, and assess the schedule of things that need to be tackled for the day.

What’s an app or tool in your toolkit that makes your work life easier? [besides Kalo].
The always updating Adobe CC, Google docs, and a stopwatch on my phone.


Freelancing Lessons Learned

What’s your favorite project you've worked on?
I recently completed a project for a company where I illustrated a user journey. I really enjoyed the creative process with the team and the style we landed on for the objects, characters, and settings. At the end, an animator was brought on to give my illustrations a little movement, which was a blast to see.

What’s your biggest challenge freelancing?
Balancing the work when multiple jobs all come up at once. Seeing which schedules have flexibility and which have hard deadlines.

Best piece of advice you’ve been given that helped your freelance career?
Make investments in yourself. Sometimes it’s hard to justify taking a class that costs money or investing in a new tool, but the expansion of your skill set is always worth it. 

What's your best advice for other freelancers just starting out?
Put some money from each paycheck aside for taxes at the end of the year.

What advice do you have for freelancers who are struggling with keeping on top of their workload?
Start with the part of the project that is immediately drawing your eye--follow the inspiration. When you feel like you’ve hit a wall, take a quick break, get up and take a walk, stretch, or call a friend for an energy boost. And coffee, always consume more coffee.

How do you find balance and keep your freelance career separate from your regular life?
At one point in time I had a studio that was solely used for art. That was the best way to keep my art practice separate from my regular life. Now that my studio is in my apartment, I have to be more diligent about my working hours. I’m up early and tend to hold close to 9-6 hours. Unless a project necessitates, I like to clock out around 5-6 and make dinner or listen to records with my wife, Jennifer.


Experience with Kalo

Describe Kalo using only three words? 
Helpful, Streamlined, Convenient.

Favorite thing about Kalo?
How easy it is to fill out paperwork and keep track of invoice statuses.

How has Kalo helped you with payment and being paid on time? 
Kalo has done more than helped with payments, it basically eliminated the thought from the process. Every time I have sent over an invoice, I am paid before I know it.


The Future of Freelancing

What's a common misconception about freelancing?
I feel like a common misconception of freelancing and freelancers is that you are an expendable element when in fact you are brought in, usually on a tight deadline, as a specialist. There is often no time or room for errors or training so your expertise is essential.

What's your outlook on the future of work and freelancing?
I feel that as the gig economy grows so will the remote workforce. There are a lot of benefits from being able to work from home or a spot of your choosing. Less commuting, more flex time, the ability to live in a spot that makes sense for your life instead of proximity to a particular building. I hope it keeps trending upwards and that more infrastructure is built to improve it.