Spotlight: Yulia Brodskaya, Artist and Illustrator

Seeshall by Yulia Brodskaya

Spotlight: Yulia Brodskaya, Artist and Illustrator

What’s in a name? In illustrator Yulia Brodskaya’s case, her name was instrumental in discovering her unique process of creating paper art. Reaching for a way to illustrate “Yulia” in a distinctive way, she saw the potential of paper as her signature expressive medium.

Yulia Brodskaya headshot

When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?

My parents sent me to an art school when I was just about 6 years old, so I was head-deep involved in creative art practices long before I gained any conscious realisations; I grew up thinking that creativity is an integral part of life, that’s how it is supposed to be.

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How long have you been creating paper art? How did you get started?

I always had a special fascination for paper as a material, but I studied Graphic Design and Illustration (I was advised that it is a good reliable option to make a living in the creative industries); I never thought that paper art will become my true passion.

About 10 years ago, I was mainly interested in creating hand-drawn illustrations, especially letterforms, and after working at them for a year or so I had put together a number of typographic designs good enough, in my opinion, to get me editorial commissions from magazines and newspapers.

My idea was to make a little self-promotional booklet featuring some of these designs and send it out to potential clients. The crucial thing that was missing was an eye-catching cover image that would make certain my booklet would be noticed. I decided that it had to be my name illustrated and featured on the cover. I created several hand-drawn versions of my name—Yulia— but none of them seemed to be good enough, so I discarded them.

At some point, somehow, the idea to cut a sheet of card into strips came to my mind, and I began gluing these strips edges down, repeating the letter outlines. As soon as the ‘Yulia’ paper design was ready, I realised that I’m onto something very exciting, I immediately dropped the illustrative booklet idea and instead immersed myself into this new world of paper.

Holi by Yulia Brodskaya

How is your process of paper art different from traditional quilling? How is it like painting?  What makes your work stand out as yours?

With my first paper artwork ‘Yulia’, I, unknowingly, invented Quilling from scratch for myself. (I never even heard the term Quilling before my work started to appear on the Internet). It turned out that my method is not really the same as traditional Quilling: the key difference is that I use heavy paper or card which I shape and manipulate any way I want to, as if I’m drawing or painting with paper strips (instead of rolling thin paper into basic shapes).

Painting with Paper book cover

What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your book, Painting with Paper: Painting on the Edge?

In my new book Painting with Paper: Paper on the Edge I share everything I’ve learned (and, of course, continue learning) about quilling and paper art. This is not a project-based book, but instead an insight into my creative process with practical tips on how to work with my methods in various ways of your own.

What I’m trying to encourage through sharing my experience and practical advice is creative freedom. We create in order to feel joy from making something beautiful with our own hands; this feeling of joy is many times stronger when you create art inspired by something that moves you deeply as a person. That’s why it is important not to get stuck and develop a habit of always needing somebody else to outline and plan every creative decision for you. The real unique creativity comes from inside when you find the courage and learn to make your own decisions (and, sometimes, mistakes), but ultimately create the art that is a unique expression of yourself rather than a replica of somebody else’s vision. This book will provide you with tools needed to advance your creative thinking and find your distinctive creative voice.  

Seeing by Yulia Brodskaya
Details of Seeing
Seeing Details

What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you do series work? How does that affect your approach?

Nature is my infinite source of inspiration whether I’m looking what to depict or just need a visual reference for choosing a colour palette. My current interest lies in conveying a deeper emotional complexity into paper artworks. I feel a new urge in choosing my subject matter, so it feels that depicting just a beautiful flower, a pretty shell or a decorative wave on it own is simply ‘not enough’… A human presence is needed to deepen the visual experience, the feel & emotional charge coming from the artwork, so I end up combining the natural motifs with human faces (ultimately we all are part of nature).

25 by Yulia Brodskaya

Do you form an emotional connection with your subject matter?

There is no other way to create in my eyes… Even when I work on commercial projects (e.g. typography based), every colour or composition choice I make comes from the need to create the best design possible, with all elements balanced and in harmony. Personal self-initiated projects evoke much deeper connection of course; I invest all my energy and care about every artwork I happen to work on at some particular moment.    

Topez by Yulia Brodskaya

When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser? How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the art you produce?

I balance both sides: in the beginning I create detailed sketches trying to plan ahead as much as possible, however once the actual paper work starts, an improviser side comes into the picture. It is not possible to predict exactly how a 3D artwork will look, so I have to keep an open mind, observe the developing artwork and adjust to its current state instead of pushing the initial plan forward no matter what. Sketch is like a map that would always be handy at times when you lose your way and need help to get back to the right path, but a map never shows you each single step that you have to take to reach your destination. Once you arrive, you will discover what your destination (=finished artwork) actually looks like.

Yulia Brodskaya Studio

Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?

10 years ago, I started working on my kitchen/dining table (it was the only table in the rental flat where my husband and I used to live), so, daily, I would move paper artworks and materials aside to clear the space for plates and cutlery. Nowadays I have a nice and bright studio loft dedicated solely to my paper art, I enjoy it tremendously.   

What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work? What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?

It is all about paper; I buy and collect paper from everywhere in search for as many colour varieties as possible, so most of the storage space contains full size sheets of paper, paper cut into strips (in most cases I cut paper by hand) and paper strips rolled into different circles. Instead of quilling tools I use a firm cocktail straw (to curl and shape paper) and wooden toothpicks to roll circles or coils, also there are many bottles of PVA glue in my studio.

Seeshall by Yulia Brodskaya
Detail of Seeshall
Seeshall Detail

Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?

Usually I prefer to fully complete one project before starting a new one. However I do work on multiple sketches at the same time, so I usually have several new ideas and projects already waiting for me to execute them in paper while finishing a current artwork.  

Supreme Gold poster

How has your work changed over time? Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?

The evolution was substantial. Sometimes I can hardly believe it myself, but I can’t explain it here properly. The best way to understand my journey is to read my book. It also covers the challenges and obstacles that I had to (or still need to) overcome in my art practice. 

Issey Miyake Summer illustration

Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?

I believe creativity is inherent in human beings, but gets obscured by all the superficial activity of the mind, daily worries and problems. We don’t need to learn creativity, but we need to learn how to access it within ourselves.

Over the years I learned that I can’t create and work productively when I’m stressed and consumed by something that is going on in my life; the only way is to put endless stream of thoughts aside and concentrate on the present moment of holding a strip of paper, feeling its texture, shaping it, gluing into place, then observing the art in progress – just looking and paying full attention to it… and so on and on, one little step at a time. Of course, thoughts will always creep in, but it is exactly like mediation: you notice the mind got absorbed into worries, you bring it back.

Once you learn to observe and pay full attention to the artwork, creativity starts to flow: all you do is look with a clear open mind, and all of a sudden you get little ideas, you know what colour to use, where to place a next paper detail and so on. With plenty of practice this process becomes absolutely natural and truly joyful.   

Yulia Brodskaya Quote

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

I don’t get creativity blocks anymore; once I learned to follow the process that I described above, they never came back. I do need breaks after working for a long time, but this a fatigue caused by prolonged concentration and physical tiredness rather than a true creative block.

Interview published December 2019

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