Meet Maria Vashchuk: Lover of Tiny Gardens

Maria Vashchuk is a surface pattern designer working under the name, The Tiny Garden Design Studio in the Netherlands.

She spends most of her time doodling in her atelier or enjoying a cup of tea in her tiny urban garden. Maria likes to listen to the birds, observe life, visit museums and meanders around flea markets and bookshops – all of which provide her with inspiration for her colourful, enchanting and elegant designs.

Talking with our blog editor, Jacqui Taylor, Maria opens up about her childhood in Ukraine, cycling from home to studio and a strong yearning to travel again.

Hello Maria, firstly tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow and where do you live now?
I was born and grew up in Kyiv, Ukraine, in a family of a tailor (my father) and an accountant (my mother). My childhood I spent between Kyiv and a small town close by, where my grandmother lived. She used to have a house with a big garden and plenty of flowers, really a lot. I think one-third of her garden were flowers – it's uncommon because usually, people will grow potatoes and tomatoes in Ukraine and just a little bit of flowers for the table. My grandmother had it opposite. I really loved to be there in nature, between all that blossom.

Eight years ago, my husband and I decided to move to the Netherlands. Now we live in a small town close to Amsterdam, called Haarlem. It's near the dunes and the North Sea. Here is a lot of nature too. And we are lucky to have a small urban garden in the back yard of our house.

When did you start working as a surface pattern designer?
I started to work as a surface pattern designer during the last year of my Art Academy. It was four years ago. I created my first look book and headed to Frankfurt in Germany to visit Paper World in the hope of finding my first clients. And I did! Since then, a few companies have become my loyal clients. I would say that my design journey started in Germany.

Could you tell us about your style? Have you always had this style or has it evolved/changed over time?
I think it has changed over time and I think it will change even more. I actually started working with watercolour combined with line work. Then I switched to vector art. I did a lot of intricate, elegant colourful florals. Then I moved to narrative prints, and I think it's my favourite subject to this day. Now I also do typography pattern prints. I recently created a course on Skillshare about typography pattern prints and how they could enrich the pattern collection. I think it adds a nice mix to the collection, especially for fabrics.

To describe my style, I often receive feedback that my designs give the feeling of calmness, elegance, joy and are often intricate. 

Talk us through your creative process.
Once I have an idea of what I want the collection to be about, I start sketching. I usually use a pencil and a sketchbook with ivory or yellow paper. I wouldn't say I like to draw on white paper. I will first digitalise all the sketches on my iPad, and later I will put a pattern repeat together in Adobe Illustrator. I always work in collections and I think in collections.

What have been some challenges you have faced as an artist? What has changed for you due to COVID-19?
Actually, I quite enjoyed the first few weeks of partial lockdown we had here in the Netherlands because my husband was also working from home. I enjoyed having lunches together and his company. What was difficult for me during this period is that the borders between working hours and personal hours got diffused; I started to work longer hours. And what I miss a lot is traveling. Traveling is always the source of fresh ideas for me, and I miss exploring new cities, new traditions, meeting people. And of course, I miss my family. The borders have been closed in Ukraine since March, so I cannot travel to see my family. But, fortunately, they are doing fine.

When and how did you meet Nerida Hansen?
I did Surtex with Nerida as an agent in 2018, and since then, we have worked together.

What is the title of your latest designs for Nerida Hansen Fabrics? Talk about what has inspired this body of work.
The current collection for Nerida Hansen Fabrics is called Tropical Lush. This collection is full of exotic animals: monkeys, horn birds, tigers, papaya fruits, and hibiscus flowers. The collection is inspired by faraway tropical countries. I wanted to create a happy collection, and I think I captured the feeling of sparkling joy in it. It is especially relatable as travel to faraway places are restricted; we can travel with our imagination.

Talk us through your typical day. What do you do outside of work?
I start my morning with a cup of decaffeinated coffee with a splash of oat milk, ahah. Then I will work out for an hour. I am not a morning person, so I prefer to do something that didn't require a lot of attention in the morning and something that can energise me. I attend a yoga class or visit a gym works fine. Then I will reply to clients' emails, and I will start working on the assignment for the day (whether it be a commissioned project, a new collection, or my personal project). If the weather is good, I will have lunch in the garden; if it rains (it rains a lot in the Netherlands;) I will stay inside and enjoy the company of my husband and our two cats – Mickey and Lora. Then I will continue working on the assignment or switch to another one. I like to take breaks throughout my day to have a walk or bike to the city centre. It clears my mind and helps me to stay focused.

Outside of design working hours, I paint. I have a separate studio five minutes cycling from my home, where I create large scale oil paintings.

Who has inspired you the most to date and why?
I think the most inspiring figure to me to date is Sonia Delaunay. Sonia was an artist and designer. I adore how she combined her art practice and design work, her endless imagination, and creativity. I saw one painting of hers last February in MoMa, NYC. I find her personality and her work fascinating. And she was born in a city that now is Ukraine's territory (not so far from Kyiv), although she is not Ukrainian.

Maria, you've worked on a lot of projects. What would be your dream job?
I love creating collections for fabrics. It was my big dream that came true. I feel very lucky! And now I need a new dream. I would love to design kids' bedding. I think I could apply my imagination to create inspiring bedding for kids' rooms. I loved beautiful creative bedding as a child.

What is in the pipeline for you?
In November, I go to Leipzig, Germany, for an art residency. I will have time and a studio of 83m2 in Spinnerei district (former cotton mill, now art complex with studios of around 100 artists, 14 galleries, printing facilities, and everything one needs to create). I want to use this opportunity to work on a new body of work for my The Tiny Garden Design Studio, and I will work on new paintings. Maybe I will bring them closer to each other (art practice and design), as Sonia did. And as I mentioned earlier, new exciting things start in Germany for me. I am open to all the opportunities this three months working period will bring me.

Do you have a mantra? What is it?
Sorry, I don't have a mantra. I'm a very practical person.

What advice would you offer to those that are starting out as artists?
Don't be afraid to take risks and try new things. New opportunities come with new experiences!

To shop The Tiny Garden’s range, visit www.neridahansen.com.au.

Words by Jacqui Taylor