Interview: with Helen Acraman of ZukZuk

“Into the Sun” Limited Edition ZukZuk Print

by Jessika Hepburn, O Happy Day Handmade

The most remarkable thing about editing OMHG is the chance to connect with and promote some of my favourite artists, crafters and business owners. I am so excited and honoured to offer our readers this lovely interview with Canada-based artist, Helen Acraman of  ZukZuk. I love the gentle sweetness of the work featured on her Etsy site, I literally feel my heart filling up until it feels too big to fit in my chest when I look at some of her images.  I want a print for every room, little reminders to live joyfully. Despite the light hearted subject matter there is a depth to her art that inspires me and her use of colour and texture is unique and beautiful. I would love to see fabric/textiles and children’s picture books featuring her designs. If you are as enamoured with her art as I am be sure to come back next Sunday, August 15 for an Oh My Handmade ZukZuk giveaway!

"Bear Hug" & "Magic Moss Bears" Limited Edition ZukZuk print

My name is Helen Acraman, I’m 35 years old and have two homes; the one I came from 9 years ago (New Zealand) and my current one, multicultural Toronto in Canada.

2. Your illustrations are full of grace, whimsy and colour-what inspires you as an artist?

I wouldn’t say that the art you see in my Etsy store (bears, birds and such) is a full representation of my inner world as an artist but it’s certainly a projection of part of me. I go about life in a pretty optimistic, I would even say joyful way and I see and feel a lot of beauty in things around me. My happiness and the love I feel for my son, Isaac 5 years, is part of what inspires my current work and his presence and antics give me an excuse to indulge my own childlike behaviour!

3.How do you balance the need to create with the demands of parenting?

It’s kinda sucky. I find it difficult. As an artistic person I just want to be alone doing my creative thing be that music or art. I know some people are able to create in a rather regimented, disciplined manner but I am not one of those persons. In an ideal world I’d certainly be a more prolific artist than what I am right now but that would demand way more headspace than I get these days.

4. What does an average work day look like in your house (eg. routine, hours etc). Do you work from home or do you also have a “day job” in addition to parenting?

I am lucky right now in that the only “work” I do in addition to parenting and managing a house is my music and art. My son is at school for a few hours in the morning so that is usually when I attend to art, email/businessy stuff. Afternoons and early evening is all about my son and then I get another window in the evening after he has gone to bed to do music. These days there isn’t any time to watch T.V., I kinda like it that way!

"Masked Bear" Limited Edition ZukZuk print

5. What is your studio/workspace like (if you have one)?

Ha! Right now my world is in transition as we are due to move house so everything is catastrophic and there is no real studio/workspace. I am looking forward to setting up in my new house. It is my desire to create a work space with intention this time round as I haven’t done so well with this in the past oftentimes creating on the kitchen table, in areas with not really enough space or organisation etc.

6. Are there any artists/designers, past & present that you are influenced/inspired by?

Some of my favourite artists are Basquiat, Klee, McCahon, Miro and Gretchen Albrecht.

7. Where do you sell your work-online, in stores (which ones)?

I haven’t been super proactive in marketing myself. I sell through on-line stores like Etsy, Little Paper Planes and Polka Dot Moose and a few physical stores – Canteen, Red Door Gallery, and White Elephant.

"Jelly Bean Birds" Limited Edition ZukZuk print

8. How do you market and promote your business?

Gulp, this interview is really exposing me to myself! Again, I haven’t been particularly proactive in this area either! Everybody seems to be watching Etsy so pretty much every opportunity has fallen into my lap by virtue of my having a presence there.

9. Do you have any new projects/products/exciting opportunities in the works?

I’m trying to open an espresso bar with a friend, does that count? I’d really like to work on a line of kids clothes and I’d like to do a CD of songs for children. Later this year I’m going to be starting work on a couple of children’s books. That’s about as much excitement as I can handle at the moment.

10. A dollar from all of your Etsy sales goes to support Amnesty International and your profile mentions a love of grassroots activism. How do your political beliefs influence the art you create and the way you do business?

I love a question like this, it totally makes me sound like a serious artist which cracks me up completely. To answer the question: I’m not sure. I guess whatever you do, as you make your way through life, you are expressing your brand in a sense. Freedom is very important to me so the organisation Amnesty International is close to my heart. Living freely means heaps of things but one of those to me is being able to give and receive with ease so having a charitable aspect to my business was a no brainer. I don’t think my political beliefs influence the creation of say for instance, bears holding hands and stuff, but a while back I did go through a period where the art I created highlighted some themes that were important to me. Unfortunately affordable art about “issues” isn’t always that appealing to a big portion of the population and what I wanted to create was a successful business so I changed the art I created to what you see in my store today. Do I feel like a sell out? In a tiny sense perhaps, but as I said earlier, my art is still a projection of part of me and if that part is a whimsical, simple, childlike part so be it.

"Love Train" Limited Edition ZukZuk print

11. What are the main Do’s & Don’ts that you have learned about successfully selling handmade art?

If you have a good product, run your business graciously with enthusiasm and generosity you’re bound to do well. Know that there is plenty of room out there for your unique artistic expression and keep plugging away, momentum needs to be built in order for success to be attained!

12. Have you always been an artist or is this a new career path for you? What kind of work have you done in the past?

Crikey, I’ve done so many things… This is a new career path for me. It’s taken me all this time to finally own up to the fact that I consider myself an artistic person first and foremost. I’m really happy that I’ve come to this realization.

"We Are Strong" Limited Edition ZukZuk print

13. My favourite print of yours is the powerful “We are Strong” image (above). Can you tell OMHG a bit about this picture and the process of creating it?

This image was created as part of a colouring book project where the theme was “We are Strong” and we had to come up with our interpretation for that theme. As a mother the strength of emotion I have for my child is in my face pretty much all day long though it certainly doesn’t make me feel strong all the time – a lot of the time it makes me feel pretty freaking vulnerable. I like that thing someone said that compares having a child to having your heart walking around outside your body. Love is certainly strength though and its full power is daunting especially when it is uncontaminated by fear.

You can view more of Helen’s original art on her Etsy site and learn more about her by visiting the ZukZuk blog.

  • http://www.hopelovescards.etsy.com Kim Gosney

    Great article – very inspiring!

  • http://bloomingnihon.blogspot.com Jacqui at Mee a Bee

    This is so great. I am a huge fan of Helen’s work (if having one of her prints counts). I read her blog and enter the giveaways from time to time. We connected as New Zealanders who are also expats.
    I’m so happy things are going so well for you Helen!

  • Anne B.

    Love her work! Happy owner of one of her prints. Great article.

  • http://juliewebb.etsy.com Julie

    Lovely interview. I’m another huge fan of Helen’s work and also a New Zealander living in Canada (we get around don’t we!).