I was wasting my precious youth on the internet a few days ago, as I am wont to do, and when I got to one of my favourite webcomics, Married to the Sea. There, I saw an ad for nail polish MADE BY THE VERY SAME LADY THAT MAKES THE COMICS. Mind. Blown.
Perusing her website is kind of like going back in time for me: Super Black Lacquers shades are kind of like My Little Ponies mixed with about a gallon of early-90s Riot Grrl and a dash of whatever that dude from Jamiroquai was drinking (PS: "Virtual Insanity" came out 17 years ago, FYI).
Which is to say that her colours are awesomesauce, and kill me with their sweet nostalgia: these are the polish colours we WISHED existed in the '90s but are so hot that I’m going to wear them forever.
Natalie Dee, the creator of Super Black Lacquers, makes a curated selection of solids, holographic and glitter colours.
Yeah, SHE MAKES THEM. By HAND. I was lucky enough to sit down with her--that is a lie, we emailed each other, but it was still really fun--and talk to her about her sweet company!
TRISTA: I've been a giant enormous fan of Married to the Sea since you and your husband got started in 2006, and through that, discovered your comic Natalie Dee. First off, how did you get started doing comics?
NATALIE: Comics were just something I was always into doing when I was younger. I liked drawing dumb sh*t, then when the internet came around, I just posted stuff on there. Things lined up in a really advantageous way, since there wasn't much online when I started. I was easy to find, and by time the internet became really huge, I already had a massive backlog of stuff I had posted. I didn't plan to do this as my main job--it just happened.
So basically you were making comics since before the Internet was a thing. That’s awesome. Is it weird working with your husband? I'm assuming you're his boss...
I don't work with him. We work independently of each other. He has his projects, I have mine, and they don't cross streams. We both work on Married to the Sea, but we never work on the same comics. He would makes his alone, I make mine alone, and they’re just posted uncredited. The only thing that we run together is the store page, because we both sell shirts, and we share bank accounts, so we share one storefront to simplify everything.
The popular idea that Drew and I work together because we share a store page is like saying your husband also writes for xoVain since you both pitch in on the electric bill. When I'm hanging out with Drew, I do not want to do comics or talk about comics or anything, because I am done for the day and I am ready to do something else.
My husband’s XOVain articles would be adequately terrifying, so good point. You've always has awesome swag on your site--what's it been like, running an online store? Do you still have a crappy day job? A good day job?
Now, it's not even a thing really. We have a warehouse and fulfillment, so I design merch and then it's stored and shipped from a different location, so selling merch isn't something I'm hands-on involved with day to day. We had to contract it out after my daughter was born because there wasn't as much time to do everything, so now I focus more on the making content part of the site(s) and running Super Black. I haven't had a day job for about 10 years now. This is my only job.
You make "living the dream" kind of sounds like a lot of work... But now, the Burning Question: Did you just wake up one day, see some nail polish, and were like, "Ehhh, I'm just gonna DIY this junk"? How did you decide that you'd make your own nail polish?
I like nail polish a lot, and doing something like this is the grownup version of a six-yea-old wanting to be a princess. It's just fun. I get to decide what I think is pretty, make it, and present it to people in a way I think is cool. It's relaxing, and rewarding since people seem to like it so much. I don't really think about what I am going to do for a long time before I do it; it wasn't something I mulled over for a long time.
That’s crazy, considering how successful you’ve been with it. Where did you learn to play with industrial chemicals?
I don't play much with chemicals. All of the stuff that makes nail polish be nail polish is not really mess-withable. The hazardous chemical elements of polish are mixed in a particular way, and I can't be like WELL, I WANT TO PUT IN A WHOLE BUNCH MORE ETHYL ACETATE and then dump it in. The polish would be effed. Most of the stuff I mess with is relatively benign--a lot of it is edible--and I try not to mess with the the elements of it that make it nail polish, so I don't bone it.
What do you draw on for inspiration for the colours? What about the super clever/adorable/badass names?
It is usually something weird that just catches my eye, like a toy or someone's landscaping or a print on some textile. I'll get an idea, and then it won't work, and I will try it another way, and it will be better but still not how I wanted, over and over and over. Then, I will finally get it to the point where I like it and I think it is perfect the way it is, and it will look nothing like my original idea--hahaha.
The names either come to me beforehand and I make a polish to go along with it, or I get hung up on it and it will have three or four names before I change it to the final name five minutes before I put it up for sale. Sometimes I will have a few with names that are part of a theme, like the car theme with Murdered Out, Torque, and Whip. I usually just want it to be a name that is unique, but fits the color it's identifying, and it has to click with the other names of the other polishes. Getting the name to click is usually the hardest part.
It’s really cool to hear about your creative process! What's your next step? Without giving too much away, got anything coming up that's crazy exciting?
I'm just trying to scale my production so I can keep up and keep things in stock! I was originally planning to do some wholesaling, but I sell out of things so quickly that I can't afford to deplete my stock by sending a bunch to a brick and mortar store. Once I do more scaling up, I hope to be able to fulfill wholesale orders. Of course, I am working on a bunch of new colors to bring out in the next couple months, too. The scaling up is priority number one right now, though. Sorry if it's not exciting; I'm basically doggy paddling over here--haha.
Best thing about working for yourself?
Saying NO to whatever I want to say no to. NO. NO NO NO. I love it. Being able to respond to my customers and what they need without having to clear it with anyone. I really like being in charge of what I do.
Crappiest thing about working for yourself?
I can't pawn off sh*t work to someone else. If I get sick, that just means that I will have twice as much to do when I get better, since there is nobody steering the boat if I'm not. Any crappy parts are really minor in comparison to the good parts, though.
Big thanks to Natalie Dee! And if you’re just dying to read more about her polish, the lovely Kristine covered them on xoJane!