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Q&A with Kirsten McCrea

Artist, illustrator, and publisher in Toronto

I'm an artist, illustrator, and publisher. I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, and landed in Montreal for a few years en route to my current home in Toronto. In Montreal I honed my drawing skills in the city's bustling collaborative art scene, making large scale drawings alongside dozens of artists, occasionally indoors but often in the city streets. My multi-disciplinary art practice includes painting, drawing, print, publishing, and installation, with an eye to bright colours, temporal experiences, and accessible endeavours. In 2008 I founded the affordable art subscription Papirmass, which has sent over 40,000 prints by 80+ artists and writers to thousands of people around the world. I live with my husband and collaborator Jp King, who is a constant source of inspiration.

What inspired you to become a designer?

I sort of fell into it, to be honest. I'm trained as a painter, but when I graduated and founded Papirmass I had to learn all of the elements of publishing - everything from layout and typography concepts to the Adobe Suite to pre-press production. I could barely use a computer and didn't have a clue about print when I started, but running Papirmass has been an amazing education. I'm still learning new things every day, five years in! Luckily my closest friends have always been designers, so I've had the support (and patience) of a few experts to help me when I really can't figure something out!

What design software do you use?

I use the old standbys: Illustrator and Photoshop. I have an old Bamboo tablet too, but more and more I really feel that working by hand produces a result that can't be replicated on the computer. I generally produce sketches and mock-ups in Photoshop (because it's so easy to test out ideas), then draw most everything by hand, and then use the computer for touch-ups. A kind of digital to analogue to digital mashup. An analog sandwich, if you will.

What is your ideal work environment?

Next to a big window with a pot of fresh tea and a ton of podcasts! As many tables as possible are great too. I'm currently doing my fourth art residency in five months, so I've become pretty adept at working in a range of places with minimal access to materials. I also need a laptop and a scanner.

Where does your design inspiration come from?

I love natural history museums, old magazines, and just walking around. Traveling is important to me: this year I have spent serious time in Dawson City, Montreal, the Ontario countryside, and just finished a month-long roadtrip through the Eastern US states. In a few weeks I am going to China to paint with En Masse at the Shanghai International Arts Festival. I get my best ideas from my husband, Jp, and our long meandering conversations about art.

Who is the person you admire most?

Oh boy! Hard to choose just one. I admire Dave Eggers for his incredible sense of humour and unbelievably imaginative approach to publishing, Jillian Tamaki for her wonderful graphic novels and always-inspiring illustration, Wade Davis for being the modern-day Indiana Jones and writing so beautifully about other cultures, Seth Godin for his inspiring lessons on thinking outside the box, Pussy Riot for standing up for freedom of expression, Ai Weiwei for his fearlessness... and too many others to count. Check out my project Hot Topic for a list of inspiring cultural figures.