Lisa Frank opens up about her high school experience, and all those unicorns

For so many of us ’90s kids whose school supplies were adorned with rainbow kittens and neon unicorns, the love for Lisa Frank is real. Her colorful and imaginative artwork left a significant imprint in all of our lives. Despite her work being all over the globe, Lisa herself is mysterious, rarely agreeing to interviews. But today, all of our ’90s dreams have come true. In a lengthy and informative interview with Foundations, Lisa opened up about her art, her inspiration, and her own high school experiences.

Lisa, now 60, attended Cranbrook Kingswood High School in Detroit, Michigan — and that’s where her art career started. She was a natural, of course. “I can tell you I wouldn’t be who I am without [my high school] experience,” she told Foundations. “I had a senior show of the paintings I made when I was a student there. They were up on the wall, I sold out, and received a ton of commissions.”

Her first work was abstract, but looking at it, you can “see where the Lisa Frank colors came from,” she explained. But later on in college, she moved into commercial work. “At first I didn’t want to do unicorns,” she admitted. “The artist in me said no. Then I thought wait a minute [sic] this is commercial art. Let’s do what’s going to sell.”

She created her own line of jewelry called “Sticky Fingers” that sold very well, and her career only skyrocketed from there. “I think the reason I made what I made is because I’m unconventional,” she explained. “I am who I am. You read stuff about me; people think it was all influenced by drugs. You couldn’t do what I did if I was on drugs. . . I was running my business. You can’t be just a creative; you have to be a businesswoman, too. You have to have the motivation to get there.”

She started adding things to the Lisa Frank line, getting more and more offers. . . until Spencer’s Gifts offered her a million dollar order for stickers featuring the psychedelic art we all know and love today. “This was around 1982 and I’m only 28 years old,” she said. “I’m a kid. A million dollar order seemed like 50 million to me.”

Lisa is well aware of the nature of her fans (e.g. us ’90s kids are OBSESSED). “I know our fans that grew up with it in the ’90s are die-hard,” she told Foundation. “They really do love when we give them the classic stuff. It’s difficult to embrace the new but they will still embrace it.”

Because she’s awesome, a lot of Lisa’s inspiration actually comes from criticism. “I just thought, ‘Try it all, throw a ton of stuff out there, see what sticks, and learn from your mistakes,’” she told Foundations. “When I would go in to see a buyer I didn’t want to hear, ‘Your stuff is so great.’ I wanted to hear about the problems so I could correct them. That’s how you learn.” But no one’s a bigger critic than Lisa herself. “I’m just so critical,” she admitted. “There are hundreds of hours in a new piece of art. It’s probably obsessive and crazy to think about.”

Lisa has purposely been aiming her work to be for consumers who may not necessarily have a ton of money, because, as she explains, “consumers with less money have a keener eye than the ones with more.” “Consumers with less money only have so much to spend,” she told Foundations. “For this reason they are critical and want to buy the best of the best. I’ve always appealed to the masses because, I felt so lucky to grow up in a beautiful world, and believe just because someone has less money, why should they not be offered the best of the best, as well?”

In the end, all that matters to Lisa is creation and art. “I feel like I’m fortunate enough to live my passion . . . There’s a big commitment to making beautiful quality work or else I really don’t want to be involved,” Lisa said. “I mean, yes, it’s a business but it’s more important that the art is beautiful.”

She hasn’t been purposely avoiding press or social media — she’s just been so caught up in her work that she pays it no mind, she explained. “You know, I’m not playing hard to get on purpose,” Lisa said. “It’s just that I do what I do because I love what I do. I never did it for fame, fortune, or publicity. As a matter of fact I didn’t even take advantage of it at all. Probably stupidly so. . . People tell me that not knowing me or seeing me lends to their imagination. They make up who they want me to be.”

But we already know who she is. She’s a no-nonsense, passionate woman who is so dedicated and devoted to her creation, and it just makes us love her all the more. BRB, gonna go hug my glitter kitten folder.

Behind the Rainbow Curtain: An Interview with Lisa Frank’s Head Designer

From the Lost Files of Lisa Frank

[Images via Twitter]

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