If I had known that of all my business ventures 'Unicorn Empire' was the one that was going to stick, I might have given it a more serious name. It does sound a little silly when talking to the people at the licensing department. I've had a bit of a spaghetti relationship with business my entire life; that is to say, throw every idea you have at the wall and see what sticks.
I'll never forget my very first 'business'. I wrapped embroidery thread around clothespins and used markers to make little eyes and faces: clothespin dolls. I sold them to my classmates (I'm sure the most expensive one was a dime, since we were in Kindergarten and money was a rather finite resource at 5). I managed to make enough to take my Grandmother to the dollar theater and buy her a box of junior mints for mothers day. She never failed to encourage me in any business venture I had growing up, and for that I am forever grateful.
Unicorn Empire really began with Elementary My Dear Watson, a 26 page illustrated book that I completed in December of 2010. The book was cathartic and meaningful to me for a lot of reasons, but the thing that stuck with me was the satisfying feeling of holding the very first book in my hands. From then on I knew that I wanted to make things.
I taught myself to screen print (which was a complete disaster at first, it's a very finicky process I've learned!) and started making shirts with a home made Frankenstein press. I painted, I made jointed paper dolls, even finished an expansive coloring book. Some ideas never made it off the ground, but others soared. I focused on teaching myself more and more about screen printing; technique, the difference between ink types, why some emulsion worked and others were a nightmare.
Once my back started hurting from sitting on the floor with my home-made press I decided that it was time to upgrade. I purchased a 4 color press with nothing but big dreams. I didn't realize at the time that assembling a printing press is no less confusing than screen printing itself; especially when the instructions are little more than clip-art level pictures made in Microsoft Office from '95.
Beyond the satisfaction that making things by hand brings, one of the reasons I learned to screen print was cost, and the other was quality. I had a design that I wanted to get printed on a shirt not long after making Elementary, and so I started shopping around. I looked at a lot of online stores, places that would print the shirt for me using plastisol inks or just printing the image and heat pressing it onto a shirt. On top of that, the cost of these sites meant that I'd be making an average of $1.00 per shirt, and the shirts themselves would cost over $20. That didn't seem very fair to me or the people who wanted to support my art.
So I worked on developing a system that would let me create quality shirts using water based inks, which lay smoothly on fabric and feel better than plastisol. I also made sure that my pricing was fair to the people who wanted to support me through my art (for which I am very grateful!). All of the process of screen printing is done in house, most with equipment I've built myself. Sometimes the process is more challenging than I would like it to be; a simple change in the weather can mean that the emulsion doesn't dry properly and makes printing impossible for a few days. Sometimes I make mistakes, burn a screen backwards or use the wrong ink. Equipment breaks, things fall apart, orders of supplies explode in the mail. Fortunately I've been in business since I was 5. Things will always go wrong, there will be setbacks, but perseverance and hard work will always win out; and then you take your Grandma to the theater.