Gala Tomasso – Illustrator and Owner of Project Gala
Gala is an illustrator and owner of Project Gala, which produces natural beauty products.
Tell us about yourself.
The name Gala is Spanish. My dad's side of the family are Italian, but most of my Italian relations are Irish Italian and live in Ennis and Limerick. I was born in Scotland, but the Scottish side of the family all live in Ireland as well. So Ireland is home. I've been back and forward since I was about 14 and I moved over full time after university in my early 20s. I lived with Johnny Massacre (John Doran) and Ming the Merciless (Luke Flannigan) up a mountain in Spain for a little while and then came back and ended up living here full time.
How did you get involved in art?
Both my grandparents on my mother's side were art teachers and then on my father's side, they're photographers. My mother's a calligrapher, so I guess I was pushed in that direction in a nice way. Then I studied in England; I started off doing Women's Studies and Education Studies, but I always wanted to study art. I didn't get into Edinburgh Art College when I was 17 and it broke my heart, so finally, halfway through my degree, I changed my pathway to Art. Then I was lucky enough to do a Postgrad in the Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan and then I did a Masters in Graphic Design and Professional Design Practice in DIT (Dublin Institute of Technology), so I did the fine art and the traditional drawing and then I went more toward the digital direction.
I worked in loads of restaurants over the years in Galway - Milano, Ard Bia, a short stint in Cava. I'm now doing some work for Mulberry's, I'm doing some drawings for Wa Cafe. I like the restaurant sector - the culture; the late nights, the social side, the pressure of service. I started doing a lot more creative projects while I was in Ard Bia working as café manager and waiter. It was just brilliant to go into a restaurant and collaborate and be given free reign to do that. Aoibheann (McNamara) always gets talented people - she encourages them in any direction. Then it got to a stage where I didn't have time to be in the restaurant because I was doing so much outside of it. I did some drawings for the Tweed Project. I had already been doing a lot of drawings of Galway, of the Long Walk, and they were doing quite well. Then Daniel (Ulrichs) in the Wooden Heart took some designs from me and commissioned some projects. From then on, people just kept coming to me with different things; it might only have been a wedding invitation, but it created something and I just got really busy.
How would you describe your illustrative style?
I think my style is generally very optimistic - a little bit childlike. I always know when my drawings are honest or not and I'm looking for an honesty in them. It's not intellectual art, it's not political, it's generally trying to convey a happy mood or a personality.
Can you tell us about the process?
Generally what I'll do is I draw the subject - that's usually just an outline. Then I'll either photograph it or scan it. I tend to use photoshop or a design programme to fill it because I like exactness. I'm much happier when things are exact and I like to print things. I might colour by hand, and if people want an original they can have it, but it will always become a digital file.
What type of projects excite you most?
Yoshimi from the Wa Cafe came to me and said she wanted her menus illustrated and a mural on the wall. I loved the discussion around the project - the going back and forward and developing. I'm still struggling with the idea of how to do this mural, but I'll know when it's right and if she feels like it's right, then that's a brilliant moment; everything comes together. I did a very small project for Nadur recently. It was just a small map which Ciara had asked me on the Friday night around 8pm when I was halfway through a bottle of prosecco. She said she needed it for Saturday lunchtime so we went back and forward on messenger, finished the map, and it was just such a lovely way to work. I send her what I had, she came back and said, maybe move that over. It was really quick, she's happy, I'm happy. The collaboration, boom, done.
So you enjoy the collaborative side of things...
I love that side of things and I hate it. I love it when it goes well. But it can break your heart when you've agreed to do a project and you're not seeing the same vision at the end of the day. I don't want to and I generally can't do something that's not my style. I can adapt a drawing, but I don't want to do that for a living. I want it to be an honest drawing to me, so I always say to people; ‘This is my style - is this what you want?' If it is, brilliant, forge ahead but you have to have that understanding.
You also produce your own natural products, and create the packaging yourself. Tell us about Wee Balms?
It's now called Project Gala - In the future I want to promote wildflower seeds, bees and butterflies as much as as the balms and I'd like to start supplying people with their own balm making products. I think people should be making things for themselves, out of nettles from their garden, or whatever they have in the cupboard. It's ten times better than anything they get in the chemist, so Project Gala is developing in that direction. To the range, I've introduced a Connemara Witches Wax, which is a multipurpose balm for skin, lips, male, female, in the middle, so I'm going through a process with that; I want to focus on one really amazing product. My friend, Po, has a community project in Burkina Faso, so I'm getting shea butter from him. It will also include irish oils, hopefully irish bees wax and then a vegan mexican wax.
Social media is a big part of what you do too...
I'm managing some small businesses' social media, but I still see that as illustration because you're still telling a story. If I'm not posting an illustration that I've done that's focused on the business, I'm using photography to engage some kind of response or a conversation so that in itself is illustration. You're illustrating an engaging concept or idea.
I think social media is fascinating. I know the downside, but I think there's more positives for me. It's a tremendous network for creative people, it's a great forum for it, it's fabulous for ideas. I have a huge interest in animal welfare and you hope that somewhere along the line you might post something that might be of interest to somebody or that might influence them. In the whole I think it's positive and it's free advertising and sharing it back and forward it is perfect I don't know how we ever lived without it. For me, it just opens up a whole world. )
What's the drive behind all this?
It's not money anyway. I just want to do it. I get up in the morning and if I have an idea, I draw it and that's what makes me happy. If I don't draw for a week, I actually get quite down. It's a release. It keeps me happy. I get excited about new projects. There's an impatience to do it, to fulfill it.
I spent so much of my 20s working really hard in restaurants and partying that I didn't get anything creative done. I really felt that was missing and that's why I kept going back to college - to try and get that focus back. There's been a lot more discipline in my life in the last ten years, even if I've gone off in a funny direction. I do try to draw every day. I try to do something every day that's creative. Sometimes I wish I had a slightly more practical drive, but I don't.
I'd be quite introverted at times. I can spend a lot of time on my own but at the end of the day, I do rely on people and chats and collaborations and social encounters. You just don't know from one day to the next what might turn up. If you put yourself out there a little bit, you just don't know. I love that.
Busy, creative, animal loving, slightly neurotic, slightly over anxious, introverted, sociable, maybe slightly eccentric.
Any mentors/influencers along the way?
I've had some really good teachers along the way - at the Burren College of Art, pretty much everyone I met there at the time had an influence on me. Rather than having people who taught me things in my field, I think it's the people that have been positive about what I do that have influenced me most, so my partner, Roisin, my sister, Gianna Tomasso who's a political artist. To have someone like her respect what I do, which is in a different realm, is amazing. Everyone at Ard Bia - it's just about someone taking a minute to say that they like what you do.
What is it about living here that inspires you?
There are more possibilities in Galway - you just don't know who you're going to meet. The degrees of separation - there aren't any here really. You don't know who it is you're speaking to and there are always these kind of happy accidents, a synchronicity about the place. I've just been really lucky because I've met such amazing people here. I don't think I'd like to be anywhere else.
What would you like to see for Galway in the future?
I hope it doesn't lose its character, its looseness, the little bit of hippy that it still has. I hear a lot about design hubs and hot desks - that's great; I really think it's brilliant, but I still would like to see an equal amount going to studio spaces and creative spaces that are not money-driven. I hope that with the way that the design is progressing, that it doesn't get too generic. I just hope it can keep its character because we really are in such a capitalistic society, it's squeezing the original out of everything. There's so many great heads around, but if the city centre is too expensive and if it's Starbucks that has to move in because no one else can fill that space, then culture just gets squeezed out like a sponge. I'd hate to see that happen. But I'm optimistic that it won't.