Up Close: Lisa Malsberger

Up Close & Personal

The Business of Art

Artist and business teacher Lisa Malsberger only opened her arts and crafts business, Tig and Cooney’s, last June, and she has already built herself a nice following on Etsy and landed a corporate Christmas order from Pittsburgh. So far, her business offers place-related coaster sets, personalized pillows and doggie bags and will be expanding even more in the coming months. Every gift comes complete with a handwritten note and Lisa makes sure each customer gets what they had in mind. When she’s not riding bikes, doing yoga or heading to the beach, this Olyphant resident is thinking about her next art project. Meet Lisa Malsberger …

How did you come up with the name Tig and Cooney’s?
The business is named after my dog’s two favorite stuffed animals, a tiger and a raccoon, hence Tig and Cooney.

EC27UPC_1_WEBAnd you’re obviously a dog person, so let’s hear about your little guy.
(Laughs) He’s a cockapoo, and his name is Bubba Charles.

So how did you get started in making your art?
Well, I’m actually a high school business teacher and I do this on the side. The whole thing started less than a year ago — it will be a year in June. I always made handmade gifts or tried make something different for gifts for the people in my life. The whole idea started a few years ago when a friend was moving away to Texas. I wanted to get her a going away present to celebrate that she was moving away, but also something that reminded her of home. That’s how I got started with the maps, and it became the line Something Beautiful. Then that line expanded to include New Jersey where I always visited as a kid. I try to make gifts that I would want someone to give me or something that I would like. A lot of it has to do with maps, different places, oceans and things of that nature. Around here, I work with a lot of Scranton maps. I also make dog pillows and  doggie bags.

How does the doggie bag work?
Well, say one of your friends gets a new dog, you give them this bag with some dog treats or gifts in it. The bag is personalized just for that dog. I base my ideas on my interests and music is another huge favorite of mine, so I’ve made some Bruce Springsteen coasters for girlfriends or wives to give to their husbands. I’m looking to expand the music part of the business more, so I started doing Pearl Jam, too — putting their lyrics on a throw pillow.

Tell us more about the map coaster sets, since that seems to be your specialty at the moment.
The coasters are made of travertine stone, which is a really great, quality material. I love when people order them through word of mouth and when I get to see them open them for the first time. They’re always like, “Wow, these are heavy.” (Laughs) But they’re really nice to display in your house or to use. I do wedding gifts, too, so I can personalize the coasters with a couple’s maps and memories. I have them choose four places that are special to them, like the place they met, or where they went to college, or where they live now and I make the coasters based on those places.

EC27UPC_3_WEBWhat do you think of selling your work on the website Etsy? Is there competition out there for your type of work, or is what you do so location-specific that you’re not really affected?
I think for the dog things, there’s a lot of competition. You can type in “Boston Terrier” and come up with 40,000 items. But if you type in “Manasquan, N.J.,” there’s going to be 10 results, and one of them will be a postcard and the rest will be my work. I have a niche there, I guess. Being a business teacher, I’m then able to take the business I have and the model I use and teach it to the kids.

What is the biggest challenge facing you in terms of your business right now?
It goes back to what you were saying — Etsy is great because I can get my products out there, but at the same time it’s saturated with so many shops. I have to strive to stay different and unique. When I make it, I make sure I put everything into it. Whether it’s a gift for Christmas, a birthday, a wedding, that person trusts Tig and Cooney’s to make it. I make sure to keep the communication open. Do you want something different? I’ll put a different tag on it. Having a personal relationship with the customer is really important to me. I don’t have a storefront. People can’t come in, see an item, pick it up and say, “I love it,” and take it home. That’s why I keep that communication open and rely so much on feedback on my Etsy site. And that’s a great thing about Etsy: It’s getting out to people, getting good feedback on how much they love these gifts and how unique they are. They’re personalized. I ask them, “Tell me a story. Tell me why you’re ordering this.” Then I personalize it and I even include a handwritten note inside the box. Let me know how you like it, and leave feedback!

And you’ve been contracted for a pretty big project out of Pittsburgh, yes?
That’s the other thing about Etsy. If I didn’t have that site, they never would have found me. The sales manager at the Renaissance Hotel in Pittsburgh was searching online for corporate Christmas gifts and she found me. I put their hotel on the map where it is in Pittsburgh and made them their own personalized sets. I had to make 280 coasters in three days. (Laughs)

EC27UPC_2_WEBDid the big contract change the way you run things in your art business? Sometimes those big orders can be really overwhelming, I’d imagine.
I did get some help from people, absolutely, but really, Tig and Cooney’s is just one person.

What is your creative process like? Do you have a studio space? Do you have any art-making rituals?
I work out of my house so it’s kind of insane (laughs). With the Pittsburgh order, I had to go elsewhere to get it all done. Most of the time, though, it’s just this quiet little space where I put some music on and start creating things. Again, this is why being online is so nice because I have no overhead.

What’s your creative-time music soundtrack?
I love the Gaslight Anthem, Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel … a lot. I like so much. (Laughs).

Your teaching job is unique. Can you explain it to our readers?
I was a teacher in a regular school for a few years and this is my first year as an online teacher. I teach at the Commonwealth Connections Academy, and the students can see the teacher and talk to the teacher, but we don’t have to see the kids. It’s a different way of learning and it’s becoming more popular for a variety of reasons.

Not that you’re not completely swamped with teaching and making art, but what do you do to unwind?
When it’s nice outside I love to bike ride. I do Yoga. I love going to the beach. But honestly when I’m not working, I’m usually just thinking of the next art project I can create.
—andrea mcguigan