Designer Spotlight: Linda Zacks

Lina Zacks Art

Linda Zacks can’t be indexed as one particular artistic species: she’s equal parts design, illustration, paint, poetry, zip, and zoom. She graduated from Brown University in 1995, where she studied semiotics and creative writing and spent her junior year at Rhode Island School of Design. Four years prior to launching a freelance career, Linda was Design Director at Since going solo in 2004, she’s been hunkered down in her creative laboratory in Brooklyn called “extra-oomph,” concocting pieces that churn with a vivacious energy. Some recent projects include a mural in the Paris subway; a national “Back 2 School” campaign for Sony Style; parts of a “crazy A” for an Adobe campaign; funky, colorful characters for Nickelodeon’s teen network The N; and helping birth a new creative social networking website called VOO!

Layers: You use a lot of hand-drawn, painted elements along with computer-generated art. Which do you usually start with and what’s your process for combining the elements?

Zacks: I love working by hand—the messiness, the unpredictability, the accidents, the smells, the textures—I usually start there. I often use the computer as a kind of virtual glue stick: a place to combine hand-done elements and weave them together, but never really as a place to originate pictures. I’m addicted to my scanner. I’ve been known to scan in some crazy things and I think it’s the best invention on earth. I just wish they made them bigger—maybe even desk sized!

Layers: You often mix bright colors in contrast with black and white. How do you choose your colors for a project? Do you start out knowing how the final piece is going to look or does it evolve as you go along?

Zacks: I never really know exactly how something might turn out. The suspense, the twists and turns an image takes as you get in the zone are always surprising and invigorating. I am always open to happy accidents and stream of consciousness. I’ve always been in love with the strength and grit of black-and-white imagery and strong splats of color straight out of the inkbottle. I never really mix paint—love its naked intensity. Choosing colors—it could be as simple as seeing something minutes before I start to dig in, and the impression is burned into my skull and makes it into the picture.

Layers: A lot of your art has a strong emotional impact on the viewer. How personally connected are you to each piece you create? Where does your inspiration come from?

Zacks: I do a great deal of thinking before I start anything. No pen, no paper, no computer. I thoroughly dissect and analyze. It pretty much takes over my brain for a considerable period of time. I make a strong emotional connection to ideas and it carries through from my brain, to my heart, to my hands, to the paper. Inspiration comes from everywhere—mostly from the places you’d never expect.

Layers: What applications do you work with regularly? Do you have a favorite?

Zacks: I use Photoshop all the time and it’s definitely my favorite. I use Illustrator from time to time and it is definitely not my favorite.

Layers: Why did you decide to leave the corporate world and become a freelance designer? What was your biggest challenge in making the transition?

Zacks: As Design Director for Vh1’s website, I was stuck doing Web design for one brand—the commute, the bureaucracy, the headaches. In the evenings and on the weekends, I always found time to work on my own projects, but it was really difficult. I yearned to work with a diverse group of people on all kinds of projects while continuing to churn out personal work. I wanted a life that was less predictable, less 9 to 5. I wanted to be my own boss. Freelancing is full of challenges—marketing, negotiating, discipline, droughts. The lists are endless, but if you can make it work, the rewards are spectacular—the sky’s the limit!

Layers: What are the differences in working with big clients, such as Adobe and Sony, versus working with smaller, lesser-known companies?

Zacks: Big clients usually have bigger contracts to read. But other than that, I’ve worked with some wonderful people from all different kinds of places—and that’s the greatest thing about being a free agent.

Linda Zacks: