LifeScienceStudios – Mushroom Shirts Mushroom Mugs Bags Original Art

Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? Why did you start your business?

I went to school to become a biologist and even earned a graduate degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, but I always loved doing art as well. While I was working at a community college after graduating, I met some people who were studying to become scientific illustrators, and I thought that would be such a great way to combine my love for biology and art. I went full time into science illustration when I got married and my husband and I moved to Switzerland for his job. I now have a business where I create illustrations for scientific research. I am also an avid hiker, and a good friend taught me how to identify mushrooms. He encouraged me to paint scientifically accurate fungi and sell my paintings at mushroom festivals. I discovered that there is a large community of mushroom hunters and enthusiasts who really encouraged me to start my Etsy shop to sell my mushroom artwork. Now I create watercolor paintings of mushroom species and print them on mugs, shirts, cards, and other items.

What type of products do you sell? How does your manufacturing process look like?

I do all of my work using watercolor paints on paper. I then use those paintings to make art prints and cards. I also create designs using the paintings and print them on mugs, shirts, tote bags, and face masks. I print the paper items and mugs myself using a sublimation printer and heat press. I don’t have the equipment to print on T-shirts and other cloth items myself, so I rely on a professional printing company to make those for me. My week usually involves some days where I paint new mushrooms and other days where I am printing and pressing mugs.

Mushroom Mug - Amanita muscaria
Mushroom Face Mask Neck Gaiter
Morel Mushroom Mug

What are some challenging aspects of your business? How did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge is finding time to create all of the designs in my head! I have a running list of ideas, new paintings, new products, and designs that I will hopefully get to someday. Time is definitely the biggest limitation. I am a naturally organized person who loves making checklists, so the way that I overcome this challenge is to write everything down and follow a daily checklist of tasks and goals. If I don’t have it on my list, creating that new product or taking photos of that mug just ends up getting pushed off until I never get them done.

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?

I really enjoy having complete freedom with my time and artistic ideas. I love the process of making art, in fact, it is probably something I can’t live without. I also just love being my own boss and having the flexibility to make my own schedule. This career has given me the opportunity to move around the world, to spend time with my daughter and my family, and to adjust to covid challenges such as working from home and being a mom when daycares closed. The hardest part is that being the boss means I take on all of the responsibility of my business. I am my only employee, so sometimes it can be hard juggling all aspects of creating, manufacturing, packaging, promoting, budgeting, and responding to customer needs.

What are some beginner mistakes you made? What advice or words of inspiration would you like to share?

I really learned that it’s important to have a really detailed understanding of your finances. It can be tricky to understand how much you are spending to make each product. You need to look not only at the cost of the physical item, but also the cost of packaging, shipping, listing, software, the general cost of running a business such as the technology you use, and also your time. It’s important to pay yourself for the time you spend. I think underpricing your work is a big problem in the art world.

What inspires you while designing and/or creating new products.

I am inspired by the diversity of nature. I love walking through the forest and hunting for chanterelles or morels and noticing all of the little mushrooms and mosses and ferns around me. Even a fallen log can hold an entire diverse miniature world.

How did you get the background and skills necessary to run this type of business?

Having an educational background in biology has been really important. Many of my customers have extensive knowledge in the field of mycology or biology in general. They want products that are accurate, and having a biology education helps me make sure I am creating accurate artwork. I also took a summer course in scientific illustration using watercolor where I learned a lot about painting techniques. As a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, I am constantly taking workshops and learning from fellow scientific illustrators. As for business skills, I am always trying to learn new business skills and I wish I had taken formal classes in this realm. Entrepreneurship podcasts, blogs, and books have been really great sources for learning how to run a business in general.

What are some of the most effective ways in terms of marketing products to your customers?

Instagram is the most effective method of marketing. There is a lovely worldwide community of mushroom hunters and people who love nature on Instagram, and I have learned so much by interacting with that community. I love posting videos of my paintings, photos of my products, and photos, and information about different mushroom species. Many times, I have had people let me know that they found my shop through Instagram.

What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?

The key most important things are to start with a high-quality product, take really great photos of that product, and be present online as much as possible. People want to buy from someone they know. This is where social media can be so powerful. I think persistence is also really important. Online shops take time to get traffic, sales, and positive reviews. It’s easy to get discouraged early, but it will take some time to become established and get noticed.

How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?

My personal definition of business success is when I earn enough income to support my family’s needs and long term goals while maintaining the flexibility and freedom that comes with running my own business. Less tangibly, I view success as creating work that my customers love. I feel really successful when I get positive reviews or hear back from customers that they love the artwork.

Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?

I work half time and spend the other half of my time being a mom. During my work times, I usually start the day by printing and packaging orders so they can be sent out later that day. It’s important that I get items to the customers quickly. Because I also do scientific illustration work for researchers, I often have ongoing projects where I am painting or creating digital diagrams. The rest of my time is spent either creating new product designs, listing products, posting on social media, or photographing products. To manage my time, each week I write out goals of what I need to accomplish that week, and each day I start off by making a checklist of things I need to do. It helps keep me on track.

Men's 100% Cotton T-Shirt - Morel Mushrooms
Magic Mushroom Mug - Psilocybe Species
Magic Mushroom Women's T-Shirt - Psilocybe Species

How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?

I have a couple of different avenues I would like to explore in order to expand. One is to offer mug printing to other artists. I have already started doing this with one artist who wants to start selling mugs with her own artwork. Another avenue that would help with the expansion is doing wholesale with brick and mortar shops. I would love to find shops that want to sell my products to their customers. I would also really like to continue to grow my scientific illustration services. There is a lot of work to do to show biologists how my work can be useful and valuable to them. The biggest impact on profitability is the cost of printing and manufacturing. I rely on another business to print the shirts and cloth items I sell, and they also need to make a profit, so my margins are small on those items. Someday, purchasing my own direct-to-garment printer would greatly increase those margins, but the upfront costs are very high.

Anything you wish to add, feel free to do so here. We value your opinion

I haven’t been selling on Etsy and my shop website very long, but I really think the key to success and growth as a business is to find a niche that is full of enthusiasts. I happened to start painting mushrooms because my friend suggested I sell paintings at a mushroom festival, and now I am part of a very large community on social media of people who love everything having to do with fungi. If you can find a niche of people who are super excited about whatever the subject is, you can have a wonderful group of people who will become your customers and fans.

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