She brought the centuries-old technique of paper quilling back into fashion with her works of breathtaking creativity.
Yulia Brodskaya is a Russian-born artist who creates evocative illustrations using an unusual material: paper. She does so by employing a decorative technique called quilling (also known as paper filigree) in which small strips of paper are used to make lots of different shapes that are then combined to make complex, colourful and eye-catching works of art.
Brodskaya studied graphic design and illustration and, during the early years of her career, she would craft paper creations using quilling to impress potential clients. She accidentally stumbled into this world when she wrote her name out of little pieces of paper, only later realising that she had reinvented a centuries-old technique.
What is paper quilling?
Brodskaya is by no means the first person to have rolled up little strips of paper to create illustrations. Quilling is in fact an art form whose roots lie in Turkey and Egypt, where artisans would roll up strands of silver and gold to decorate columns and vases.
Quilling was also widely used during the Renaissance, when monks and nuns in France and Italy would use strips of golden paper to embellish the covers of religious books. The technique continued to be used during the 1700s and 1800s, before falling out of fashion. Today, the art of quilling is again finding popularity among young artists and hobbyists.
Yulia Brodskaya’s experiments
Yulia Brodskaya didn’t begin her artistic career with quilling, but instead tried her hand at various artistic forms before moving to Britain in 2004. From origami to collage to more traditional forms, she continued to experiment while completing a master’s in graphic communication at the University of Hertfordshire.
Initially, Brodskaya hadn’t even heard of quilling: it was only after she started posting her work online that she started hearing the term used to describe her creations. At the outset of her career, she was originally interested in creating hand-drawn illustrations, mainly for typography projects. Indeed, with this in mind, she was working on her first portfolio in 2008.
What her portfolio lacked was an eye-catching cover. She came up with the idea of cutting a piece of card into strips and gluing ends together to create the outlines of letters. As soon as she saw her name, “Yulia”, made from these strips of paper, she abandoned the idea of a portfolio containing “simple” illustrations.
At the time, Yulia Brodskaya was unwittingly doing quilling, but with a different method from that traditionally used: she used a heavier weight of card, which she worked into the shape that she desired, as if she were drawing with paper.
Her early quilling work focused on typography and decorative lettering using strips of paper. It was an important phase for the artist, in which she was able to raise her profile. Brodskaya then began to gradually increase the scale of her works, which were mainly colourful portraits rich in detail and colour.
Drawing with paper: Yulia Brodskaya’s creative process
Producing this type of work is a decidedly slow yet rewarding process. Hours, days and weeks of work go into each piece: choosing the paper, cutting it into little strips and shaping it into a sort of 3D drawing.
Brodskaya begins with a pencil sketch to outline what the final piece will look like. She then begins choosing the colours and paper: this is when she begins to get an idea of the shapes and lengths of the strips to cut for each part of the piece.
The final artworks are actually made up of different “sets” of rolled and folded paper: this allows the creation of various shapes that would otherwise be impossible to make with individual strips, and is undoubtedly one of Brodskaya’s most important contributions to paper art.
To get an idea of the patience needed to create art using this technique, just think about this: to draw a line with a pen or pencil takes a matter of seconds. Creating the same line with a piece of paper requires a much greater effort: you need to choose the colour and length of the strip and then cut it, shape it and cover it in glue before finally sticking it in position.
Yulia Brodskaya explains the process in detail in her book Painting with Paper: Paper on the Edge.
Yulia Brodskaya’s work
Over the course of her career, Brodskaya has become ever more assured in her quilling and has worked with major clients. Commissions of note include themes for Google Chrome and the official poster for the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
Her pieces can be divided into three categories. The first is “PaperGraphic”, a term coined by the artist herself, and includes her commissions, which are veritable paper illustrations depicting various forms and subjects, mostly flowers and animals. Birds, butterflies, all sorts of flowers, as well as abstract and brightly coloured compositions: they’re a riot of colour created by complex compositions of paper strips crafted with skill.
The second category of work focuses on typography and the letters and words that Brodskaya makes out of paper for shop windows and commercial exhibitions.
The last category features the “paper paintings” that can be considered fine art. These are mainly portraits of people – some famous, others not – that stand out for their highly evocative “paper brush strokes” that colour faces in various hues.0
That wraps up our exploration of Yulia Brodskaya’s work, work which teaches us how patience, dedication and experimentation with unusual materials can bring outstanding results. You can see more of the artist’s work on her official site and on her Instagram profile.