Her roots may be in Québec City, but Gabrielle Matte blossomed in Montreal. A self-described “jack-of-all-trades,” Matte’s portfolio teems with books, logos, illustrations, maps, set installations, short films, album covers for indie singers, and even hand-painted store signs—all exceeding in charm and finesse.

But if there’s one signature in Matte’s growing body of work, it’s her handmade touch. Only Matte’s kind of handmade aesthetic—which can seem all too common and commercialized these days—somehow never comes off as cloying. Instead, it reveals a respect for craftsmanship and a joy wrought from creative hands-on experimentation.

Her eclecticism, she says, comes from her ability to draw inspiration from the mélange and medley of daily life in the Canadian creative hotbed that UNESCO declared a “city of design” in 2006. After a year of studies in Paris, Matte moved to Montreal for work, but she got more of a hands-on education instead.

It all began when she met the owner of a local offset print shop, Benoit Poirer, who couldn’t print her limited-run project, but generously showed her around his shop—essentially teaching her about the mechanics of lithography printing. They’ve since struck up a friendship; Matte even redesigned the print shop’s sign.

In the process of making the sage and gold marquee, Matte met a carpenter who constructed the sign for her in exchange for a sign of for his own business. “He said, ‘I will do the sign, but can you paint on my window too?’” recalls Matte. “It’s kind of this infinite chain,” she laughs.

“Le Bon Melon,” a hand-illustrated cartographic map of Montreal is  Matte’s tribute to the multi-faceted city
“Le Bon Melon,” a hand-illustrated cartographic map of Montreal is Matte’s tribute to the multi-faceted city

“Montreal is not that expensive, and it’s easy to get your first chance here,” says Matte, describing a community that’s more welcoming to freelancers and independent designers than a larger metropolitan dominated by agencies.

The community aspect has buoyed Matte’s work so much that it even inspired her and two friends to found Mer/Sea, a design collaborative that allows Matte to engage in ambitious group projects and exhibitions while still maintaining an independent practice. Last year they made two robots whose interactions were synched with internet data. “It was not really that we started a studio,” explains Matte. “It was really about creating a place where we can explore and do fun projects together.”