Venture North ~ Fall 2012 (V6I3)
Klondike Drawing Company turns creativity into fashionable creations
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.
“When we looked around Dawson ... it was always the same generic shirts---a wolf, a cougar, an eagle, and a moose head that you get from Vancouver to New Brunswick,” says Lougheed-Smith, noting their merchandise displays peculiar humour--in their words, the connection of nature to silly with whimsy. “We’ve got some weird stuff there,” she adds.
They received a boast, this past spring, when they were sponsored to attend the One of a Kind Show and Sale of hand-crafted items in Toronto, a gathering of the magnitude usually associated with car-and-boat exhibitions.
“We are all of a sudden little fish in a big pond--a very big pond,” says O’Grady. “Apparently the key to making money at these shows is to design silly, feathered hats for older women ... or baby clothes.”
“We weren’t sure if people would get our sense of humour,” adds Lougheed- Smith, “but it was an opportunity to see what other people were doing. We saw if our prices were on par, what other people were printing, and what we could get away with.” (It appears they got away with it just fine--Klondike Drawing Company was named one of “7 Favourites From Toronto’s One of a Kind Show” on the Flare magazine website.)
The two have expanded to include design and illustration services and incorporate water-based inks, eco-friendly fabrics, and rainwater, when possible, in the printmaking process.
They’re also trooping towards their dream of full-time creative careers.
“It’s gradually getting some steam behind it and starting to run itself,” says O’Grady.
Next steps for the Klondike Drawing Company include a return to Toronto for the One of a Kind Christmas Show and Sale, in November. The ladies also have plans for an online storefront and are applying for art residencies and gallery shows--the latter to keep one foot in the fine-art world.
They also envision a permanent retail store and studio space--a pressing need considering their Callison digs is a sublet set to expire.
“We really don’t have any options right now, and we’re too busy to think about it,” says O’Grady. “There’s no way we can produce the amount of stock we need in my house again. Otherwise, we’d be printing outside in December weather, which doesn’t work--the ink freezes.”
For more information about the Klondike Drawing Company or to purchase their products, visit www.klondikedrawingcompany.com. Y