Maia Walczak is an illustrator, writer, self-taught artist and has a great passion for surfing. Nature inspires Maia’s art and life in many ways. ‘I was raised in London’, she says, ‘but my family is from Poland. My grandad built a gorgeous a-frame cabin in the woods by a river and a stream in Poland. It’s one of my favourite places. I felt a lot of peace there. I have many childhood memories of going there every summer and then growing up in London. It was kind of a contrast. Having parents that were always into nature and the outdoors my childhood was full of foraging in forests, camping trips, mountain walking. My heart was always more into that lifestyle, and being in nature inspires me’.
During her Hispanic Studies at university in London, Maia spent a full year in Chile. The place where her journey creating art, surfing, and becoming aware of the vastness of the universe started. ‘When I got to Chile, I went to the mountains first and did snowboarding there, but then as soon as I started surfing, I just fell in love with it. It was a love and hate relationship because it took me so long to actually be able to learn how to surf’, she laughs. But she got hooked, and after that, she started travelling for surfing and ‘to find a place that I could call home one day’. During her time in Chile, she also had these moments of perspective looking up at the sky. ‘It’s the magic and that awareness of the vastness of the universe. Looking up at the moon and suddenly taking in its existence and how strange everything was’, she remembers. ‘There, I had the thought: what am I even worrying about in my life?’.
The moon, the stars, the universe are very present in Maia’s artwork. ‘It’s so strange that any of this exists and we take it for granted. It’s so normal to us, but at the same time, it’s so extraordinary. The ordinary is extraordinary. The constellations, stars, the moon, the planets, they’re a reminder of the vastness of it all. It’s not just the small me and my little world. It’s that we live in a vast universe and we don’t even know what it is. It’s a mystery. It’s a kind of reminder of the mystery of it all’, she adds. And that mystery goes both ways: outside and inside. ‘I don’t know much about this’, Maia continues, ’but when you think about infinite space, the mind can’t comprehend that. But, it’s equally to consider what’s the smallest particle. You can always split the smallest particle into a smaller particle, and it’s infinite in that way as well. It’s infinite in the expansion but also infinite going in the opposite direction’. As the vast universe around us, we also carry a vast universe within us.
During a surf trip to Australia, Maia decided to do more creative work. She took her sketchbooks with her and started developing a style of her own. Back in London, Maia continued creating more art during her final year of university. After going around and asking in cafés and different venues, she started exhibiting her artwork. She had an exhibition in a café in Camden (London, UK) and it went better than expected. ‘A friend of a friend was looking for an illustrator for a children’s book, and my friend recommended me. That was my first time thinking about illustrating books and illustrating in general. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to make my own children’s book’. Maia created her first book. It was a silent book. A friend of her put some music to it, and they put it up on YouTube as a slideshow. The video was picked up by a teacher, and she got invited to schools to do some workshops around it. ‘I liked it so much, I wanted to do that fulltime. I wanted to focus on the art’. So she did. She started waking up at 4am to draw and study before going to work.
‘When I first did a silent book, it was kind of an experiment. I thought, if there are silent films and they tell a story, let’s experiment with a storybook. No words and still tell a story just through images’, Maia explains. ‘Words are concepts, and we need the mind to interpret them, and I wondered if a silent book could go beyond mind and concepts. Whether to express things of the heart, perhaps without words, we could bypass the mind and go straight to the heart. I wondered whether just using imagery could be a more direct way of saying something.’ A children’s silent book can contain many stories in one. Each person engaging with the book, the adult or the child, will create a story of their own. Maia realized only after making them that ‘people appreciated the idea of silent books because you can interpret them in any way. The books have been used for helping children in creative writing, and I see now how powerful this can be in creative thinking and learning’.
Image from book Wylder. Courtesy of Maia Walczak.
Maia Walczak enjoys telling stories through children’s books. The stories she particularly likes are the ones that touch something deeper inside you. ‘I don’t think I’m writing just for children’, she says. ‘When we are little children, everything is new and magical to us, but when we become adults, a tree is a tree, and the sky is the sky. We have labels and concepts, so it’s no longer a mystery’. It’s true that in life, we need those labels in our brains to function and live our lives, even though we might not have a clue what a tree really is. ‘I think that telling stories through children’s books is also a way to speak to that inner child within us. To that sense of wonder that has been stripped away by becoming an adult and learning concepts, ideas…’, Maia continues. ‘Through children’s books, I try to reach into that space within us that remembers that kind of wonder at life’.
That awe and wonder in Maia’s artwork is a reminder of the beauty around us. ‘I’m just a human, and I forget about it all the time. My work is also a reminder to myself of the wonder and mystery of life and’, as she says, ‘it hopefully reminds others of it. To be in wonder and connect to that love and compassion because it’s all very precious and wonderful’. A few years ago, Maia finally decided to move to Cornwall (UK) to live closer to nature and the sea.
Maia at home. Photo by Berta Valverde.