Beards, chainsaws, ingenuity, beards, rusty trucks, dogs, beards, puns, beards and beards, and grinning balls of lichen—these are the things the Klondike Drawing Company (KDC) is made of.
Aubyn O'Grady and Rian Lougheed-Smith have used skills they learned in the Yukon to begin an illustration and silk-screening business in the heart of the Dawson City community. They print shirts for local businesses and sell designs of their own.
A trip to their studio reveals an idyllic scene complete with homemade flags and herds of happy dogs.
Inside, there is a kitchen area, a bedroom that has been converted into a darkroom for prepping the photosensitive screens, and a living area/office/production room complete with witty sayings and lovely drawings tacked to every surface.
"Rian and I both went to [Yukon School Of Visual Art (SOVA)], although a year apart. At the end of spring, beginning of the summer last year, some screen-printing equipment came up for sale and Rian and I had been talking,” says O’Grady.
“We have similar ideas, backgrounds, illustration styles, or complementary illustration styles, and so we decided to start printing T-shirts, mostly to make our own stuff,” she continues.
"We weren't even super close friends,” Lougheed-Smith adds, “but we recognized that we thought we'd work well together, and we both wanted to be here making work."
The KDC was born. They started out printing T-shirts in the kitchen and bathroom of O’Grady’s apartment.
“It was so small!” says O’Grady.
“And we had an incredibly patient roommate,” adds Lougheed-Smith.
“Aubyn’s roommate put up with us literally just taking over the entire kitchen, so every sink was filled with paint spatulas or ink or emulsion. There were stacks of screens beside the toilet drying in the washroom.”
“And then wall-to-wall in the kitchen, T-shirts were hanging from the ceiling,” says O'Grady. “It was nuts!”
In one year they have grown out of the tiny bathroom and moved into the studio, located in the Callison industrial park just outside of Dawson.
In the bigger space, the company has taken on larger corporate projects.
"There’s lots of places in town [that want printing done]—Dawson's a T-shirt-friendly place,” says Lougheed-Smith.
While they stick to contracts of around 50 or so, "we could do more," she says.
Mostly it seems to depend on equipment and studio space.
"We're not automated at all, so each T-shirt is printed by us, heat-pressed by us, folded by us, whereas lots of other larger setups have big conveyor belts and stuff. We could do larger contracts, but it would take us longer.”
Like many things in Dawson, the studio is temporary. O’Grady and Lougheed-Smith have sublet it for the summer and will be without a studio again by the end of August.
“It’s one of those things where people have trouble finding a place to live, so finding a place to let your T-shirt business live is also a struggle,” says Lougheed-Smith.
"We're versatile ladies,” she continues.
“We were doing this crazy big run in O’Grady’s bathroom, which is a small space for one person, so we were in there and I kind of looked at her and I was like, ‘You know what? If we’re still having fun when we’re ultimately stressed right now because we’ve got a crazy deadline, and we’re in this ridiculous space that was never intended to be used for T-shirt production, and we're still enjoying it, then I’m pretty sure we can make this happen anywhere else.'”
In addition, the Yukon and can-do attitude of Dawsonites keeps them here.
“I fell in love with this place,” says Lougheed-Smith. “It’s a place that’s really encouraging and supportive of people doing their own thing and making it happen here.”
She explains that being local also means clients can become more involved in the design process.
“I can meet with someone and show them a sketch or an idea and they can be, like, ‘Oh, can I include this text here or this there?’”
Their local success has led to national publicity, as SOVA sponsored them to have a table at the spring One of a Kind craft show in Toronto.
“It was a little nerve-wracking because we've sold things up here and our designs generally involve ravens and beards and partially-naked bearded women, and chainsaws and things, and puns, and we weren’t sure if that would translate,” says Lougheed-Smith.
“But we had people guffawing and in tears in our booth, just loving stuff.”
The pair has been invited back to the One of a Kind Christmas show and sale, which is over twice the size of the spring show—one of the largest craft shows in Canada.
On top of all this, they were featured in Flare magazine online as one of the “7 Favourites From Toronto’s One of a Kind Show”.
“I was really happy to see [us] there—it’s something moms understand universally,” says O’Grady.
In the future, O’Grady and Lougheed-Smith look to adding a line of children’s clothing, and run silk-screening workshops, including at Arts Underground in Whitehorse, August 25 and 26.
At the end of the day, they simply love their work.
"It’s the best, printing our T-shirts is so fun," says O’Grady.
"We always get excited," says Lougheed-Smith. "It’s kind of like magic every time you pull a shirt off, because there's nothing on it—it’s a blank T-shirt.
“And then with one swipe of a squeegee, you’ve got this drawing that you pictured what it might look like on a T-shirt, and it’s actually there! It’s like casting a spell on the shirt.”
On top of the joy of printing, the artists are discovering other bonuses that come with having a successful T-shirt business.
"I bartend at [Bombay Peggy's] and I love it when people I’ve never seen before walk in wearing one of our shirts. I just get the hughest kick out of it,” laughs Lougheed-Smith.
“Like, I drew that chainsaw that’s on your chest right now!"
Follow the KDC’s blog at http://klondikedrawingcompany.tumblr.com