Zoë Pawlak is an artist and industrial designer based in Vancouver. While her work is rooted in painting, she has recently begun to work in rug design. Zoë believes in the power of inviting viewers to participate in a shared narrative through honest vulnerability. Her work has been featured in Architectural Digest, Interior Design, and Martha Stewart Living. Her paintings have found a home in the private collections of the Government of Canada, Cristina and Trevor Linden, Cobie Smulders, and Club Monaco. A local entrepreneur, Zoë is passionate about community. Recently, she shared some of her expertise about working as an artist in Vancouver and eloquently describes the important role of artwork in the home.
Take us back to where it all started. Tell us about your background and how you began your career as an artist
I started painting professionally at 25 when our first daughter was born. I submitted my work to 125 design blogs, which were very new at the time. My work was picked up by Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge and I sold 23 paintings in three days! At the time, our house was like a FedEx office. From her exposure, I got my first large commission and was really thankful to have had that featured in Martha Stewart Living. All these small wins were built on top of one another. It was very early days for social media and I was always looking for the best exposure for my work for free.
Were there any artists or figures that had a big impact on you growing up, or when you first started your career? Perhaps life events also influence your art?
The two initial local heroes of my time were definitely Martha Sturdy and Bobbie Burgers. Seeing the rise of these two women's careers definitely shaped the trajectory of my career. Then, I gained exposure to Kelly Wearstler. What I loved about her at the time, was that she was innovating and had a really unique design aesthetic and I loved her vibe. She was a pioneer in our field and also a mom, so I could relate.
Where do you look for inspiration, and ideas for new pieces?
I love being in nature, that definitely informs my landscape painting. I look at fashion, sculpture and music covers for colour and compositional inspiration.
How would you describe your style and aesthetic in a nutshell? What mediums do you love to work with most?
I work in a lot of styles and in various mediums. I love painting, but really love the tenderness and vulnerability of drawing. Rug design is the newest to me and the most dynamic and collaborative. The shift into industrial design about a decade ago, really helped me open my mind and allowed me to start to collaborate with other makers in a way I don't really get to when I’m alone in the studio.
Is there a certain emotion you hope for people to feel when they experience your pieces?
I love when people mention that my work makes them feel calm. Most of my clients work very hard. They have big lives and when they come home, I love that my work is something they can rest into and reflect on. Having your work collected permanently into the homes of others is a great honour that I don't take lightly. As essential as the listener is to the song, so also the viewer's experience of the work is crucial.
Afternoon with Reds by Zoe Pawlak
"As essential as the listener is to the song, so also the viewer's experience of the work is crucial."
Which interior design aesthetic, in your opinion, pairs best with your pieces?
I love all design, but am most flattered when the work is acquired into homes that are especially unique or have a very strange or eclectic art collection.
How do you suggest designers educate their clients about investing in original art? Do you prefer to create a piece for a space that’s already complete, or for the designer to use your piece as the starting point?
I have had the honour of a designer building a style around the art, which is the ultimate compliment. Often, the client comes with previous pieces and the designer has little say in the art. This is hard for them and I do my best to help clients see the value in acquiring local, wild pieces.
What’s your favourite thing about being a part of the creative community we have here in Vancouver?
I love this community. We truly support each other. I lived in Montréal for four years mid-career and missed Vancouver so much! I love helping out emerging talent; now, with a brick-and-mortar location, people can come by and visit so much more often.
"I have had the honour of a designer building a style around the art, which is the ultimate compliment."
You’re very well known in the Vancouver design community. Any advice you’d like to share with up-and-coming artists?
I have spent 16 years maintaining authentic relationships. I LOVE PEOPLE and the result is that I am well taken care of or respected in my field. My team is amazing and has done a great job at helping with deadlines and always prioritizing sharing the newest work. This has mattered the most to me over the years and continues to be the greatest pleasure of my career.
What advice do you have for designers wanting to build a relationship with an artist?
I think the Eastside Culture Crawl is still the best way for designers to approach and learn about many artists at once. They can even review artists' websites as a resource. Local galleries are great and art advisors like Anita of Gallery Jones are your best bet!