Surface pattern designer Olga Shevchenko of Olenka Design combines her Russian heritage with a love of bold pattern and colour to create her eye-catching wallpaper. Sara Walker finds out how it all started…..
“I’ve always loved drawing,” says Olga. “My very first memory of drawing goes back to when I was about five. I remember sitting at a table drawing butterflies with coloured pencils and having a couple of girls standing next to me watching. It was a very pleasant feeling and it was probably the moment I realised I could draw well. It must have been very special because the memory stayed with me for so many years.
Drawing, painting and crafting became my favourite hobby during my school years. I would create an illustration to a book I had read, make a cardboard dolls’ house or create miniature clay sculptures. My father, an ice hockey coach, was my biggest fan but it was my mother from whom I got my artistic skills. She was a skilled artist and so was her father. It ran in the family, although none of my relatives did anything artistic as a job. That was the reason my mum suggested I enroll in art school at the age of 11, so that I could possibly turn my skills into a career later in life.
“In Russia, art schools are an optional addition to comprehensive schools for children who want to develop their artistic skills further. It’s a four day a week programme lasting four years, during which children work on a range of art subjects. They practise drawing and painting using various media; learn about folk art, study art history and create clay sculptures. I absolutely loved my years there, so that after my graduation I wanted to carry on studying those subjects at University.
“Something that’s been a huge influence on my work is Russian folk art, a term that covers dozens of art and craft styles that originated in various regions of Russia a few hundred years ago. People loved to decorate their houses and the things surrounding them, such as tableware and kitchen utensils, toys, clothes and storage items. Inspired by Russian fairytales and nature, the paintings often featured genre scenes, stylised botanicals, birds and animals.
Most of the painting styles were named after the region or town it originated from, such as beautiful blue and white Gzhel ceramics, wonderful Dymkovo toys, beautifully painted Zhostovo trays, the brightly coloured painting style Gorodets used to decorate kitchen utensils, charming Palekh miniatures and my favourite – Khokhloma painting used to decorate wooden tableware or furniture.
“One thing these arts have in common is their use of colour, though each style has its own palette. For Khokhloma the primary colours are black, gold and red; Gzhel uses white and blue; Zhostovo trays have brightly coloured florals against black background while Gorodets paintings use a palette of pure bright colours.
“My work has been inspired by Khokhloma art with its rich history. It first appeared in the 17th century in the Nizhnij Novgorod, Volga region and was named after a trade settlement in the same area. The Russian craftsmen invented a technique allowing them to achieve a gold effect without using gold paint. The effect made wooden items look heavier and metallic, it made them look expensive. The style is known for its vivid flower, berry and leaf patterns. Often the mystical Firebird was also a part of the paintings.
“After several years working as a pattern design for a large flooring company, the time was right for me to set up my own business. Advances in digital printing in the wallpaper and textiles industry allowed independent designers to enter the market, making it a very exciting time. I called the company Olenka, which is a variation of my own name. I wanted a name that was easy to remember and sounded Russian, which reflects my roots and my design style.
“Using traditional folk patterns as a base, I wanted to give them a new dimension and create a brand that embraces the traditional Russian art, yet with a modern twist by using a new colour scheme. Although I couldn’t resist using a traditional colour scheme in my Milana Gold design!
“When I’m working on a new pattern, I decide first of all on what it’s going to look like – whether it’s florals, florals and birds, or berries. Then I think of the scale, composition and repeat. So I start with an idea. Then I draw a pattern using pencil and ink, sometimes I create a few versions a pick the best. The next step is to scan the drawing onto the computer and use Adobe Illustrator to create my pattern repeat and add colour. I try to get as many different colourways as I can and print them on paper. Then I shortlist the best ones, and order them as samples from my manufacturer. When the samples arrive and I see what the colours look like on the substrate I make the final choice.
“My very first design was Milana, and after a few years I am still very pleased with the quality of the detail – although it’s probably about time to add some new colourways! A shade of green would make a lovely new addition. It’s not easy but if I had to pick a personal favourite it would be two: Milana Hot Pink/Grey and Neva Blue. While Milana is a striking feature, Neva Blue creates a lovely atmosphere of calm.
“Next, I’d like to add matching textiles and cushions to the range of wallpapers, which should be really exciting. And I would love to add some new colourways to my wallpaper designs. It would be amazing to do some commission work in the new year too. So the plan is to grow the business, and keep doing what I love!”
To find out more or to browse the online shop, visit www.olenkadesign.co.uk. Wallpapers are priced at £109 per roll.1