From the Lost Files of Lisa Frank

Sometimes a love of stickers will take you crazy places. Last week, I interviewed a woman who designed for Lisa Frank in the ’80s and ’90s. Most recently, what began as a run-of-the-mill Tuesday evening sticker hunt on Etsy and eBay led to the discovery of a now-defunct magazine so perfectly tailored to my taste and interests, it seemed I had dreamt it into being. Yes, I’m talking about Stickers Magazine, founded in 1983 and devoted entirely to the celebration of stickers. “For Kids Stuck on Stickers,” the cover reads, “Fun Sticker Ideas. Latest Smellies, Puffies & Fuzzies. Plus Much More!” Um, sign me up.

Once I had my sticker-sticky hands all over a vintage copy of the first-ever issue, I discovered what was inside was so much greater than I ever could have imagined. Not even advertised on the cover, within the pages of the magazine there exists an interview with the very woman I’ve been thinking about so much lately, Lisa Frank herself… BEFORE SHE WAS FAMOUS. Now notoriously interview-shy, back in 1983 Lisa Frank was just a small-time sticker-maker, albeit one with big plans. In this interview, she talks about her process of making stickers, a crazy new technique known as “airbrushing” (I die), and her mysterious “plans” for her as-yet-nonexistent brand. I won’t tease you any longer. Printed below is the article in its entirety. I took the liberty of bolding the best parts.

Creating Stickers is Child’s Play

Lisa Frank says she’s still a kid at heart, but she’s very serious when it comes to making stickers. She uses a process called airbrushing, and the results are simply beautiful.

“I never grew up. I’m still a kid,” confesses Lisa Frank, who is quite definitely an adult. But she’s one of those adults who refuses to completely grow up. Thankfully for Lisa, she’s been able to make her living through art, a talent she has developed since she really was a child. Stickers are her latest craving, and the way she produces them illustrates both the seriousness of her artwork and the sheer enjoyment she derives from it.

“I was brought up on art,” Lisa remembers. “My parents were always taking me to art galleries and museums. I’ve taken art classes since I was five, and eventually I went to college for art.” Her dedication has paid off, for Lisa now has her own company, based in Tucson, Arizona, that does nothing but design and produce artwork.

She started her career by making jewelry that looked like food – another of Lisa’s passions in life, she says. (Indeed, she has been known to draw jelly beans floating in outer space and ice-cream cones rocketing to far-away planets.) These days, however, Lisa concentrates mostly on dreaming up ideas for stickers. And, as always, she is able to blend her youthful creativity into each of her stickers, which is probably why kids like them so much.

“Each of my designs is a little fantasy or dream,” says Lisa. “The ideas for stickers come from my head, from kids’ letters, from everyday life.” For instance, she might be inspired by a photograph she sees in a museum or something she reads in a magazine.

When it comes time to actually produce the stickers, though, Lisa is all business. She takes great pride in her work, and wants each piece of art to be as close to perfect as possible. However, to maintain this kind of quality takes a long time, she says. “From the original idea to the finished sticker takes a minimum of three months.”

One reason it takes so long is that Lisa and the artists who work for her first produce a large, 18″ x 24″ painting before it is reduced to sticker size. Each one starts out as a concept. A pencil drawing is made of the concept, and then this is refined and readied to be painted. The entire painting process takes anywhere from 9 to 36 hours to complete, and the labor of three or four artists, including Lisa.

To achieve the light, cloud-like look that Lisa’s stickers have, she uses a popular yet ancient technique called airbrushing. It is a distinct style that has become a trademark for Lisa’s work. “It costs more to do it like this,” she says, “but I believe I’m selling quality products as a result.”

Cave people living in Southern France 35,000 years ago are said to have used a primitive form of airbrushing to paint wall art. The modern airbrush was invented in 1878 by an artist named Abner Peeler.

Actually, an airbrush is not a brush at all, but rather a pen-like instrument connected by a thin hose to an air pump. As with a can of spray paint, air forces the paint through the hose and out the end of the pen. Airbrushing was used widely in the 1930’s, and is popular again today with a variety of artists, especially those who paint science-fiction posters and paperback book covers.

It may be painstaking to make items as seemingly simple as stickers with this process, says Lisa, but she wouldn’t do it any other way. Besides, the store owners who buy her stickers seem to appreciate the effort. And if the success of her company is any indication, kids who collect stickers do, too.

In addition to stickers, Lisa is always dreaming up other uses for her art. The latest idea is switch plate stickers, those things attached to the wall behind light switches. Her art also appears on posters, greeting cards, and children’s clothing.

“In the future, I’ll have lots of new designs,” Lisa says, with a secretive smile on her happy face. “I’ve got lots of things up my sleeve.” Let’s just hope that they’re short sleeves and that those ideas drop out soon. There are too many kids out here anxiously waiting to see what youthful fantasy Lisa Frank will dream up next.

Lisa Frank!

Images via, Stickers Magazine (my own copy),

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