A Russian-born artist resurrects a centuries-old art form for her delightfully intricate paper illustrations
Brodskaya learned the technique from an old Russian textbook
While her clients include Target and Hermès Brodskaya hopes to make more personal work in the future
Yulia Brodskaya uses two simple materials – paper and glue – to make lush, vibrant, so-three-dimensional-they’re-practically-hallucinogenic “papergraphics.” Once called quilling, this style of intricate paper filigree is believed to have been used by nuns and monks during the Renaissance to adorn religious objects.
Brodskaya’s modern take on the practice has helped her build an impressive list of clients in just a few short years, from Target to Hermès to this magazine (her work served as a motif for O’s tenth anniversary issue).
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After earning a master’s degree in graphic design in the UK, Brodskaya abandoned the computer programs she’d been trained on in favor of a simpler artistic tool: her hands. Trying to drum up work as an illustrator, she created a brochure for prospective clients; on the front, she used a technique she’d seen in an old textbook in her native Russia.
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Gluing the edges of thin strips of paper to a page, she wrote her name in big red block letters, filling each with lively strands of white that curled around each other like smoke, or tiny, tangled tree roots. The letters teemed with life, exploding from their borders. Soon Brodskaya had a commission from The Guardian, the British newspaper, to design the cover of its 2008 holiday supplement. “I’ve never been out of work since,” she says.
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Brodskaya’s studio, in the home she shares outside London with her husband and their infant daughter, is stacked with “piles of paper,” she says, all arranged by color and cut into strips about one centimeter wide. “I’m passionate about what I do,” she says. “I can happily spend hours gluing and listening to audiobooks” (a recent favorite: The Time Traveler’s Wife).
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Her international roster of clients keeps her busy, but she’d eventually like to apply her signature technique to more personal work, not for an ad campaign or magazine but for “live” viewing in a gallery. “People have only seen pictures of my illustrations,” she says. “It would be interesting to see how they react to the actual physical thing.”
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