Ola Volo: Illustrator & Mural Artist
Put the focus on YOUR artwork with inspiration from Ola Volo!
This full-time illustrator and mural artist shares how she creates her folklore-inspired art. Watch as she gives you an insider’s look at her illustration process and how she extends that vision to create one of her signature murals, an adventurous piece that reflects the spirit of one her clients, Open Road Volkswagen.
Watch our documentary with Ola above or on the Opus YouTube Channel for a look into how she’s crafted a thriving art career and life by sharing her intricately patterned, folklore-inspired illustrations and murals in our own creative community and around the world.
Interested in some of the products Ola uses?
GOLDEN Heavy Body Acrylics
GOLDEN Artist Fluid Acrylics
Opus Essential Fluid Acrylic Colours
Opus Essential Acrylic Colours
Opus Legato Brushes
Sakura Pigma Micron Pens
Cradled Wood Panels
Creating Connections: An Interview with Illustrator & Mural Artist, Ola Volo
With her artwork gracing countless print publications and her public art adding beauty to buildings throughout the Lower Mainland, you may have already experienced the work of Vancouver and Montreal-based artist, Ola Volo. She’s crafted a thriving art career and life sharing her intricately patterned, folklore-inspired illustrations and murals in our creative community and around the world.
Ola came to her art practice early in life and has always taken it seriously. Immediately after high school, she enrolled at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and began working right after her schooling was complete. However, quitting that job was a first step toward realizing it was time to “give art a real go.”
“I had a full time job but I was burned out. I felt I needed to quit everything and restart with one focus.” The focus was that her income, her inspiration, her thoughts, her everyday, all should be art-related.
“I quit my job, I gave up my apartment, and bought a ticket to New York. The minute I arrived, I was like, ‘it’s go time! Time to be an artist!’” She acknowledges this may have seemed reckless but added, “I really felt it’s now or never, and I felt the most creative I’d ever felt. I honestly have to say, the minute I started following my gut, even though I wasn’t making as much money as I was at my full time job, I was so much happier and I could not put a price on that. I have one life to live, and I really want to make sure it’s a happy one.”
The key to making it all work has been approaching her art career as more than personal expression, treating it as her business, as well. “I’ve always seen people look at art as “airy”, like artists are not as reliable or something like that. What I’ve learned is that you have to think like an entrepreneur, you have to learn from other entrepreneurs about how they run their life and the way they think. Instead of feeling like you’re on an island by yourself as an artist, there are many people who might be in different industries but think in a similar way. Being an entrepreneur, you have to be on it at all times.”
Folklore looms large in Ola’s work, a direct influence of a childhood spent in the multicultural environment of Kazakhstan, a place where she observed many different nationalities, languages, and styles of artwork. “I am intrigued by sharing stories and patterns from different cultures, and folk stories tend to have similar core concepts across cultures.”
“I see folklore as a shared way of storytelling. What also intrigues me is how we all associate it with our childhood. I left Kazakhstan when I was quite young, so maybe I’m trying to rediscover what I missed, or what was there that I forgot from my childhood. Tapping into these stories makes me more curious about how people feel about their journey or their stories that they might have learned from but forgotten.”
Ola has taken these stories from personal to public in a big way, with her illustrations now on walls throughout the world in the form of murals. “Folklore is a free tool to learn lessons of life, and if you add a visual aspect to it, it could be something else.”
When she began creating murals, they brought her love of storytelling and illustration together with her business mindset.
“One of the first projects that helped me understand what murals were all about was a gig I did for Hootsuite, a local tech company. Seeing the blank wall was quite an inspirational thing for me. I didn’t find it very intimidating; I found it exciting. It got me curious, and I have been painting murals ever since.”
Though the scale of a mural can be massive, it still begins in the same place as her illustration work for print, with a strong concept that looks good on paper, and that fits the client’s aims. With murals, the process is extended to the final version on the wall. Working bigger also changes how the viewer experiences the piece. “I find all of those surprises I like to put into my illustration work are much more evident in the murals.” Additionally, she finds creating these larger illustrations for murals works well with the theme of folklore, which is “about accessible art, accessible storytelling, and accessible stories that are shared all over the world. Public art should be the same.”
Her favourite part about creating murals is the life that public art lives after the artist has completed the work; “the real effect it has on communities and people that live with the artwork afterwards. That it’s public, that it’s accessible, that it’s free. I really believe that artwork should lift people up, and I think that’s why public art is so important.”
With her murals becoming part of the places they reside in, we asked Ola how she feels, knowing her art is becoming part of the beauty of the city. “That’s such a big compliment, thank you! I don’t know how it makes other people feel, I hope they like the work and they enjoy it. I have that same attachment with public artwork that’s not mine in my own neighbourhood. I love it, I watch it. Especially if I’ve seen the artist at work, I feel like it’s kind of mine as well, like ‘I watched the process, I was there for the hard part,’” she jokes. “I hope that somebody has that same feeling about my work–that they find it’s personal to them. I think that the beauty about public art is that you’ve got to let it go, and let the people appreciate it or destroy it or whatever, and not be so emotionally invested.”
“I love working on art. I love producing, but I think what really drives me with my artwork is public art. Every time I’m drawing, I can’t believe this is a real thing I’m doing, like it’s not serious — and I like it. Life is very serious, so I want to lighten it up with an illustration and try to make my work very playful and uplifting so that whoever interacts with the work will have a good experience. And that’s my favourite part about art – it’s for the people, it’s for me, it’s for everybody. I think art bridges so many gaps, and it keeps life interesting.”
Before everything comes together, I always check in, either with the client or with myself, to make sure I know what the mood or theme is; or even what basic words to begin with. Do we need to see ‘adventure’, or specific colours, or lots of white space? That gets the ball rolling for me.
The most natural way for me to start is with a pencil, and something that I can hold and rip up and piece together and not feel confined to. I like to start with something dark like a 4B pencil, something that I can see is concrete, and clean.
Then I usually use Micron Pens to define the line work even more. That’s where I start to fill in the black and white patterns. I make mistakes with the ink, but the mistakes are what makes it feel authentic and interesting for me because the patterns start to sort of shape themselves. I then rip up the piece and reshape it to make the composition interesting.
At that point, either I have a complete sketch, or I take a picture and I throw it into my iPad and continue to refine the piece. I find that jumping to digital, and then jumping back into handwork is a cool way to keep challenging yourself to make a piece that is your best work. I present the sketch to my client, and then it’s time to make it bigger.
A lot of my process for the mural depends on where the mural will be — if it’s indoor or outdoor, which community it’s in, whether it’s on a brick wall in an alley or indoors on a flat, beautiful, dry wall. I make sure the wall is primed and I either grid it out or project the piece, depending on the space. I make sure the wall is primed and that I’ve got the base colours (I often use house paint), and then I start to do the fills. I use spray paint when working outdoors, too.
For the line work I’m big on black fluid acrylic, using GOLDEN and Opus Essential, and all kinds of paint that flows, that is opaque, and that doesn’t need very many layers. The linework is the last thing and it is always where the surprises and the interesting details that I love really come to life.