Lifestyle & opinion

An interview with 1874 papercraft artist Nicola Dobrowolski

We go behind the scenes with Dobrowolski Designs to find out more about the beautiful papercraft adorning autumn’s 1874 magazine.

Papercraft artist Nicola Dobrowolski

How did you get into papercraft art and how long have you been working in this artform?

I’ve been a professional paper artist since 2015. I trained as a theatre designer and after having my son I reconnected with my creative self, on a small scale to begin with, by taking on small commissions from friends and family. This grew at a steady pace over five years and I am now fortunate enough to have a full-time career working at a commercial level.

What is it about this way of creating art that particularly appeals to you? 

It is a very instant way of working. Paper is accessible to everybody and they understand it. What you can do with paper is varied, vast and fascinating.

It looks incredibly fiddly and time consuming – how long does it take to make a simple cut-out shape (I’m guessing that depends on what it is!)? 

If I were to cut a grape vine leaf, I would start with sketching it in pencil onto tracing paper until I understood its nature and form. This builds up a muscle memory that allows me to then cut straight away with a knife, without having to first draw each leaf. I call this scalpel sketching. After the initial preparation, a leaf would probably take me five minutes to cut, score and structure. The grapes that you can see on the front cover were a complicated, multi-layered structure and took just under five hours in total.

How did you approach the commission for our 1874 magazine? 

As with every commission, I start with thorough research and analysing the brief so that I can fully absorb the aim of the project. From here, I sketch out all my ideas and start refining them. This then leads on to a colour mood board and a rough mock-up of the main idea. An initial presentation to the team then happens and from there I crack on with creating the artwork. 

Papercraft artist Nicola Dobrowolski

The main focus for this artwork was the wine bottle, the key flavours and the family history set in the landscape. I researched the Pedroncelli family and their history, the local area and how the seasons affect the landscape. Working out the company’s stories was my springboard into starting to sketch. I was given some very helpful resources which enriched my ideas and helped me to tell the right narrative. The brief was really clear, explaining that the wine was the hero and that it should take centre stage. 

What did you enjoy about working on this project? 

I genuinely mean this when I say everything. I am so lucky to have this career, I enjoy every single part of the process, the designing, the collaborating, the photoshoot and seeing the end product. As long as I’m designing and creating with my hands, I’m happy.

Were there any particular challenges that you had to overcome? 

The brief was so clear and the clients were so receptive to new ideas and suggestions that the project was remarkably smooth! I was working on a very tight schedule as I was about to deep dive into another project so we only had two weeks from start to finish, but we did it!

How long did it all take in the end? 

My time on the project was done and dusted in 10 days, so about 90-100 hours for the complete design process from start to finish. It was intense but thankfully I work well under pressure!

Watch Nicola’s video clip showing the whole process from start to finish 

The creation of the 1874 magazine cover

Play Video
Watch as Hertfordshire papercraft artist Nicola Debrowolski creates our stunning new magazine cover.

What other projects have you worked on that you have enjoyed/felt particularly proud of?

Straight after working with The Wine Society I worked on a hugely challenging commission, both artistically and emotionally. Balliol College at Oxford University has just opened their new exhibition ‘Slavery in the Age of Revolution’ confronting and unearthing a new perspective about aspects of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. With the support of academic experts in Oxford and the USA, it meant they could research the College’s own historic archive collections. Specific artefacts from their archives have been put on display and I was tasked by a creative content agency whom I collaborate a lot with, per stellas Ltd, to create the 3D visuals to bring the lives of the enslaved peoples to the forefront of the narrative and to move away from the European-centric teachings that have so often defined black history narratives. 
 
This artwork forms the illustrations for the film per stellas was commissioned to make; it is all exhibited in Oxford alongside the artefacts and will go on to form the basis for resources for key teachers in the US and UK with their students aged 15-18. It was an honour to be on this team and to bring the often-erased narratives of the enslaved to life. Our aim was to attempt to give form to rich cultures, traditions and legacy that endured and survived whilst also depicting the true narratives from the enslaved person’s perspective. It’s a fascinating exhibition and I would urge everyone to go and see it. 

Papercraft artist Nicola Dobrowolski

Do you teach papercraft and if anyone is interested is this something they can get in touch about? 

I have run workshops in the past but these came to a halt due to Covid-19. I have a Christmas workshop on stand-by and would really like to get it up and running this year, Covid permitting. I ran a Zoom session last year which was popular but I much prefer doing them in person. Passing on the skills to create paper art is such fun and I love seeing people progress and achieve.

Do you have any burning ambitions that you’d like to fulfil in terms of your craft? 

I am currently loving the balance of my career, running the educational and sometimes challenging jobs with the personal and joyful jobs. A commercial and private job balance helps to keep my creative brain on top form! I’ve always wanted to illustrate a book or create a full animation and I’m excited to say that both are on the horizon. I’m so very lucky and thankful for all the work that comes my way and working with The Wine Society has been a joy. Thank you. 

photographs by @clickskaphotographer

Joanna Goodman

The Society's News & Content Editor

Joanna Goodman

Part of our Marketing Team for over 30 years, Jo has been editor of Society News for much of that time as well as contributing to our many other communications.

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