By: Claire Edwards, Madison Hamilton, Helen Fernandez, Melinda Billingsley and Jonny Cramer
Michelangelo used a 50-foot ladder to reach the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Picasso required a vast color palette to coat his geometric shapes. Banksy operates through complete secrecy. Shannon Donaldson needs a little water and a well-lit room to keep her art alive.
After graduating in 2006 with a degree in sculpting from Stephen F. Austin University, Donaldson didn’t know in what direction to take her artistic abilities.
“I never knew where I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to do,” she says. “Finally I found this little niche of succulent plants.”
In 2012 she founded Flowers on the Fly with an ice cream bike and a few dozen succulent plants. Her business flourished – no pun intended – when she started pairing the cactus-like plants with funky vases, pots and sculptures that she purchased from local shops.
After securing her three spots: South Congress, The Drag, and downtown Austin – Donaldson became the go-to succulent vendor around town.
University of Texas at Austin student, Leigh Brown has started working with Donaldson to personalize her purchases.
“I buy succulents from here every three or four months,” says Brown. “I design a setup with her and she’ll go and get the plants for me.”
Not only do UT Austin students enjoy sprucing up their dorm with stylish succulents, the local art community has praised Donaldson for her innovation. RAW, “the natural born” art show hosted at The Belmont in downtown Austin, invited Donaldson to showcase her work. Her setup ranged from succulents sprouting out of glimmering black skulls with lit up eyes to blue dinosaurs with plants growing out of their back. The creativity and attention to detail didn’t go unnoticed – her cart was placed on the first floor, directly across from the main stage, where RAW attendees crowded around in admiration.
“My favorite thing is the succulent gasp – it’s the moment when people see my cart and they’re like ‘Ah that is so cute!’”
Even though her succulents have been in high demand among the art community and UT students alike, Donaldson doesn’t have any desire to raise prices. Ranging from $4 to $25, her succulents are cheaper than most art – and plants in the area. An appreciation for high-quality, reasonably priced art was a key component when creating Flowers on the Fly.
Starting a business was a big risk for Donaldson but it paid off – proving to her family and self that unconventional paths can be successful.