Melbourne-based illustrator Carla McRae is a veritable model of wide-eyed exuberance. Her charismatic illustration, rendered in painstakingly-applied black ink and Copic markers and finished with her trademark blocky, opaque colors, is succinct and charming, securing her work from the likes of Desktop Magazine, the super cute sock company, Odd Pears, and Melbourne housewares label Nowhere Creek. Just see if you can scroll through her admirable portfolio without being drawn into the alternative universes she constructs around her various characters; full of artfully recreated scenes of strong, independent and storied females riding bikes, playing music, and chilling with a coffee and skateboard in hand.
Her illustrations are eye-catching and modestly joyous, made of great splodges of color and Memphis-esque rounded, playful shapes. Featuring fried eggs on toast, and hip ladies munching on donuts while walking down the street, McRae’s works have a vaguely feminine feel to them and an underlying element of the transient.
Give us the abbreviated Carla McRae bio. Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do? Why do you do it?
I am just a gal from Australia. I grew up on the very small Sunshine Coast in Queensland, but moved to Melbourne after I graduated uni. I’m an illustrator, designer, maker. I spend my working week juggling creative work for a cute sock company called Odd Pears, illustration commissions and personal projects. At the moment I’m also interning at a gallery to learn some new stuff. I do this work because I can’t stop thinking about this shit! It can be really tough and I get so tired, but I don’t think I would be happy doing anything else—so I have to make it work.
Without overthinking it, use one word—the first to naturally pop into your head— to describe your artistic style.
Can you explain “The Paper Beast” title for us?
In my last year of study, I decided to make a blog as an outlet and place to chronicle work. It needed a title and I really liked the idea of working under a pseudonym. I was (and still am) constantly collecting printed stuff—books, magazines, prints—my room was always hidden under piles of paper that I hoarded in this beastly way. So I called myself The Paper Beast! No one else had claimed it anywhere so I guess it just stuck.
You’re like a zine machine with all these printed works! What is it that you like about zines? Is it the process or the tangible piece?
I’m pretty much all about tangibility. Having the work physically in your hands, that you can just give to someone. And they might throw it out, pass it on or they might keep it and refer to it for many years to come until it’s well treasured and dog eared. I enjoy the process of setting up something for print too—deciding on paper stock, inks, the finish. There’s something really nice and personal about zines—that they can be about anything, and are a limited or small run that someone went to the effort of making themselves is a pretty beautiful thing.
Where do you find the inspiration for your great color palettes?
So many different things and places – I have a couple of favourite books on Japanese design and textiles that are my go-to; catalogues of photographs of anything and everything filed haphazardly on my computer; walking around outside and looking at buildings in nature. I used to really struggle with color—use too much or not enough, I couldn’t quite hit a sweet spot that felt like ‘me’. Experimenting with Copics and making physical color palettes has helped with my color-sense immensely. I recently went to Japan for two weeks, and was totally blown away by their use of color in day-to-day life. Like, why can’t we have pastel pink and mint blue painted trucks in Australia!
A lot of really rad chicks in your illustrations! Who are they? Friends? Randos? What about women do you like illustrating?
I think a lot of the time they’re extensions of myself—expressing some emotions or feels that I’ve got at that point in time, a type of person I want to be. Like this last Supa Relax series I did, I made when I was really stressed out and didn’t really have time for personal work but needed the outlet. So I made myself remember how to slow down by making the self-help style mini-zine and drawing the girls hanging out, listening to music, closing their eyes and having a mo to themselves.
I don’t like being too blatantly personal in my work or giving too much away. I aim to leave it open to interpretation and accessible so other people feel it too. A lot of the characters are an amalgamation of a bunch of personalities—friends or people I see on public transport or in the street. I like drawing women because it feels familiar and personal for me.
Your pieces tell amazing short stories through what feel like live scenes. Tell us a little bit about the creative process in outlining a story in still drawings.
It starts with a tiny idea—a mood, expression, object. I start drawing out the details I’m sure of, and while I’m drawing one person or object, I’m thinking about the next part of the story. I make it up as I go along and where it heads depends on my mood and what I’m into that day. I rely on simple props and selective elements to build the story. It’s a simplified and slightly hyper version of reality and I hope people fill in the blanks in their own way. I get bored of my drawings and need to move on really quickly, so I have to get it out quite fast. Sitting down and drawing a series of similar scenes in extreme detail is not even an option for me because I’ll get so bored, I’ll quit the thing.
Can you tell us a little bit about your role as creative director for Odd Pears? Who wouldn’t love working with/for socks?!
I’ve been working with Odd Pears since we launched last December. Brock Sykes (Odd Pears owner aka Best Boss Ever) and I went to high school together on the Coast. Coincidentally, he was in the grade below me and I used to sell my old assignments to him for some sweet pocket money. Now he’s paying my bills. I pretty much take care of all the visual aspects of the brand, including social media and designing socks! Super fun.
What is currently inspiring you? Artists, music, locations, life events, etc.
I’m still reeling from my little stint in Japan last month. I don’t think I’ve properly processed that yet. While working lately, I’ve been getting stuck in these YouTube stints where I listen to old PlayStation game soundtracks like Bust-A-Groove and Ridge Racer. The weird 90’s sugary hip-hop vibes of Bust-A-Groove have proven super productive. It’s embarrassing, but I’m just gonna go with it.