Spil Kids Meet the Mama: Olya Tsikhanchuk, Graphic Designer

We are so honored to feature our first interview with an inspiring mama entrepreneur, graphic designer Olya Tsikhanchuk! Based in Finland, this talented lady initially caught our eye on Instagram with her bright, fun-loving patterns. Originally an English teacher, this illustrator (who is also in process of getting her MFA and teaching art to littles and of course momming full time) uses an array of mediums to display her whimsical and colorful art. One of our personal favorites is her childrenswear designs. You will see many of her dreamy prints and patterns all over recent (AW23) collections for Korean brand Jelly Mallow, French brand Hello Simone and Hong Kong based Wander and Wonder Kids. I'd also recommend checking out her account @dressupp_app. Like a world of virtual paper dolls, you can choose from a wardrobe of sustainable clothing on your phone personally illustrated by her to put together your favorite outfit combinations. It was a pleasure getting to know Olya's world a bit better and we appreciate her candid positive demeanor and do-er mentality - she is quite the inspiration in so many ways! We hope you enjoy soaking up this Q&A as much as we enjoyed hosting :)
Olya Tsikhanchuk Illustrator Mama Interview Spil Kids
Nice to meet you, Olya! Can you share a bit about what your family looks like as well as your work as an entrepreneur? How and when did your journey as a mother and business owner start?

Maybe I will start from the beginning. I am Olya. I am originally from Belarus. I moved to Finland ten years ago, to my then boyfriend. I had been working as an English teacher before I moved to Finland. My love for languages and cultures is still there, as well as my love for teaching. I teach creativity (as broad as it can sound) two days a week at a local college, and I am occasionally a guest teacher at the university I graduated from. I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design in 2020, but I started working as a designer already during my second year at the uni. Some may say I am ambitious, I just see it as I love what I do and I couldn’t  wait to start :) 

So now I work as a freelance designer, mainly with the focus on prints and patterns for kids fashion, but I also paint, create colorful apps, and soon will start ceramic work. And I am also finishing my Master’s in Circular Design, writing my thesis at the moment. That is shortly about my professional life, which I have a problem separating from my personal life. 

My ex-husband and I co-parent our eight year old son Alfred and our 10 year old dog. We live in a tiny town called Nykarleby, so it is handy. We have a week-to-week system which allows us to focus both on our child and also work. My creative world is also shared with my boyfriend who is an art and crafts teacher as well as a freelance photographer and a designer. Amid all the work and parenting, we find the time to dream and create together. I don’t know how we juggle all of it, it is not all roses and straight lines, but at the same time I do enjoy how full my life is. 

Olya Tsikhanchuk Portrait with Son

What is hardest for you to juggle or balance right now? Have you found any hacks that are helping?

Balance is a notion unknown to me, and I used to thrive in a mess. Now I do feel I need to slow down. But my head is just too fast. I come up with an idea and I do it, without much analyzing if it is a good time for it. My only hack is to not get sick, so it is important to let yourself have days of rest, travel, and meeting with friends. I need to be better with the latter. 

Olya Tsikhanchuk Design

Do you have any advice for an aspiring business owner who is stuck and doesn’t know where to start?

My advice is bold - just start! Do not wait to prepare everything to be perfect. As you do things, your “perfect” changes and in that way you chase the thing in your head that you will never get as you will always want more. Also, a piece of practical advice - have savings. Save up money to fall back on when you work as a creative. The payments can come irregularly. Plus, you will always want to spend money on more books, courses, equipment… 

Olya Tsikhanchuk Home

I feel that being a mother often pushes you to embrace something that may not have initially come easily. For us it’s embracing the play and the mess. What might it be for you?

I think if it was not for my son, I would not be in kids fashion now. My son has taught me to embrace the uncontrollable and not freeze. I have always been brave, but now I am boldly daring. I have to provide for him, so there is no waiting for inspiration to come. He is my motivation! The mess - I am struggling with it. I do not function well in a mess. I need a clean environment. I can’t rest if it is messy in the house :) I also admit it and I am not a control freak, I just know what I want and what helps me. So I clean and I try to teach my son to clean too. 

Olya Tsikhanchuk Portrait

There is inspiration in so many places especially as a creative type! Who and / or what inspires you?

My son, as I have answered above. Also my inspiration is my day to day life. Being an immigrant comes with many anxieties, and I battle them with creating the life I want to live. It is pushing myself out of all the comfort zones possible, but also embracing the adventure and enjoying this journey. Globally I am also inspired by other creative people: modern artists who have changed the face of art, contemporary artists who reflect on the world and dare to create even at the time of overflow of information and anxieties. 

Olya Tsikhanchuk Art

One thing that has helped my state of mind is focusing on gratitude daily. What are you grateful for?

I love this! You know, my son and I say what things we are grateful for every night. And I love how he just says “I am grateful for playing with a friend". I learn from him to be grateful for small things. So I am grateful for having a call with my friend today, I am grateful that I felt the energy today to write my thesis. And I am grateful for my flow ideas. Never a day without a new idea. I also have learned to be patient with them, as I do like completing things, not having 100 projects and procrastinating. I am very much a do-er. 

Olya Tsikhanchuk with Son

What are your favorite activities or places to enjoy with your little(s) nowadays?

Oh! My son is active, in a way that something must always be happening. I think if I had to pick one - I would say - it is traveling with my son. I love to see him grow. I love to see him being curious. It is not always easy: he is extremely stubborn and active, he has no fear and thinks he knows everything best, but in general, after we return from a trip - I am already looking forward to a new one :)

Olya Tsikhanchuk Illustration

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My parents are both doctors and so are many in my extended family. So up until the age of nine I did want to be a doctor, though with the focus on animals. Growing up we had a cat, but in Belarus there were many homeless dogs and I wanted to save them all :) But still  today I am very much terrified of blood. So medicine was out of the picture. When I was nine, I was on a school trip to Czech Republic, and after that I knew that my life would be connected with languages. I went to study pedagogy and linguistics when I was 18, and then worked for ten years as an English teacher. I still teach English sometimes. 
Olya Tsikhanchuk Home

Do you have any favorite childhood toys, games, activities or even spaces that stand out to you?
I really enjoyed my childhood. We were out a lot in summer! There were poor facilities for kids in Belarus, no playgrounds. In a way it was not a safe space, but I had great friends with good imagination and we always came up with good games! And somehow we escaped all the troubles. I am not sure now if this kind of danger is a part of any kid growing up, or if it is specific for each country. I don't want to sound like now the kids are too demanding and addicted to entertainment, but it does feel that way. We had leaves and trees and homeless dogs to play with, no game boys or nicely handcarves out toys, but our imagination was insatiable. 
Yet, as a mother I would not want my kid to experience what I have had. But as an immigrant, being from a post-soviet country, I struggle sometimes with all the luxury that kids get in Europe. And it can also be that my childhood was 30 years ago :) I want my son to feel safe and I want to know he is safe, but I always have a conversation with him about the amount of toys he really needs and how cool it is to play outside with the stones and sand. Luckily, my experience of education in Finland is that it is very out in nature! They have everything they need for learning technology wise, but they are in the forest with the school at least two times a week in whatever weather! 
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