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Science Art in Everyday Life

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Ever since I started Beatrice the Biologist in 2009, I’ve been trying to think what my deliverable was. I sketched out science toys, fiddled with science books for children, and mapped out an interactive website. While I was deciding what to do, I started blogging and posting science doodles and comics. It turns out, that’s my product. (I honestly wasn’t expecting that to be the case.)

As much as I love being on the interwebs, sharing my and others’ work, talking about science, and making new connections with people that would have been otherwise impossible–I do still yearn for some tangible, real-life science art.

Petri Dishes 1 - original watercolor collage by Michele Banks, Artologica, available on Etsy

Indeed, images are great ambassadors for science. It can make science immediately accessible, engaging, and interesting. Most of the science imagery I love is found online and nowhere else. Can we see more of it in everyday life? How can science artists get their work into the homes and on the t-shirts of the people that love science?

I look to science artists like Maki Naro from, Michele Banks from Artologica, and Symbiartic’s own Glendon Mellow the Flying Trilobite for examples.

How do these science artists package their work so fans can display it on their persons, at their desks, and on their walls?

There are two basic types of online stores for artists. On-demand print shops or personal marketplaces.

On-demand printers include Zazzle (which Maki uses), Redbubble (which Glendon uses), Cafe Press, and Printfection (which I use). They print your uploaded artwork onto t-shirts, mugs, bags, magnets, and posters when someone orders it. The benefit of these services is that it requires $0 up front (which very much appeals to me), and requires no work on your end to fulfill orders.

The other option is more self-driven, and the best example is Etsy. This is what Artologica uses to sell her cellular watercolors. The seller sets the prices and pays a very small fee to Etsy: 20 cents to list the item, and 3.5% of the sales. Sounds pretty good to me. Of course, there is no Zazzle distribution center to sell the wares, though. It’s all you.

I’ve had a printfection shop for about 2 years. Occasionally people buy an Amoeba Hugs mug or Apathetic Dolphin t-shirt, but mostly, it’s pretty deserted.

Just yesterday I took the plunge and opened an Etsy shop to sell signed prints. Because of the personal connection people know Etsy for–since you’re dealing directly with the artist–it seems to be doing well so far (although it’s very early still). I hope to think of more random science crafts to make (with all that free time I have) and sell them as well. While it’s more work than Printfection or Cafe Press, it’s a lot more rewarding. And I am really impressed with the user interface of the seller side of Etsy, the detailed stats of my store views, and the support they provide. I almost feel like I can actually do this.

What forms of science art do you see yourself  buying? Are you a message t-shirt person, a fridge magnet person, a coffee mug person, or a poster person? Or, and this is fine, are you the type of person who loves science, and can’t get enough of science art, but you don’t want to display it in your off-the-internet existence?

Katie McKissick About the Author: Katie McKissick is a former high school biology teacher turned science writer and cartoonist based in Los Angeles, CA. Her first book is called What's in Your Genes. You can find more of work at Follow on Twitter @beatricebiology.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. wallsdonotfall 4:23 pm 06/26/2013

    How much customization by the artist/shop owner do Zazzle and Printfection offer? I have to be honest, I’ve seen many Zazzle shirts and I would never, ever buy one (no matter how cool the original image was) because the placement of images or text never seems to take into account the difference between a shirt on someone’s body and a simple flat surface. (But also, I’m generally more interested in shirts that are works of art themselves–something with a design hand-printed, for example. And I’m not generally into text or slogans.)

    My favorite purchasable science art right now is Minouette’s shop on Etsy, though. Lots of hand-printed scientist portraits and views of nature.

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  2. 2. ScienceUrb 3:36 am 08/7/2013

    Great article! I’ve had an independent online shop selling science and math jewelry for three years. ( Over those years, I have been watching the market pretty carefully, and I really do think that science and math symbols and themes are slowing making their way from niche geek audiences to more mainstream markets. I think there is still a long way to go, but there seems to be more fuzziness now between the hardcore geeks and the fashionistas. It is more socially acceptable now to own and wear clothing and jewelry with math and science themes, and when a kids’ t-shirt comes out with messages that imply girls aren’t smart, they get tons of negative feedback online. Beyond apparel, there are now a few companies beyond Etsy that create science-themed home art (like lamp shades, wall art, etc.). It’ll be really interesting to see where that goes, and whether it can break into more mainstream culture.

    Good luck with your Etsy store! I love Etsy…so many wonderful artists and shops!

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