Ola Volo is a Van­cou­ver trans­plant whose intri­cate illus­tra­tions address the per­sonal, the ani­mal, the urban and the organic. Her pen­work has been grac­ing walls, books, posters and more in Van­cou­ver, car­ry­ing with her tra­di­tional Russ­ian and Pol­ish pat­tern­ing and myth. Her tech­nique blends the impro­vi­sa­tional and the pre­cise, and places the ani­mal along­side human in cen­tral impor­tance. This ties in won­der­fully to our lat­est issue, Van­i­maux, and so I met with Ola at her studio/apartment to dis­cuss her style and inspirations.

Mae­gan Thomas: Tell me about how the ani­mals in your pieces act as communicators.

Ola Volo: If I want to get a mes­sage across, or put a cer­tain feel to a story, from the pat­tern­ing of the ani­mals come the per­son­al­i­ties, the era they fall in – some­times I draw from Pol­ish roots or Russ­ian pat­tern mak­ing, some­times I draw things from Native art to give a Cana­dian feel. For me, and hope­fully for oth­ers, the ani­mals cre­ate a cer­tain state of mind and put child­hood sto­ry­telling back into peo­ples lives.

The feel­ing I want comes first, for exam­ple in this piece [indi­cat­ing her 24 foot piece Baba Yaga, Lud­mila and the Sea] who would be the heroic ani­mal to get the hero­ine through her jour­ney? I chose the wolf which rep­re­sents power, strength to me per­son­ally — it might not even look like a wolf exactly but it comes from the ges­ture, the feel­ing, the size. Ani­mals have so much per­son­al­ity; I want to bal­ance the two as I don’t think a human is more sig­nif­i­cant than an ani­mal. Like, with the swan [in the piece City, pic­tured], they are hold­ing each other, they are the same size and take the same focus.

MTYour style is very dis­tinc­tive, how did it evolve?

OVI’ve been in art classes since I was a lit­tle girl, and I have always been a very detail ori­ented per­son when draw­ing, ever since I can remem­ber, and I’ve been doing illus­tra­tion for a long time. But the focus on the sto­ry­telling is recent.

Pat­tern mak­ing is really addic­tive, you can’t stop, once you start it: it pieces together as if you’re sewing or knit­ting, this is the pat­tern I have to follow.

MTIt’s med­i­ta­tive?

OVDef­i­nitely.

MT: Why not use dig­i­tal, what is it about ink­ing that you love?

OVI like the idea of the tra­di­tional process actu­ally hav­ing paper and pen ready to go, hav­ing that space for mis­takes – I could do the work dig­i­tally as well but it’s not about the per­fec­tion, it’s about the imper­fec­tions of the pat­terns, the inconsistencies.

I do plan the com­po­si­tion of the piece, I plan it out and I do a lot of sketch­ing and I have a lot trac­ing pads but if I look at it and if it doesn’t feel organic or nat­ural I can’t start ink­ing. I need to get to a point where it feels nat­ural and looks like it flows. But once I start ink­ing it just comes, it’s spon­ta­neous; it’s in ink so when you make a mis­take; you have to make it work as you can’t go back. It’s one mark fol­low­ing another.

Baba Yaga is my first big dig­i­tal piece where black and white is by hand and the colour­ing is dig­i­tal, accent­ing the dark­ness and light­ness which goes along with the tone of the piece. I’m plan­ning to do more of that, it’s a nice bal­ance between hand drawn and digital.

MTAny par­tic­u­lar muses?

OVThe Broth­ers Grimm, they really bring me back to my child­hood. And bears are the big thing for me, they are pow­er­ful, friendly, yet when you put them in the city space the rela­tion­ship changes.

I stud­ied in Rot­ter­dam and they really push their artists to col­lab­o­rate and com­bine to see what comes out, I never saw that here in Van­cou­ver until I came back and now the city is push­ing for it now. I did four years of graphic design at Emily Carr, so I like to col­lab­o­rate on work, and chal­lenge myself with poster mak­ing, book illus­tra­tion, movie posters. But recently, I said to myself I need some­thing new, needed to push my com­fort zone when it comes to art. So I col­lab­o­rated with my friend Mark [Illin] on a piece called Traf­fic. He is also very detailed ori­ented, and does ink work but his style is really log­i­cal, planned out while my work is more organic. The com­bi­na­tion of our views brought some­thing new.

MTThe city seems to be a big inspi­ra­tion too. Com­pared to other urban cities, is Van­cou­ver more suc­cess­ful at blend­ing urban and ani­mal life?

OVVan­cou­ver is such a dif­fer­ent city than any other. I’m not sure if it’s blend­ing per­fectly but we just make it work because there’s just so much of wildlife. I’ve never been in a place where wildlife plays such a major role in the city; like rac­coons and bears, they have a rep­u­ta­tion here, hang­ing out in sub­ur­ban back­yards. I like that rela­tion­ship we have, even in our urban cul­ture, we come in con­tact with these ani­mals; bears, swans, racoons, we still face ani­mals in Vancouver’s unique urban environment.

Check out Ola Volo online, and in the next issue of Sad Mag where she’ll apply her sig­na­ture style to the top­ics of glam­our and per­for­mance. She’s also on posters, buses, skate­boards and skin all around Van­cou­ver. Viva la illustracion!

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