Carla McRae is a Melbourne-based illustrator originally from the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. She uses clean lines, geometric shapes and strong colour to create beautiful work inspired by the simple and the everyday.
Carla spent her childhood obsessing over cartoons and pop culture. She recalls these images, now detached from their original plot, like works of art that have resonated deeply within. Embedded in her mind through repetition and obsession, years of watching and re-watching, tracing the forms and lines, and fantasising about flavours and textures, these humble vignetted meals have become more memorable than the narratives surrounding them.
Memory Banquet is a tribute to nostalgic delicacies, explored through a series of oil pastel drawings on paper and tactile wooden sculptures. In this new body of work, the balance of shape, colour, and negative space combines with texture and touch — familiar and tender. Memory Banquet is a contemplation and celebration of the profoundly simple joys that can shape how we feel, think and see. India Hourihan of Orenda chatted with Carla about ‘screenshots’ of food, pushing yourself and her creative process.
How would you describe your style? What drew you to it?
My style is predominately driven by colour, strong shapes/forms and clean line work.
But I think it’s always shifting and changing too. I constantly experiment with different mediums and ways to express this. Sometimes I’ll start using a new medium accidentally or because someone gifted me a new type of pen or something — it’s always about just trying new things and seeing where it goes.
It’s always about just trying new things and seeing where it goes.
Who are some of your favourite artists/designers?
Lots of different things influence my way of drawing and they’re all pretty varied. I really love the work of Dick Bruna, Tove Jansson, Ellsworth Kelly, Nathalie Du Pasquier, Helen Frankenthaler, Fredun Shapur, 80’s interior design, weird geometric architecture. And my friends are creative too, and inspire me a lot too — David Booth, Evie Cahir, Alice Oehr, Tallulah Fontaine, Cat Rabbit, Robert Bowers, Magda Kseizak. All of these people inspire me either in the way they make art or the way they live their life!
What was it like connecting back to your childhood for Memory Banquet? How did it feel?
It was a lot of fun — the most fun I’ve had drawing in ages! These ‘screenshots’ of food that I drew already had a special and well-worn place in my brain, but I revisited all of them to take fresh screenshots to work from. This meant spending hours trawling YouTube for niche videos using keywords like ‘on top of spaghetti barney the dinosaur 90’s’ and ‘spot episodes’. To my surprise, YouTube had most of it!! Working within the limitations of the oil pastels (a medium I also hadn’t used since childhood) and my skill levels was interesting too. The sculptures were a fun and satisfying way to tie it all together too. I struggle to think in 3D, but I worked out a way to make 2D-like 3D objects, which I can’t wait to explore more in the future.
These ‘screenshots’ of food that I drew already had a special and well-worn place in my brain
What does your creative process entail? Is it always the same?
The process remains more or less the same no matter what medium I’m using. It always involves some kind of list making, writing words down and lots of drawing on paper (or iPad — I’ve been playing with that lately. Super fun). I’ll start sketching on bond paper, take another piece of bond paper, re-trace and simplify, usually retrace again and then use this sketch to start drawing the final. I’ll blow it up to the scale I want or re-draw it directly using a lightbox. The redrawing is a crucial part for me as each time I re-draw it drifts further away from the original sketch and becomes more refined.
What is your favourite medium and why?
Really hard to choose, but I can’t go past a nice big flat slathering of super opaque house paint on a plaster wall. Sometimes paring it back to good old fashioned pencil on paper is just as nice though.
You have collaborated with many established artists and companies such as Apple and Remedy Kombucha. What do you think has been your best moment/s or project?
The mural project that I completed at Remedy Kombucha is probably my biggest project in terms of scale and execution, and one I’m most proud of. I completed 4 murals at their big brewing HQ, half of which were about 7m tall by 30m long. I had to get qualified to use a scissor lift to do the job, and spent 7 days commuting back and forth from Melbourne to Frankston to complete it. It was really hard work, I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my life! It taught me loads about how far I can push myself — mentally and physically — and I proved a lot to myself during that job.
I had to get qualified to use a scissor lift to do the job
How do you think contemporary design has evolved/changed? Do you think this has changed people’s view of art/design?
It’s definitely become a lot more accessible day-to-day, due to the internet and exposure/trends. I think this is mostly a positive thing. Design and art is for everybody, and as well as appreciation, it has created many more opportunities for creatives to make work and be self-sufficient and independent. It does also make the field a lot more competitive but this also pushes people to grow and work in interesting ways.