The Klondike Drawing Company’s headquarters, a white with blue trim doublewide in Dawson City’s Callison industrial subdivision, sits tucked between a bulk-fuel plant, a hardrock-exploration company, and a timber yard. The modest exterior offers no clues to the creativity transpiring inside.
“We’re not necessarily what you would think of when you think of industries in the Yukon,” says Rian Lougheed-Smith, 25, who, along with Aubyn O’Grady, 26, started the two-person printmaking operation a year ago. The duo now produces postcards, prints, illustrations, and silkscreened fabrics in this artful oasis amid roughneck neighbours. “It’s kind of funny that people are drawing next to heavy machinery and exploration work. We chuckle about that."
Until a few months ago, the women were pursuing their art-based business in O’Grady’s home, making prints and silkscreening T-shirts in her tub and kitchen sink.
“We figured if we still enjoyed it when we were doing it in Aubyn’s bathroom and kitchen--and it was the most un-ideal workspace possible--then we were probably doing something we were going to be OK with,” says Lougheed-Smith.
Both women are relative newcomers to the territory, with O’Grady having visited the Yukon several times with her father, an avid fisher, before trying out Dawson City on a more permanent basis four summers ago.
“I came with an ex-boyfriend,” O’Grady says with a smile. “I got the town; he’s in Vancouver.”
“I’m a recovering anthropologist,” adds Lougheed-Smith, who worked at the University of New Brunswick before heading north. “I hated my job, so I quit and ran away to the Yukon. Before I even got here, a buddy of mine said ‘You’re going to get a rusty truck, three more dogs, and a pair of Carhartt’s--and you’re not going to leave.’ I have everything but the extra dogs.”
The women enrolled at Dawson City’s Yukon School of Visual Arts--both in separate cohorts--and credit the experience with shaping their art practice and business model.
“[You] learn how to be clever about things instead of seeing things as a limitation,” says O’Grady, “using cleverness and ingenuity to come up with solutions to being so isolated or waiting two weeks for art supplies in the mail.”
Their first post-art-school step, however, was back to the world of straight jobs--an unfortunate reality for many nascent artists.
Although they weren’t especially close friends, they connected over their dream of full-time creative work and living in Dawson City, where they found a supportive arts community.
They took a hefty stride towards an arts career by approaching an area seamstress with printmaking equipment for sale. The two saved what money they could and, over the next month, made small payments for the gear, then spent the early winter producing T-shirts and postcards for their debutante outing at a local Christmas craft fair.