Marilyn McRae
Courtesy Photo

“I’m trying to do something different all the time,” says artist Marilyn McRae of her unique paper art. “I don’t want them to all look the same.” Created from recycled magazine pages, hand-sculpted into original designs, and digitally reproduced on anything from canvases to scarves, her work is constantly evolving.

This commitment to creativity has been a constant for McRae. As a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, she majored in home economics and minored in art. Upon graduation, she combined the two disciplines into a 25-year career as a food stylist. From there, she built and remodeled residences for years, including her and her husband’s sunny Santa Barbara home and studio. In 2012, with the inspiration of Santa Barbara and a dose of good timing, she was ready to pursue her own creative passions, and Cartasan Designs was born.

“Everything I always did was in the creative field,” explained McRae. Viewing her art, which is folded, curled, burned, and crafted into new forms, it’s clear that the meticulous nature of food styling has aided in her detailed designs.

Purple Bloom
Courtesy Photo

“How can I manipulate the paper to create the look I want?” is one of her guiding questions, and she has always enjoyed the creative problem-solving aspect of this work. McRae is sure to preserve elements of the paper’s font and design within her pieces. After all, the idea for Cartasan stemmed from rolling up a magazine and admiring the texture.

Cofounder Christy Chee handles the business and digital side and marketing of the reproductions and works with printing Cartasan designs on the many substrates, such as acrylic, aluminum, upholstery, and more.

“Cartasan” stems from the blending of carta, the Italian word for “paper,” and “artisan,” one who makes things by hand. Despite the Italian name, the place that most directly influences McRae’s work is Santa Barbara. When asked what inspires her about this town, she quickly responds in a beaming smile, “Everything!”

McRae can often be found soaking up the city’s natural beauty, walking along the beach, or observing flowers and greenery while gaining ideas for her intricate pieces. “I really think that we’ve captured a lot of the depth,” she says of her multidimensional designs.

Before they’ve seen the titles, viewers often have varying interpretations of her art, which is exactly the way McRae likes it. “I prefer to have the viewer find their own meaning.”

As the sun pours through McRae’s large windows casting a dusky glow upon on her artwork, which appears to grow as fast as the lush vegetation that inspired it, it’s clear that McRae needs no help creating meaning of her own.

Cartasan reproductions can be seen at XCVI in La Cumbre Plaza, and originals can be seen at


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