Remembering Lisa Frank
Unabashedly a child of the '90s, I remember the days of scrunchies, New Romantics hand-me-downs, and acid-wash jeans with fondness, not disgust. Surely I could have grown up in a less garish and more aesthetically decisive decade, but I enjoyed my childhood nonetheless (or maybe because of the ubiquitous tackiness). Part of the colorful outlandishness that spilled over from the '80s and into the early '90s was inherently very child-like and therefore agreeable to children. The big shapes, the arresting colors—the sights were bold without the nasty grayness that an adult's paintbrush lends to the world. The art and stationery of Lisa Frank epitomize that optimistic, over-the-top '90s flair that became very familiar to me as early as kindergarden.
To the uninitiated, Lisa Frank is a pop artist whose cartoonish work anthropomorphizes every creature from pandas to jaguars to turtles. Lisa Frank even renders narwals, though her pictures of unicorns, teddy bears, and household pets are her most famous. This equal-opportunity artist has also earned attention for her imaginative depictions of tween girls who combine fashion savvy with active lifestyles as surfers, princesses, shoppers, and cool kids on the block. Yet the main take-away about Lisa Frank's art is this: she always goes for flamboyant colors and information overload. If there's a free space in her work, chances are she'll fill it with a heart, star, or rainbow.
That same year, my grandma gave me a small, spiral-bound Lisa Frank diary. The book featured a hot pink coil and a plump bumble bee with a psychedelic tinge to the bristles in her bee fur. In true Lisa Frank fashion, the bee bore a slightly flirtatious grin. I recorded my profoundest secrets in this diary—yes, I did like chocolate chip cookies and puppy-dogs and a little boy named Ben. I also spent many a quiet moment absent-mindedly stroking the diary's front cover or poking it with pencil lead. Even today, dimples still remain there, betraying the silent pencil stabbings wrought by my seven-year-old self.
Throughout elementary school, I continued to lust after Lisa Frank pencils, stamps, folders, and journals, but above all, I loved the stickers. Whenever I got my hands onto a Lisa Frank sticker book or even mere sticker sheet, I'd admire the stickers for as long as possible before my mother called me to do something more 'productive.' I agonized over the prospect of peeling off even the teeniest, plainest sticker on the sheet. The more prominent stickers, which often measured three or four inches wide, belonged in only the holiest of places: favorite books, special letters, or even just there on the sheet, which I would tuck away in my bedroom drawer. To this day, I persist in my quest for Markie the Unicorn stickers.
Lisa Frank's creations occupy a much humbler place in the land of children's merchandise today than they did in the '90s. While the toys, stationery and other gifts still exist, they're not everywhere anymore. Now our society embraces clean design—wide open spaces, geometric shapes, tame color schemes. Even a nostalgic website like Quail Bell's, one that thrives upon romance and frilliness, clings to a clean look.
Sadly for Lisa Frank fans, this change in attitude toward design makes Lisa Frank's creations increasingly harder to find in toy stores and gift shops. Yet if working for an online magazine has taught me anything, it is this: The Internet serves to connect us to the world, not just to the present world or to the world as it will be but to the world that now thrives in only two places, the Internet and our memories.