Women Who MAKE: Zoe Pawlak

Centered By Design: Women Who MAKE Interview – Artist Zoë Pawlak

This month, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Canadian artist and entrepreneur Zoe Pawlak. It’s not often that a blind email stops me in my tracks, but when Zoe’s team reached out to me I was floored! Not only was her artwork vibrant, gorgeous and perfect for some of my clients, but she also has two rug collections based on her paintings, which are incredibly fun and unique. I love how her work feels contemporary, but not cold. The rugs and pantings pair well in all kinds of spaces, which makes her work so versatile for transitional and modern spaces.

I knew I had to feature her on Women Who Make! We had a great conversation a few weeks ago, where Zoe shared that as a young mom with little work experience she was determined to make a career as an artist work. Here is the interview – I hope you enjoy!

photo: Lululemon Pat Young

  • Name: Zoë Pawlak
  • Age: 35
  • Current title/company name: Zoë Pawlak Studio
  • Years in operation: 11

What are your first memories of making [art]/being creative?

Singing and performing to The Little Mermaid, Bodyguard, and Paula Abdul cassette tapes. My best friend and I dominated the craft fair scene in our suburb in grades 3-5. I never wanted to just make something, I always wanted to make something and then show it and sell it.

How did your education or past work experience give you the confidence to go out on your own as a small business owner?

I was educated at a Fine Arts high school for grades 10-12. This prepared me to attend two art programs in Canada at both Concordia and NSCAD. At university, I obsessively studied the human form, drawing and painting. Also, I suffered from depression as a teenager. I was allowed to go to live in Chile for a semester when I was 14 so long as I paid my own airfare. My parents always let us follow our dreams so long as we worked hard. I waitressed for 7 years and this is a hard job. I learned a lot about customer service, physical work and people. These skills were formative and still shape the way I apply myself at my job now.

photo: Ali Inay

Tell us about the process of launching your business. Best parts? Biggest challenge?

When I learned the word “entrepreneur” (from Seth Godin), I really felt complete. I felt that I could pair my arts education with selling my work. I read a lot of business books in the early days. I had a baby at 25 and no work experience apart from waitressing. I was determined to make a living as an artist/entrepreneur work out.

What is your favorite part of the design process? What inspires you and why?

I love creative problem solving. When someone, (a client, company, or designer) have/has an empty space or a need, I love being able to make decisions that work out well. I also love balancing a budget, function, composition, content, interaction and feeling. This is successful design.

Photo: Janis Nicolay

Photo: Janis Nicolay

What is the best advice you have for other female entrepreneurs?

Find your people.

Do you have a design philosophy, and if so, what is it?

Do not deviate from your instincts. Your soul, your way of seeing life, is unique. This is sufficient, don’t complicate it.

Your rugs have been inspired by your art collection. How did the rug collaboration evolve and is the design process different from your painting work?

I was put in touch with my collaborators, The Burritt Brothers, by mutual friend and interior designer. The Burritt Brothers wanted to do a few collections that were progressive and aligned with an emerging, Canadian talent. Our values aligned and it has been an amazing partnership ever since.

Rug design is similar to painting in that you are considering composition, colour and feeling on a rectangle. In that way, I was very prepared and able to actualize the work. Designing with Jeff Martin was a totally different process. I felt very out of my element. With furniture design, there are so many moving parts and various, complicated mediums. It was a delightful challenge.

Photo: Janis Nicolay, Design by Room Craft Designs

Photo: Janis Nicolay

Was there a moment you felt like you got your big break? What was it?

I have never had one ‘big’ moment. I have been self-employed for eleven years. There have been several exhibitions that were installed and I have been able to see the manifestation of what it was I set out to do. These are the moments that I treasure.

Centered By Design is my business name, but it’s also the idea that we can find a bit of sanctuary each day through design, that good design can center us and make us feel great. Does your design process center you in any way? If so, how?

One of the great pleasures of my work, is who I get to spend my time with. Design aligns me with the most creative minds in North America, allowing me to have a bright and inventive staff and travel with purpose to the studios and homes of colleagues and clients. This centers me and aligns me with a meaningful purpose.

ZOE’s Montreal Favorites:

Thank you Zoe for sharing your wealth of experience and beautiful images with us! I hope to meet you in Montreal someday soon. Readers come back next month for an all new interview. Hint: wedding dresses and a tre´s chic home and studio are included!

XO – CLAIRE