Creating Art for Everyone with Hello Kirsten


Portrait of artist Kirsten McCrea

We are very excited to be launching our 100th issue of Papirmass and none of this would be possible without our next artist, creator Papirmass founder, Hello Kirsten (Kirsten McCrea). Papirmass was founded out of a belief that art should be accessible, and as you can see in the interview below, Kirsten has expanded this belief beyond the printed page and out into the world in the form of murals and public art installations.

It’s hard to believe that Papirmass is 100 Issues old. WOW! We can tell you quite honestly that we have loved sending out hundreds of thousands of prints to art lovers around the world over the last nine years, and that as we cross this milestone we are looking forward more than ever to the next 100 affordable art prints we plan to mail around the world.

Don’t miss out! We only turn 100 once. You have until March 31st to sign up.

mural paint by artist Kirsten McCrea

To begin, please tell us about the work we are featuring in Papirmass (what is it about, what inspired it, how was it made, what ideas does it explore, etc.)

I started painting ampersands seven years ago, as a way to impress my husband-to-be. At the time, he worked in a print shop and offered to make me at-cost colour prints that we could use to go wheat pasting. I’ve long been drawn to this beautiful typographic specimen that indicates togetherness, and (perhaps as a subtle hint to him!) decided to put my fascination down on paper in the form of a series of colourful ampersands.

In the intervening years, I became even more interested in patterns, and began painting bright, colourful murals that mix patterns from different places and eras. I recently decided to return to the form of the ampersand as a way to deepen my exploration of contemporary pattern mixing, butting old-fashioned designs up against new ones to see what kinds of wonderful contrasts can be created.

Papirmass artist Kirsten McCrea

Briefly describe your creative process. How do you make the leap from idea to finished piece?

I don’t sketch, I just think obsessively about art all day long. As different ideas crystallize in my mind, some compel me to take the leap and apply them to paper or canvas or a wall. I am learning however that I have a tendency to overthink ideas, and that if I imagine a series too much before creating it, I can become bored of it before I even begin. So I am trying to move from idea to action more quickly these days.

mural painting with artist Kirsten McCrea

What is your typical day like?

I wake up, have a warm drink (sadly no coffee anymore for me – it messes with my sleep!), and then read for a bit. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with dancing in the mornings, as a way of getting my blood flowing. Then, I pack a lunch and dinner and walk the half hour to my studio, where I’ll work for 8-10 hours. I don’t take many breaks while I work, but I do try to switch up tasks and move around the room, to keep my energy up.

Another new experiment is to have creative weeks and administrative weeks. Making art involves a lot more admin than most people would imagine, so I am trying to carve out time for creative exploration that is uninterrupted!

What themes or issues do you address in your work?

One of the obvious correlations that I see running throughout my practice is the idea that art is for everyone. With Papirmass as well as with murals, I am getting art out of galleries and into the world, in a way that is accessible and affordable. Expanding the experience of art into the every day is really important to me.

Papirmass artist Kirsten McCrea

Describe your studio space or where you work:  

I have a really beautiful light-filled studio in Toronto. It’s my happy place. I share it with my husband JP and his print studio Paper Pusher, but he usually works from home these days, so I luckily often have the room to myself. Sometimes I feel guilty about having so much space in such an expensive city, but then I remind myself that I’ve been doing this for nine years and for the first five I was working out of my bedroom! It’s the reward for a lot of hard work, and I love it.

Portrait of artist Kirsten McCrea

What is the most important item in your studio/workspace?

Natural light. It’s the one thing that I really can’t live without.How has your practice changed over time?

How has your practice changed over time?

Some common threads remain: a desire to make art accessible, a love of bright colours, and an obsession with pattern. I think that what has changed is that I have honed my focus and stepped up the complexity of what I do.

Making murals has been a major shift, but it feels like a logical extension of what I was already interested in. I actually find painting murals easier than making paintings in a studio, which is kind of funny because in theory, they should be much more challenging. But I really love the problem-solving aspect of them. Moving forward, I see myself continuing to apply more complex patterns, while simultaneously embracing restraint and moving towards larger areas of simplicity and a more muted colour palette.

Mural painting by artist Kirsten McCrea

What challenged you the most at the start of your career?

The most difficult thing in the world is getting through those early stages of your career, before you have a reputation. If you can find a way to make it through the first three years, and you are dedicated and continually working to improve, it will get easier, I promise.

I found that around year three things suddenly took off: opportunities started coming to me, I had confidence in pricing, and I knew what to say no to. Every year after that has been exponentially easier, but the first three absolutely were really, really hard.

Papirmass artist Kirsten McCrea

What’s the best thing about being an artist?

The fact that you are invited to face the world with creativity and are not expected to conform.

What’s the worst thing about being an artist?

The lack of structure in day-to-day life can be challenging. This might be something many self-employed people struggle with. On the one hand, I love the freedom. On the other, sometimes it would be so lovely to have someone else with all the answers come along and tell me what to do. Every day is different, and that is both a blessing and a curse. A lot of energy gets eaten up navigating all of the decisions of what to do next.

Mural painting by artist Kirsten McCrea

What do you think it takes to make original and visionary work today?

With the rise of social media, it’s too easy to get swept up in trends and create derivative work. Making original work requires stepping away from that, ignoring the fads, and paying close attention to what truly fascinates you.

Kirsten McCrea is our April 2018 artist.
See more at


*featured photo credit Michael Kuby