This week, I dropped by Castlecomer Craft Yard to sit in the morning sun and listen to some fascinating stories from the talented Dominika Stoppa.
Dominika’s path has changed incredibly. A clever academic, in Poland she qualified with top class honours in her Bachelors degree of National Security. She could have become a secret agent, but she can’t confirm or deny this!
However her passion for art and design from both the practical and the therapeutic perspective would not let go of its hold on her.
Dominika loves helping others to visually express their story, either in business or their private lives. She is also top of her class in this discipline and has just been awarded the Power Within Champion at the Network Ireland Kilkenny for Businesswoman of The Year Awards 2020.
Dominika, who is originally from Gdynia, in Poland, calls Ireland her home now and has being living here for eight years. She lives near Castlecomer with her children Ian (5), Anna (4) and her partner Gerard.
She says work is her hobby and is blessed to have her workshop on their doorstep in the beautiful surrounds of the Castlecomer Craft Yard.
In September 2019, she opened her first studio in the Yard. Within a few months, she moved to larger premises, where she created a unique venue designed to host events – Studio Eleven Creativity and Well-being Centre.
On top of this she was awarded Businesswoman of The Year Award in 2019 for Emerging New Business, as a Kilkenny Regional Winner and National Finalist under Network Ireland.
In 2020, she published her first colouring book ‘The Botanical Affirmations Colouring Book’. If that wasn’t enough, she started portrait commissions during lockdown and opened a second location Dominika Stoppa Gallery & Studio in the Craft Yard.
Here is a glimpse into Dominika’s world…
Dominika, what do you love most about Kilkenny?
Kilkenny reminds me of my home place Gdynia in Poland. I love both cities for being creative and cultural hubs.
Strangely, I never felt like I belonged anywhere until I first visited Kilkenny a few years ago. Castlecomer Craft Yard, in particular, feels like home.
Painting and craft making runs in the family through several generations. However, you tried to fight it for years - strange for someone who had such a talent.
That’s true. My childhood was quite difficult; I moved out of my family home just after turning 18 and became independent at this young age. I felt like being a full-time artist wasn’t a safe enough career, I didn’t want to be ‘a starving artist’.
I had many interests outside of art. After graduating art school I was craving structure and I ended up with a Bachelors degree in National Security. Even though I was a top student and I’ve seriously considered diplomacy, it didn’t feel like my path.
I moved to Ireland just after graduation. I’ve been always searching for a suitable career, but for years nothing seemed to fit. It was after experiencing big struggles in my personal life that I started to connect the dots. I never thought I’d end up being an artist and educator, it came organically.
I’m very happy with where I am at the moment. Sometimes when I’m in my gallery and studio in Castlecomer I need to pinch myself, it’s been some journey.
What makes Castlecomer Craft Yard so unique?
When I moved to the Craft Yard in September 2019, I saw a potential creative hub, but the place seemed very quiet. I started Facebook and Instagram account ‘Castlecomer Craft Yard’ a few months ago, and I’m delighted to say that we have now full studio occupancy and a real community of artists and craft makers. The energy is amazing. We’re supporting and inspiring each other - there’s no better place to be!
This pandemic has taught us to focus on our loved ones. Did that inspire you to get back into portrait art during lockdown?
Yes. Back in Poland, after graduating art school, I was known for portraits but once I moved to Ireland in 2012, I got a nine-to-five job in Dublin and there was no room for anything else.
I’m delighted to be working on portraits again. My style evolved over the years, these days I love a large scale and contemporary monochromatic watercolours. It’s a very mindful technique as there is no room for an error; you can’t cover up imperfections and often less is more. I love focussing on eyes and a smile because those are the features that our eyes would naturally focus on when we see someone for the first time.
What about the other elements of your business - did you have to cancel your well-being and therapy workshops? Surely we need them now more than ever?
Truthfully, it’s a very challenging time to organise workshops for individuals. Luckily, I’m busy working with organisations right now. I will facilitate my signature workshop Creative Mandala with several groups of women in Kilkenny and Carlow in the upcoming weeks.
I’m also developing a new creative workshop for Kilkenny Leader Partnership that will contribute to an Eastern European voice to the development of the Integration Strategy.
You are working with AMBER Kilkenny Women’s Refuge on project to help women. Why is this so important to you?
I have been there myself. Over three years ago I decided to become a single mother with two very small children and start a new chapter. At the time, my art practise and developing the Creative Mandala method helped me massively to move on and heal. Teaching the method gives me great fulfilment and a sense of a purpose.
How does art help women experiencing difficulties?
Art is a relaxing activity, it helps you to stay mindful and ’in the moment’ which is crucial when your life seems to be falling apart, you need to give your mind a break from dealing with challenges.
Art allows you to try new things and experiment on a very basic level. I often find that it is a trigger to leave your comfort zone in different areas of life.
Why such use of symbols in your Creative Mandala art programme?
I loved studying the history of art. Symbols were always a powerful way to tell stories on a deeper level. Quite often when we are experiencing challenges in life we might not be comfortable with words, using symbols and art is a great way of almost secretly expressing our hopes and struggles. It’s therapeutic to let it out, acknowledge and embrace our stories, even the most painful ones.
You are up for an award for the ‘Business Woman of the Year Award’ in the category ’Power Within Champion’, and rightly so with all the work you do for women. Congratulations!
The award is designed to recognise survivals and those who, despite all sorts of challenges and restrictions this year, move forward and support others.
It’s been a great honour to receive the award. It’s a bizarre time to run a business, flexibility and resilience are more important than ever before. Focusing on things I can control helped me massively. I believe that we co-create our reality.
A wise man once said: “Make the best use of what’s in your power and take the rest as it happens”.
Dominika is kindly donating a portrait to Amber Women’s Refuge at the end of this month. The portrait will be of a scene from the movie ’The Notebook’ and will be auctioned off to raise funds for the Refuge. Check out her website for details dominikastoppa.com
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