Side hustle takes flight for creative Bendigo Bachelor of Science student

There’s only one situation where a Pharmaceutical Chemistry major wants to hear the word “viral” during a pandemic. And that’s when it applies to their small-biz social account…

Bachelor of Science student Jess Pethybridge had not long opened an Etsy store to share prints of her artwork, hoping she’d earn a little cash on the side, when a post took on a life of its own during lockdown last year. Overnight she went from 300 to 9,500 Facebook followers, and life changed.

“This was quite the turning point for me in terms of running it all like a hobby to running it like a business,” she says of her online store. “And it has just been crazy ever since.” And why wouldn’t it be… just look how lovely Jess’ artwork is, inspired by Australia’s iconic flora and fauna.

Jess describes herself as a self-taught artist, via trial-and-error and experimentation. “That’s probably my science side coming out,” she says. “In the beginning I would try and mimic paintings I could find online, as a way of getting a feel for how I could manipulate the paint to get it to do what I wanted. Then it has just been practice ever since, slowly uncovering and developing my own style and technique.” 

For Jess, a life combining art and science provides a wonderful balance. “Painting is one of the only things that gets my brain to shut off,” she says.

“I definitely couldn’t do one without the other though, not for long anyway. If I didn’t have the art business, I think my brain would get tired and overwhelmed and miss that creative outlet. But if I dropped science and only pursued art, I think I would miss the intellectual stimulation and analytical problem solving that comes with that.”

It’s safe to say a love of science runs in Jess’ family, which is how she came to be in Bendigo. After completing secondary college in her hometown of Portland in south-west Victoria, Jess took a gap year before studying one semester of a Bachelor of Chemistry at a different university in the Melbourne CBD.

“After one semester there I was really miserable, not liking city life, and feeling really lost about what I actually wanted to do,” Jess says. “Both Mum and Dad studied a Bachelor of Science here at Bendigo La Trobe and while I was down in the dumps, they just kept talking about how much fun they had both had at uni. So, when I jumped on to look at course options, I saw the pharmaceutical chem major and thought ‘that’ll do, it’s close enough!’, and it was the best decision because I have thoroughly enjoyed it.”

(Jess’ parents, Tom Pethybridge and Mandie Pethybridge nee-Lancaster, met while studying in Bendigo. They both started in 1992 and graduated in 1995. Tom majored in metallurgy, then went into the mining industry, while Mandie majored in microbiology and biochemistry before pursuing a career in pathology and later working as a lab technician.)

Jess is now in her final year of the course and starting to consider her own future.

“This year and last have just been crazy, between studying and running a business all in the midst of a global pandemic, so I am looking forward to a bit of a rest,” she says on hanging out for the end of semester.

“I have an internship with Melbourne Uni at the Peter Doherty Institute lined up for January and February next year, looking into how analytical chemistry can be used to better characterise and identify bacteria, but after that I am thinking I might just take a little gap year.

“I would like to spend some time relaxing and working on my business before I jump into either post-grad studies or a science career.”

See more of Jess’ work on Instagram @jess.keeli.creative

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