From illustrations that leave you with a longing feeling of times gone by, to colourful images of girls rocking out, Carla McRae is becoming a master of her craft. Having collaborated in the past with Desktop Magazine & Made In The Now, and currently working with apparel company Odd Pears, we thought it would be nice to sit down with this lovely lady and have a chat.
AD: Hey Carla, how’s things?
Carla McRae: Good! I’ve just been trying out gouache for the first time, I’m not the best yet but, you know, learning new things.
AD: What mediums do you usually use? Just asking because I've seen you use Copic Markers in your illustrations.
CM: Yeah, I usually use Copics, fineliner pens, other assorted pens & pencils. I really like flat, matte, block colour and Copics are the only tool I’ve found so far that gives me that. I was colouring digitally for a while, but then I discovered Copics and the rest is history [laughs]. I usually use Illustrator & Photoshop for commercial work though, because 100% of the time there is always changes and it's more time efficient.
AD: What do you usually draw inspiration from when you draw/design?
CM: Pop culture & trends inspire me a bit, but it’s mostly people & friends, like if I see a someone on the train, I’ll take a mental screenshot and sketch them out later; emotions & feelings running through my head, documentaries, lectures. I get amped up from seeing other people succeed in the creative fields, it’s a reminder that it is possible if I just keep going.
AD: So, standard interview question, tell us a bit about yourself.
CM: Well, I grew up on the Sunshine Coast, it was a real quiet, beachy upbringing. I spent my time either drawing or riding bikes around town, all that sort of kid stuff. Then after graduating high school I wanted to be an art teacher, but all my teachers encouraged me to pursue graphic design. So I went to the University of Sunshine Coast and discovered what graphic design was. Then I graduated and moved to Melbourne.
AD: You said you studied design but you are probably more known for your illustrative work. Which discipline do you prefer, illustration or design?
CM: It depends, they usually overlap nowadays. I didn't really know what illustration was when studying, I just knew I liked drawing & I tried to put it into all my assignments. When I graduated, I ended up having more of an illustration based folio. Because I put out a lot of my illustrative work on the internet, it seems to be the main type of work I get. I enjoy illustration work, but more so when I combine it with design. I'm probably not going to brand a bank, but I did brand a kid's toy shop. It was fun & the illustrative element can be brought into that more easily.
AD: You branded a kid’s store? That's pretty cool!
CM: Yeah, it’s over in Perth, I finished that up last year. I did it through a studio called Andrews & Co, they pretty much gave me free rein on that project. It was the perfect combination of illustration and design for me.
AD: Rad. So what prompted the move to Melbourne?
CM: I just needed a change. All my friends moved to Brisbane, and even though I grew up on the coast, I felt my art would be more welcomed and it would gain a bigger audience down south, as well as meeting other like-minded people. I can’t see myself moving back to Queensland anytime soon, there’s always something going on down here.
AD: Melbourne is a hive of activity and creativity, sounds like a good fit. In regards to your work, you’re more of a freelancer. Do studios seek you out if they need specific work done?
CM: Yeah, I think why I’ve gotten to work with so many people down here is people are more likely to search “illustrator melbourne” than “illustrator sunshine coast”.
AD: Sort of typecast by your location?
CM: Yeah! And I really feel like because I’m in Melbourne, I’m getting the work & it’s reaching a broader audience.
AD: Because you mainly source your work as a freelancer, what sort of difficulties do you face?
CM: I think the hardest thing is the work fluctuates and you never really know what you’re going to get next week, or if you’ll get anything at all. You’ve got to keep hustlin’, keep emailing, always post on the social medias & get your stuff out there on the net, otherwise people forget. You also have to stay self motivated. When I started out and received more work, I occasionally forgot I had to work to get paid. So yeah, fluctuating work, self management and staying motivated are the big ones.
AD: So what does keep you motivated these days?
CM: Well, bringing it back to the lectures and talking to people doing similar things & finding success through doing so, that keeps me motivated. Also, realising companies & businesses do need someone with ideas and that you’re that person. Don’t underestimate the power of social media & word of mouth.
AD: That’s a good point, because a lot of work gets sourced by networking.
CM: Well yeah, that’s the thing. All through university I was shy as hell, and even after I moved to Melbourne I didn’t meet anyone for such a long time. But now I’m opening my mouth more and extending the hand to say “Hi”, because I realised how good it is and where it can get you. If I did it earlier, I could have done so much more by now! [laughs]
AD: I hear you’re a part of Odd Pears, tell us what role you play within that company.
CM: I’m the creative director, the creative half of Odd Pears. I take control of all the social media, writing the blog posts, and visual stuff, image making and what not. We’re actually in the process of rebranding & putting it across all platforms, updating the imagery a bit. I’m also designing the winter range, which is really exciting because I never thought I would be designing socks, but it’s the bomb! Socks are rad!
AD: What learning curves did you encounter assuming a creative director role?
CM: Learning how to communicate the right way, and always asking questions based around a brief. A few things have gone askew because of miscommunication.
AD: Would you mind giving an example?
CM: Well, I’ve been creating a print lookbook to include with our retail package for when we’re retailing & getting into shops. I assumed that Brock (the business half of Odd Pears) wanted a portrait style look-book, so I did the layout, typesetting, pretty much everything, and sent it to him for approval. Little did I know, he wanted it in a landscape format. I was like “Uuuuuuugh, you got to be joking!” [laughs]. I had to take a breather after that and listen to a bit of Beyonce.
AD: Beyonce does make it all better. So it sounds like everything is are going pretty well in the world of Carla McRae.
CM: Yeah, things are going alright, always more collaborations to be had.
AD: Do you have any stuff coming up in the future?
CM: Well I’ve just finished a bunch of work, so I’m just piecing together what I’m going to do for the next few months. A lot of work with Odd Pears happening in the lead up to winter, I just finished up a couple of designs for Nowhere Creek, a homewares label in Melbourne. I’ve also been doing a bunch of commissions, some lovers ones and a wedding. I’m looking forward to doing more personal projects in the next few months, creating some new products and apparel items, do some hand printed stuff in my lounge room. I really enjoy making stuff and watching it go out into the world and be used. I like the feeling of making something that people really like and treasure.
AD: Do you have any advice for up and comers, or people seeking a similar career path as yourself?
CM: It’s challenging and you have to work really hard, but the rewards you get are awesome. Just do the work you actually want to get paid for and you will eventually get paid for it. Post what you do online, do exhibitions and do work that you put a lot of yourself into. Clients & the public will also see that effort and they’ll respond to it. Also, have a mentor or a buddy that you can talk to about clients or your work, making mistakes and can share ideas with. Being a freelancer can get lonely but it doesn’t have to be.
AD: Is there anything else you would like to say?
CM: Peace? [laughs] I am nervous about speaking at Analogue/Digital. I hope that people get something out of what I have to say, but I’m sure i’ll be fine though.
AD: You’ll be fine. Well, I think that wraps it up, thanks for the chat and I’ll see you around!
CM: No worries, see you later!
You can catch more of Carla's work on her website, Instagram & Tumblr. If you wish to meet this lovely lady in person, she will be featured as a Next Gen presenter in the Melbourne tour of Analogue/Digital Creative Conferences in May.