This California Tattoo Artist Sees Unicorns in Everything - Atlas Obscura
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This California Tattoo Artist Sees Unicorns in Everything

They appear in gobs of lotion, beer foam, and piles of rags.

One of Daniher's images of a unicorn-shaped blob of lotion.
One of Daniher’s images of a unicorn-shaped blob of lotion. All Photos: Cicely Daniher

Like a lot of children of the ‘80s, Sweet Cicely Daniher loved unicorns. She had ceramic unicorns and stuffed unicorns. She wrote stories about unicorns and—inspired by an artist uncle—resolved to become “the best unicorn artist”.

Like lots of childhood obsessions, the fixation waned. Daniher still pursued the arts; she’s now a tattoo artist living in Richmond, California, and sells totes and t-shirts with her illustrations printed on them. But the unicorns weren’t done with her.

Starting in the early 2000s, Daniher started noticing them again—in highly unlikely places.

She can’t remember when she first spotted one, but pretty soon she was seeing them all the time—in smudges of butter, in beer foam and even spit. Think Jesus in a piece of toast, but unicorns, and everywhere.

A unicorn in beer.
A unicorn in beer.

“I was cleaning my house yesterday, and it’s like, ‘Oh, of course, the smooshed strawberry on the floor looks like a unicorn,” she says.

So she started snapping a picture nearly every time one reared its horn.

“Tattooing and being an artist, I follow this path of symbols,” she says. “And I feel that’s a big part of what I do—the language of symbols.”

Wine foil.
Wine foil.

Typically they appear as the horned head and neck, not full-bodied animals, although sometimes she finds more complete examples. If she’s in a rush, she’ll pass some up, but often pauses what she’s doing to capture a new creature. Eventually she realized she had a treasure trove of unicorns and assembled 50 of her favorites into a book, I See Unicorns, which can be ordered off the self-publishing platform Blurb. She says she has about 140 more examples.

Sometimes, she says, it feels like the project is “driving me now.” Daniher is literally driving her obsession, because she pilots a van dubbed the “Vanicorn” with a unicorn airbrushed on the side. She also has a tattoo of a unicorn with a crossed paintbrush and pen, and used to give people free unicorn tattoos until she started getting too many requests.

Watercolor paint rags.
Watercolor paint rags.

Tongue firmly in cheek she says she thinks of the unicorns as “interdimensional beings” that peek through into our world via soft cheese spreads and other mediums.

One of her all time favorites is a unicorn she spotted in a blob of lotion in a friend’s bathroom, another appeared in the crumpled up foil of a wine bottle. She is fully aware that some people simply don’t see what she’s seeing. Her boyfriend, who is less prone to seeing unicorns in everything, has been helpful in refining her collection and shooting down more esoteric examples.

A coffee spill.
A coffee spill.

Daniher would like to work with a publisher on a book at some point. In the meantime, she is still taking her unlikely unicorn portraits.

“It just makes me smile,” she says. “I’ll be trudging to work, taking [the train] once again and be like, ‘Oh, look at that! There’s bird shit in the shape of a unicorn.”