Meet Marlyn Duncan Boyd, PhD, RN – Owner of The Art of Nursing

What is the name of your company?

The Art of Nursing

What exactly does your company do?

I use my artwork to preserve the images of the profession of nursing in a serious and dignified manner. Specifically, my primary focus is painting images of nurses’ caps as a way to record these historic, universal symbols of nursing. I also assist schools of nursing and nursing alumni groups to raise funds through the resale of my images on a variety of products.

Why did you start this company?

I started painting nursing oriented artwork for two main reasons. First, I noticed that there was virtually no serious art that was done to honor and depict nursing in a positive manner. I wanted to change that. I wanted to do scenes of nursing that showed the essence of nursing such as caring and comforting and do those that showed the historic traditions of nursing. Secondly, I started my nursing career when the nurse’s cap was a symbol of nursing and each school had their own unique cap — features associated with just that program. With the demise of the use of the nurse’s cap these images of creative, wearable pieces of art were being lost to nursing history. I wanted to preserve as many of these unique cap images as possible with my art. I plan on donating my original paintings to a program focused on preserving nursing history.
I started painting nursing art as a way to give back and honor the nursing profession. My nursing art has grown into a viable business.

What was the process like? Help us understand what it is like for a nurse to start their own business

What is it like for a nurse to start a business? In my case, it was not all smooth sailing. This was my first business venture and it evolved rather than had the advantage of being conceived, planned, and launched.
Initially, I painted my own cap and sent the image to several of my former classmates. The response was very positive. With the ease of social media my images were shared and I started getting requests to do other caps. I started a website and posted the images on several other sites.

Soon, I realized I had two basic groups who wanted my images: those who wanted a single item and groups who wanted multiple items or a variety of items for resale. Obviously, I couldn’t predict who would want a single item and certainly didn’t want to keep all possible items for each school on hand (That’s like keeping a stack of $10-$20 bills in a closet!!) so I decided to go with a premier print on demand company for small orders and worked with a local company for the big orders.

After it became obvious that there was on-going interest from schools of nursing and alumni groups on reselling items for fund raising, I decided to educate myself about the basics of doing it right. The internet provides a wealth of information and there are multiple books available, even those specific to specific products. In my case, art. Check lists, do-it-yourself help books, and small business software are invaluable but there are still plenty of opportunities to make mistakes or learn how to do it better. Once the fundamentals are in place (and there a lot of them) the day-to-day process becomes easier and you can decide if you want to try to expand.

What has the hardest thing been in starting your business?

The hardest thing in starting the business was finding out that not all nurses were as sentimental about their caps as I was or thought it as important as I did that their images be preserved. As most people who start a business, I thought I had a unique product that a defined, targeted demographic (nurses, specifically over 40 years old) would just be thrilled to have available to them. My advice would be to make sure there is a viable market for your product before investing more money than you can easily afford to lose. Start small and plan on growing.

What has been the most rewarding thing about starting your business?

By far the most rewarding part of my business has been the emails and comments I have received from nurses telling me how much they love my work and how it has touched them.

What would you say are the five most important resources for a nurse who wants to start their own business?

I don’t mean for this response to sound flip but I would say:
1. The internet (research, research, research)
2. (hard copy to refer, checklists, and examples are great)
3. Other nurses who have a similar business (email correspondence can be invaluable)
4. A significant other to serve as a cheerleader and support
5. An accountant

Do you have any exciting success stories to share with us?

It was exciting for me when I finally had a visit from every country to my website. It showed me the world-wide importance of nursing.

Do you have any unfortunate stories that you could share with us to prepare and warn us of the possible pitfalls of being a self-employed nurse?

I would encourage those creating a new product to protect themselves through copyright protection. I have found my images being used without my permission on several websites. Also, if your product is an image, make sure you do not upload high quality images to the internet so that they cannot be downloaded and printed.

Also, learn to negotiate with your vendors and customers. Early on I would have an order for 20 whatevers and the vendor would tell me they would only fill an order for 24; so, I would be stuck (and pay for) 24 items. My closet was filling up with expensive leftovers (which decreased my profit margin). I had two options: give my customers a minimum order number of 24 or negotiate with the vendor for a smaller order of 20. Make these decisions and negotiate before you have to do those first orders.

What do you want other nurses to take away from your interview?

My business evolved from my dedication to doing artwork that depicted nursing in a dignified and honored way, specifically showcasing historical nurses’ caps. It has not always gone smoothly but it has always been rewarding.

About Marlyn Duncan Boyd, PhD, RNartist nurse


Marlyn Duncan Boyd, PhD, RN has experience as a staff nurse, cardiac nurse, cardiac rehabilitation educator, patient education coordinator, nursing faculty member, and research scientist. Now retired, she continues to contribute to nursing through her art.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *