June 6, 2016

Spotlight: Carla McRae

Exploring movement, stillness, and letting go with Carla McRae.

A writing teacher once told me that he knew something was good when it inspired him to write. When I look at the work of Carla McRae, who's more widely recognized by the moniker thepaperbeast, that is how I feel: compelled to draw, paint, or just think. Her drawings distinguish themselves not in complexity or flourish but in their clean lines and simplicity. The calm they depict is contagious. I talked to Carla about a little bit of everything she’s done, from designing socks to zines to her first solo show.

The Le Sigh: I found your work through social media, where you have a pretty large following. What made you want to start sharing your work in this way? Do you think social media has influenced your illustrations at all?

Carla McRae: I first started using Tumblr as a way to document my work, upload sketches and gather inspiration images when I was in university. It felt like a digital visual journal in a way, and over time became a natural way for me to document my work. It also opened up an online artist community that I hadn’t ever experienced before. Then Instagram came along and busted open another world! I met a lot of my good friends online through art - it changed everything. I don’t think putting my work on social media has changed my drawings, but I think it has influenced me in the kind of work and people it has opened me up to. Very inspiring.

TLS: What is one moment in your illustration career that meant a lot to you?

CM: Being invited to have a solo show at Lamington Drive this year was a huge compliment! I really admire the guys at Lamington Drive and Jacky Winter, so it meant a lot and was very unexpected.

TLS: You also design for the sock brand Odd Pears. How does it feel to have your designs come to life like that and be worn by others? 

CM: It’s exciting! The design process for socks is very different. Once you send off your design to the manufacturer, the rest of the process is out of your control and the outcomes can be unexpected. It’s been a lesson in learning to let go a little…

TLS: One theme I’ve noticed in your work is movement, whether it be skateboarding or dancing or biking or just carrying groceries. What is the inspiration behind that? Does movement play a big role in your own life?

CM: I guess, I think a lot about the time we spend with ourselves, and personally I spend a lot of time by myself or in my own head, drawing. I spend a lot of time sitting and working through in this way, but I also really enjoy walking and transit to process my thoughts. I find myself thinking about the idea of moving forward, staying positive, keeping the wheels spinning and this kind of imagery is just very satisfying to me. It’s difficult to articulate, but I like the feeling that comes with moving, thinking and the little windows of stillness that also come with it.

TLS: On the other hand, I know you recently had your first solo show called . Can you talk about what that was like and how you chose that title?

CM: It was very nice to take time out and work on a solid body of work. Drawing is a point of stillness for me - a place where I can retreat into my own body and mind and reflect or process. Stillness can be access through quiet, simple pleasures and I wanted to explore them through simple images with simple materials, colours and forms, in empty space. The title is the word that ran through my mind while making these drawings, like a mantra, it was the feeling i wanted to capture.

TLS: I saw in Still you had a larger wall mural, which you’ve done before, and also some sculptural pieces. How does your process change when you’re working in different scales and mediums?

CM: I find that I think much more simplistically when I work larger. I find it freeing in a way. It’s always tempting for me to go over the top with details or embellishments or crowd out a drawing. It’s a good challenge to me – I’m trying to pare back, communicate much simpler and clearer. Also, can’t beat the 100% opacity of house paint!

TLS: Lastly, you and Tallulah Fontaine created the Home. The third and final issue is being released soon, at the Toronto Art Book Fair. What can we expect from the third issue? Do you have any plans post zine release?

CM: Yes! We’re very excited about this. The third issue will be our final release. It’s going to be the largest issue yet, and includes poetry, short stories, essays, drawings and photographs from some of our favourite artists around the world. I love collaborating with Tallulah, so hopefully we can work on more things together in the future!

You can find Carla McRae's work on Instagram here.


Arnold is a young person planning her big escape from her hometown into the ~real world~. She writes online, most consistently at Plasma Dolphin, and also created the zine Funny Women. Follow her on twitter @suburban_dog.