Our Top 12 Graphic Designers and Illustrators from Canada
Canada might be huge in terms of land mass, but when you compare the global success of Canada’s creative industries to the country’s population, it becomes apparent that they are punching well above their weight. The Canadian graphic design scene is a particularly good example of their achievements in recent times. From Ontario to British Columbia, Quebec to Alberta, Canada is home to some of the world’s best graphic designers and illustrators who are setting the standard for designers across the world.
So what is the secret ingredient that makes design in Canada so successful, and why has the country become such an influential place in the world of design? Is it the country’s proximity to and rivalry with the creative heavyweights in the USA? The long winters forcing Canadian designers to stay at their work space? Could it be the eclectic mix of cultures that span the ten provinces? Or the sheer determination and hard work of creative Canadians?
In search of some answers, we tracked down twelve of our favourite Canadian graphic designers and illustrators to ask what they think the strengths of Canadian design are, how they go about their own design process, and which province they think produces the best work.
1. Jacqui Oakley
“As with most creative fields in Canada, including film, art, music, illustration and design, there is always the influence of the U.S. being so close geographically and such a massive cultural force. I think this provides motivation and many of the world’s top illustrators can be found in Canada doing work for international clients, pushing themselves to stand out from the crowd. The shadow of the U.S. promotes great survival skills in Canadian artists, who seem to develop strong and distinct voices.”
Jacqui Oakley is an illustrator hailing from Hamilton, Ontario. Influenced by her extensive travels when she was young, her illustration work has been featured in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, LA Weekly and National Geographic. Her paintings have been exhibited in some of the major cities in North America and her talent has been recognised by multiple industry awards.
2. Graham Roumieu
“Despite crop failures, wolverine attacks, and arcade fires, Canada has managed to produce some pretty solid illustration work. I’m not sure why, but by mentioning it at all I’m sure I’ve just jinxed it. Damn. Sorry.”
Since the success of his fictional Bigfoot autobiographies: In Me Own Words, Me Write Book, and I Not Dead, Graham Roumieu has become one of Canada’s most loved illustrators and authors. His off-beat humour and endearing character illustrations have also made him an influential figure among illustrators worldwide. Graham’s most recent book project, Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People, is a collaboration with the esteemed Canadian author Douglas Coupland. His illustration work been critically acclaimed by most of the biggest art and design organisations and awarding bodies in both Canada and America.
3. Matt and Andrew McCraken
“We have two different approaches to design, and I think they complement each other very well. Matt’s very conceptual and detail oriented, a total perfectionist to the point where it drives me nuts because I’m the opposite. I get an idea quickly and like to just run with it.” Quote and profile image from Creative Mornings
Design duo Doublenaut are the current toast of the Toronto graphic design scene. Made up of two brothers Matt and Andrew McCraken, they are proof of the rewards of a combination of talent and hard work. Moving to Toronto to set up their own graphic design business, the duo quickly started producing work which set the tone for poster design in Canada, and that earned them a variety of work for an impressive list of international clients. Doublenaut is the design studio that every young Canadian designer aspires to be like.
4. Darren Booth
“For a country with a somewhat small population, Canada is overflowing with talent in all of the creative fields and I like to think the long winters are partially responsible for this. I’m biased because I live here and know so many fellow creatives from here, but I think Ontario produces the best talent.”
Darren Booth is one of Canada’s most talented illustrators and hand letterers. His refined style has earned him a number of high profile industry awards as well as an impressive client list including Coca Cola, Disney, ESPN, Pinterest, and The New York Times. Darren’s success is a testament to the consideration he puts in to ensure that every piece of work is true to his unique style.
5. Carson Ting
“From the Design Exchange (Canada’s design museum) to design publications like the Applied Arts, Canada has been able to nurture a very healthy design and creative eco-system that supports aspiring and working professional creative and design types.
“Provincially, I think there has always been a healthy dose of rivalry between all the regions across Canada when design companies compete with one another on a national level, like the Marketing Awards and or the Advertising and Design Club of Canada awards; but when we compete on an international level, like at Cannes, we tend to band together and root for our own nation which is rad.”
Carson “Chairman” Ting is the founder of the creative studio Chairman Ting Industries, a leading web design and graphic design agency based in Vancouver. He has won several awards including two bronze Cannes Lions for his work on the infamous Nike Jordan brand. Carson has also been named as one of the top 5 creative Canadians by Marketing Magazine and one of the top 200 illustrators in the world by Lurzers Archive magazine.
6. Jessica Fortner
“Because we’re exposed daily to hundreds of images designed to grab our attention, we’ve become trained to respond to certain colour schemes. I consciously try to go for unconventional colour relationships hoping they’ll conjure unexpected feelings. For me, it isn’t just about creating something functional or beautiful, it’s about striving to create something new.”
“I’ve always felt the strength of an image is in its emotional resonance. A great concept, composition, or rendering isn’t much if it doesn’t trigger an emotion. Colour is really the strongest emotive tool one can use in illustration and design.
Jessica Fortner’s knowledge of how to create good art work, and talent to execute it to perfection, places her as a great example of Canadian design. Graphic design in Canada continues to improve with the forward thinking and challenging ideas of artists such as Jessica. Making the most of the dynamic Toronto graphic design scene, she has experienced success in advertising, editorial and children’s illustration.
7. Ron Guyatt
“The design scene here is very vibrant and diverse with lots of international influences. Being such a melting pot of cultures there is a constant influx of style, but I do think Canadian designers have managed to put their own spin on it.
“I think it truly is hard to say which province is producing the best design because of this melting pot. Also the fact that Canada is such a vast nation with a size comparable to that of the entirety of Europe. I would be hard-pressed to say any nation in Europe provides better design than others, as each nation is offering so much in such unique styles. In that sense the provinces of Canada are much the same. I think traditionally there have been 3 strong regions including Ontario, Quebec and the West (BC & Alberta). That said I have been seeing influxes of new work from the Maritime Provinces lately.”
Ron Guyatt‘s attributes as one of Canadian design’s most promising newcomers led him to the Graphis Magazine New Talent award in 2012. Since then he has been adding to his impressive range of clients including Xbox, EA France and Bioware. His range of fan art poster designs, such as the art deco Batmobile pictured below, have received much praise online.
8. Matthew Sharpe
“What excites me most about the Canadian design scene is the incredible wealth of talent being produced from traditionally non-major markets. While there’s always been gifted artists showcased in cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, what we’re seeing now are more authors emerging from smaller communities who don’t feel the need to migrate for exposure and engagement.
“I love that I can live in a beautiful city like Guelph, Ontario and enjoy a platform that reaches audiences and clients across the globe, as well as my immediate locale. Results from this decentralized model are awesome to take in.”
Matthew Sharpe is the founder of Canadian design agency Daring Boy, based in Guelph, Ontario. He specialises in interactive design projects for a range of clients and also teaches web design at the University of Guelph. The image below is from Matthew’s ‘Designing Sport‘ project, aimed at enhancing sporting images to improve his retouching and compositional skills. His dedication to his work is typical of the majority of artists that make up the Canadian design scene.
9. Gordon Montgomery
“The design scene is Canada is intensely amazing and incredibly inspirational. It’s a mix of new and upcoming talent accompanied with top notch experts and well established artists. There is a lot of talent residing in Canada because there has always been a rich history of design in Canadian history. You can find inspiration from our classic and timeless logo designs, to famous designers like Allan Fleming, to current rock stars like the brothers at Doublenaut.
“You’re always going to find next level work in the cities like Vancouver and Toronto, but keep your eyes peeled on the “not-so-likely” towns and cities because your going to be surprised at what comes next.”
Gordon Montgomery thrives on being a part of the Canadian design scene and takes inspiration from the talented creatives that he works alongside. An up-and-coming designer to keep your eye on, he is refining his style in the world of advertising and his enthusiasm to get better will surely see him become one of the very best in the coming years; not to mention his talent for excellent graphic design and typography work.
10. Ben Johnston
“As being fairly new to the graphic design scene in Canada after only being here for a year, I’ve really enjoyed how open and welcoming it’s been. There is some great talent in Toronto and a lot ad agencies as well, which are always pushing to be the best and creating great work along the way. I also think that having New York around the corner, it creates some healthy competition.
“The weather in Toronto is also a big factor. I personally find that it makes it a lot easier to spend long days and nights at the studio and get a lot done over the winter periods when it’s dark most of the time as opposed to cities where it’s always sunny. Collaboration is also big here, so it’s been really interesting working with different people and pushing my projects to another level or direction that I previously wouldn’t have taken. I currently work out of a co-working space, which also brings about a new and interesting dynamic.”
After growing up in South Africa, Ben Johnston moved to Canada to pursue his talent and is currently taking advantage of the inspirational graphic design Toronto has in abundance. After briefly working in industrial design, Ben chose to focus more on graphic design, hand lettereing and illustration and is enjoying a lot of success working as a freelance designer.
11. Celia Krampien
“I think there is a tremendous amount of Canadian creative talent. Being located near Toronto, I know there is a big and vibrant creative community there. Toronto has a great energy – there’s always a lot going on, people are working hard and getting stuff done. But there are also lots of very talented individuals based in other cities and tucked away in smaller communities all across the country, making fantastic work.”
Celia Krampien lives in Oakville, Ontario where she creates brightly coloured illustrations with precise line work and subtle textures. Her inspiration comes from her rural upbringing when as a child she would spend her time running around outdoors and doodling the animals and flowers around her house. Inspiration from this time is on show in her illustration Harbingers of Spring shown below.
12. Michael Haddad
“The design and illustration scene in Canada is great! Considering we’re so huge geographically, but small population-wise, it’s impressive how much talent we produce. The atmosphere is more supportive than competitive. Some of my favorite current designers are friends of mine.”
Michael Haddad‘s minimalist work is filled with his trademark humour. His collection of Sexy Patterns and his illustration Evolve (shown below) demonstrate his sharp wit as well as his appealing eye for good graphic design. Michael’s talent for innuendo has led to his work being published in numerous magazines and newspaper editorials from around Canada.
Do you agree with our top Canadian designers? Have your say in the comment section below or check out our Top Graphic Designers and Illustrators From South Africa.