‘Each print is an adventure’

Joan Sullivan
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Vesalina Tomova’s exhibition ‘Harbours & Outports’ continues at Red Ochre Gallery

“Cupids with Cod” — Submitted photos

Veselina Tomova has 16 multi-media pieces (etching, chine colle and monotype) in her solo exhibition “Harbours & Outports.”

They are all linked to the title, evoking both daring embarkations and nestled havens. They are medium-sized works, fully animated with vivid colour and fanciful composition. Flowers stand taller than people. Fireworks unfurl like Chinese umbrellas. Mermaids frolic beside tanker ships. Some call her style whimsical, Tomova says, looking around Red Ochre at her works. “I call it quirky.”

She found the inspiration for some works very close to home. One work is called “My Place in the Battery.”

“I thought, well maybe I should start with the things I know best. And living in the Battery gives me the pleasure of looking at the harbour every day. It changes every day with the light and the wind and the colour of the water and the clouds. So I didn’t have to go very far. I just had to look out the window.”

The work is lively and puckish with clouds of orange and lime, folded wings of gold-patterned paper, swift delicate outlines of seabirds and clapboard.

“The technique is something I invent myself. I always love printmaking, it has been my first love and my passion, and now doing it again feels like reconnecting with an old flame. I was looking for ways to have more vibrant colour in an etching. I love the technique of etching or intaglio because it works with my sense for drawing and my lines. I love to (have) my lines and my drawing very much alive. I’m not into perfection, I just want to keep it moving and flowing.”

Tomova begins by marking on aluminum plates, a swift practice.

“I am always in a hurry to get something done. I do the drawing on the plate, pretty much the entire printing process is part of the creative process and that’s how I wanted to have it. Which means that I finish the image while I am inking the plate, by adding these cutouts of Japanese paper, and all the colour, which is either with different colour inks or a monotype style drawing with oil paint. So this gives me a lot of room to play with the image and get different variations of it.”

Traditional print runs include 10 or 15 images, but because her working method embedded such uniqueness, Tomova only pulled two — one for the exhibition, and one for her artist’s proof. While some details were present right from the start, others emerged as she worked. Bigger shapes would suggest themselves, and she would incorporate them.

“Cupids With Cod,” for example, began from an 18th-century drawing (Tomova does a lot of heritage research for her work, as she is often commissioned for historical interpretations, and provincial culture intrigues her anyway). She had a view of the settlement, and also the shape of a cod, which she enjoyed working with. Then she thought about the development of these earliest communities, how they formed around the cod fishery — and so placed a big unfurling fish in the harbour.

Beside the contour of the cod, Tomova also liked the colours, an element which is becoming stronger and stronger in her work.

“Before I came to Canada my printmaking was pretty much back and white. Colours somehow appeared after settling here in Newfoundland, which you might find strange, but I think there is quite a lot of colour here in the landscape. You just have to be more open and observant to see it. In ‘The Stroll Quidi Vidi,’ for example, the fog is dipped in pink, and the water swirled with purple. I think I am getting bolder and bigger and brighter.”

Some pieces include imagery from previous projects — like the pony in “Mid Summer Day Dream, Change Islands,” which she first met while illustrating “Star’s Island.”

“I work in different fields, from children’s book illustrations to interpretative design and web design; to make a living in a small place you have to be versatile, which I like, because I would be bored sticking with one thing only.” She was also very taken with the pony itself.

“In most of my images I like to have some creatures, either real or something that my imagination created, because I think it gives life to the image, and I also like drawing them.”

Other prints are stimulated by places she knows and loves in Newfoundland — Port Kirwan, Southport, a friend’s barn in Pouch Cove.

“Some of the prints just start with a phrase I hear that stays with me, for some reason or another.”

She indicates a print titled “Are We There Yet?”

“I just liked the sound of it. I didn’t know what I was going to do. But water and boats and sailing seem to be a recurring theme in my prints. And it has to do with travelling and leaving home behind, and my own experience immigrating to Canada. I suppose I could draw planes or trains or something else, it would serve the purpose just as well, but I just like drawing boats.”

They also express the dichotomy of the ideas of harbours and outports. “On one hand you want to go out in the world and explore, and on the other hand you want to have your safe refuge.”

“Harbours & Outports” continues at Red Ochre Gallery until Nov. 27.

Organizations: Day Dream, Red Ochre Gallery

Geographic location: Red Ochre, Canada, Newfoundland Change Islands Pouch Cove

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