36 – Mary Beth Shaw of StencilGirl

Laura and Nikki chat with Mary Beth Shaw, a fabulous artist, product creator, educator and author who Nikki met over a decade ago.

Mary Beth has been a full time artist for 20 years; she’s participated in indoor and outdoor art fairs, juried competitions and gallery shows. She’s the founder of StencilGirl where she produces and sells stencils of her own designs and those of many other artists. She’s also the author of Flavor for Mixed Media and StencilGirl, two books that she wrote, and is a columnist for Somerset Studios Magazine. She teaches workshops and many mixed media techniques and finds pleasure helping her students find their own voice.

We know you’ll love her great advice for getting started and adapting your business as it grows and opportunities come your way!

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Topics discussed

  • Mary Beth shares her Startist story 
  • Moving from San Francisco to St. Louis and starting her art career with outdoor fairs and mixed media collages
  • How Nikki met Mary Beth through the encaustic world 
  • How Mary Beth started making and selling her own stencils
  • How she grew her stencil empire from six designs to thousands and how she became “StencilGirl” (picture her with her StencilGirl superhero cape!)
  • How she began working with other artists to create their own stencil designs and how you can apply!
  • Dealing with quick business growth and expanding her family team
  • How Mary Beth started (reluctantly!) writing books
  • How COVID impacted her business
  • Growing her online/social media presence, especially through YouTube and live streaming
  • StencilGirl’s creative team and Mary Beth’s “genius assistant”
  • Her product release schedule and the creation of her monthly stencil membership
  • The importance of growing your community
  • Mary Beth’s advice for our listeners who are just getting started
  • Mary Beth’s Multimedia Art Journal Workshop in Italy

Laura

0:04
Hi, this is Laura Lee Griffin.

Nikki

0:06
And this is Nikki May with the Startist Society, inspiring you to stop getting in your own way and start building an art biz and life that you love.

Laura

0:15
We are artists who believe strongly in the power of community, accountability, following your intuition, taking small actionable steps and breaking down the barriers of fear and procrastination that keep you stuck.

Nikki

0:30
Follow along with us on our creative business journey as we encourage you on yours.

Laura

0:38
So Nikki, who are we talking to today?

Nikki

0:40
Today we’re talking to Mary Beth Shaw, a fabulous artist, product creator, educator and author who I met over a decade ago. Mary Beth has been a full time artist for 20 years; she’s participated in indoor and outdoor art fairs, juried competitions and gallery shows. She’s the founder of StencilGirl where she produces and sells stencils of her own designs and those of many other artists. She’s also the author of Flavor for Mixed Media and StencilGirl, two books that she wrote, and is a columnist for Somerset Studios Magazine. She teaches workshops and many mixed media techniques and finds pleasure helping her students find their own voice.

Laura

1:23
Welcome to the Startist Society podcast, Mary Beth.

Mary Beth

1:26
Thanks, Laura, I’m happy to be here.

Laura

1:29
We’re so excited to have you. And by the way, that book that Nikki mentioned, I own – didn’t even realize that was yours, very, very cool. The Flavor for Mixed Media, very cool book. So I think we like to get started by having you share your Startist story with our listeners. So we’d love to sort of hear about that transition you had from working in insurance, to then moving to focus on your art, which is a pretty big jump, right?

Mary Beth

1:58
It was a huge jump. And it happened in the year 2000, when we were living in San Francisco, my husband and I and I had a great job, I had a lot of autonomy and flexibility. It was all good. I was making great money. But my husband had a really good job. And it was the first time in my life, I was kind of looking around thinking, hmm, my income is not really pertinent to this picture. I mean, that brought a lot of ideas of freedom into my brain, and I thought there’s got to be something else I could do that would be more interesting than insurance. So I decided that in the year 2000, I wanted to quit my job. And so I did, and I really thought I wanted to explore my creativity, but I thought it would be more as a writer because I had always been a writer. I majored in journalism and public relations. And I never, I mean, I was a artist as a kid. I mean, we’re all artists as kids, right?

Nikki

3:08
Absolutely.

Mary Beth

3:09
And I guess I just hadn’t, I mean, I had been playing around with rubber stamps all those years. But that was kind of the extent of my art was making greeting cards that I sent to my friends. And one thing led to another and I found myself feeling more comfortable with visual expressions and artistic expressions than written expressions. It was like I couldn’t string a sentence together, so I don’t know.

Nikki

3:37
So when you quit your job, you didn’t know… you knew you wanted to do something creative, but you didn’t know what it was. So did you just start exploring, start trying different things?

Mary Beth

3:49
I did. I started out by doing Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. And I was in a just like a little kind of a group led by this licensed clinical social worker. And so we would meet once a week and do the assignments in the book and it was really wildly helpful to me to help me process all those things that were in my head then because I was just very much like kind of on a search, but I did the artists dates, I did morning pages, I religiously followed the book.

Laura

4:23
Yeah and so once you did that, it started getting a little bit more clear of the things that you enjoyed the most?

Mary Beth

4:29
it did it really did. I made my first collage as an assignment in that book, you know, you do some mind mapping and you know, things like that. And I made my first collage and I was like, Oh my gosh, this is so fun cutting stuff up and pasting it together, I just loved it. And that prompted me to start seeking out collage classes and I kind of did some research on who are the best collage teachers. And so I started with Claudine Hellmouth. And Jonathan Talbot?

Nikki

5:10
Oh, he’s amazing.

Mary Beth

5:11
He was so amazing. I took a five day workshop with him, which was just glorious. And, and then Ann Baldwin, she happened to live in Northern California. And I met her. And I became part of a group of, oh, I don’t know, kind of an inside group that I guess I was an Anne Baldwin groupie. We would do things like we would take advantage of the fine art opportunities in the San Francisco area. So we would do gallery trips or museum trips, and we would really stand there and analyze the art. And in addition to her teaching me she was very much a mentor of mine too nice. I took some classes at UC Berkeley Extension in San Francisco, which was great, too.

Nikki

6:00
So then how did you go from just playing around with different things making collages? Taking all these classes to turn it into your empire?

Mary Beth

6:15
Well, you know, necessity – is what is that phrase?

Laura

6:19
The mother of invention.

Nikki

6:20
The mother of invention, yeah

Mary Beth

6:21
Exactly. So, you know, I found myself doing all these visual expressions that I started really painting and doing more mixed media work and people were interested and I entered some juried competitions. I sold some work. I found some people in Sausalito that I met, I started sharing a studio there in Sausalito.

Nikki

6:44
I love Sausalito.

Mary Beth

6:45
I know it was just like, it was like, Oh, my God, I am truly living the dream, right?

Mary Beth

6:51
Yeah, definitely.

Mary Beth

6:52
And the company my husband worked for went out of business. So my safety net was sort of instantly ripped out from under me. And there we were sitting in San Francisco in a wildly expensive piece of property. Neither of us were employed. It was just like, okay, now what?

Nikki

7:15
Okay, yeah…

Mary Beth

7:17
Right. Right. And my husband’s 15 years older than me. So he was at that age where he was not as desirable in the workforce as we might have hoped. Anyway, he had just been making too much money, too high ends of, you know, management, et cetera, et cetera. And he just couldn’t find a job. That’s all there was to it. And people were not willing to hire him for a lesser kind of job. So we got to the point where we had to make a decision, and we decided to move back to St. Louis. Because, you know, that was our dream. No, that was not our not our dream. Our dream would have been to stay at Northern California. But…

Nikki

8:02
Yeah, so are you both from St. Louis? No,

Mary Beth

8:05
I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio. And he’s from central, rural Illinois. St. Louis was kind of home for him. His daughter lived here, and she’s our only child. And she had just had her first baby, so our first grandson had been born. And we just decided, you know, what, we’ve lived there before. We know we can live here much more economically. Let’s just do it. And so we moved back and my husband, God love him, he approached my art career, like he would have approached any professional project and his own career.

Laura

8:51
Oh, that’s fantastic.

Mary Beth

8:52
I know, he sat down and he’s like, okay, you want to do this thing? How are we going to do it? Let’s dedicate a certain amount of time to doing this. So we basically decided that outdoor art fairs would be the easiest way for me to probably earn a living and that we would dedicate two years to that and he would help me and that was what we did. And it was an extraordinary thing. Really.

Nikki

9:19
It’s so much work.

Mary Beth

9:20
It is so much work. And I tell people who asked me that. I mean, it looks like it’s really fun when you’re sitting there in a tent and everybody’s walking around drinking their beverages. It’s a beautiful night. They’re all looking at the art but I mean, behind the scenes, it is so much work putting up a tent, waiting for is the mother going to hold? Are you going to be sweating to death? Is a tornado gonna rip through the show? You know, whatever. It was just not for the faint of heart.

Nikki

9:46
Yeah, I’ve only done, I’ve only done two festivals. They were both the Lowertown Art & Music Festival here in Paducah where I only had to carry my stuff two blocks down from my house and it’s still a huge amount of work I can’t imagine. Did you travel all over the country?

Mary Beth

10:04
We stayed in the greater midwest area and sometimes when you get involved in things and you don’t know enough about it so you start at like the wrong place, you know?

Nikki

10:15
Uh huh.

Mary Beth

10:16
That was me. I didn’t know. I had no idea what like the beginner shows were so I entered all like the high end top shows, because I didn’t know any better. It wasn’t because I was that confident or anything. I just started at the top and I got into these crazy good shows. And I did okay, I did okay, but it was still a lot of work. So I did like, I did the Kansas City, the Plaza Art Fair, I did St. Louis. I did most of the bigger well known shows. Like there was one up in Minnesota that I did and different ones. You know, of course, I did one in my hometown of Cincinnati. Yeah it was great. I mean, it’s like, I won some prizes, I made some money. It’s kinda a fun way to earn a living. It’s like you meet a tribe of people. Which, I found this in different instances of my life it and I find that that is what makes makes life worthwhile I guess, if you can find your tribe.

Laura

10:38
And you probably saw a lot of those people along the way, as you were traveling.

Mary Beth

11:28
You do, it’s almost just like a traveling circus or something. We pack up on Thursday each other at the next town, you know.

Nikki

11:38
There’s that mentality and that sort of thing in all different areas of art. Like, I know, Marybeth, I met you at the IEA encaustic conference. I can’t remember which one, maybe Santa Fe or San Antonio?

Mary Beth

11:51
It was in Santa Fe.

Nikki

11:53
Santa Fe, yeah. And, and so I have a tribe of encaustic friends. And then Laura and I met through the surface design world. And you know, there’s a whole group of people who all know each other in that world. And so, and the same with art festivals.

Mary Beth

12:13
Yeah. And somewhere in Texas we did one of their shows, too, so yeah.

Laura

12:19
Yeah. And it was interesting, because that’s how I originally learned about you Marybeth, is that I went to the Great American Scrapbook Convention, probably, I don’t know, 10 ish years ago. And you had a booth there with your fabulous stencils. That’s like the crafting world, right?

Mary Beth

12:39
It is, it is and when I’m glad you brought that up, Laura, because the line between art and craft is one that I have always straddled. And you know, because I think part of it was in my head is like, I was a rubber stamp girl, right?

Laura

12:58
And I was too that’s how I started. So…

Mary Beth

13:00
Yeah, so many of us started as rubber stamp or scrapbookers. And then I moved into this fine art world. And it was almost like I didn’t want to be discovered, like, Oh my god, I hope nobody finds out I’m really a rubber stamp or…

Laura

13:17
I so get that…

Mary Beth

13:18
I need to travel underground is a fine artist, right? And then when, it’s so funny that you said, Nikki about the encaustic because I remember when I did my talk that day or my presentation, I just totally outed myself in public and I had never done that before. And I said, I come from the rubber stamp world, anybody else? And like everybody in the room, raised their head. And it blew my mind. Because I realized…

Nikki

13:47
Yeah, a lot of people start that way. I didn’t. I designed rubber stamps, but I never used them. I like them, but I never used them. But I do love using stencils.

Mary Beth

14:00
Oh nice. I know I’ve transitioned over now I can’t. It’s weird. It’s like, for me, I can’t go back to use rubber stamps. I like don’t use them, right. I mess them up every time.

Nikki

14:11
I think that the flexibility with stencils is so much more than rubber stamps. You can use them in so many different ways.

Mary Beth

14:19
I think so yeah.

Nikki

14:21
So let’s talk about your transition from you. Were you were doing you were doing these art festivals. And what is it that you were showing there? Paintings? Collage?

Mary Beth

14:33
In the beginning, I was doing mixed media collage. And they were, they were the kind of collage where you take the vintage person and I would craft a scene around the person and what I did, which I thought made mine really successful was I would put a saying on it. So I would either type it up on a vintage typewriter or something like that and I would glue a saying on the piece and I did not want my sayings to be inspirational, like, you know, everybody was doing “dream”, you know…

Laura

15:12
Like, “follow your heart”

Nikki

15:15
“Reach for the stars.” So what did your say?

Mary Beth

15:17
Well, mine were a little edgier.

Nikki

15:23
Give us an example.

Mary Beth

15:24
For instance, I had a girlfriend who had all these vintage pictures of her like great, great, great uncle who was a cross dressing Vaudeville performer from Italy. So I lucked into this stash of photos that was just simply extraordinary. And so I would use him and I named him Victor. And so I would use Victor in a lot of my work. And usually he was wearing some unbelievably crazy get up, you know. And so one I had Victor, which he was a bodybuilder, and I had a picture of Victor wearing a tutu and parasol, a woman’s parasol. And now I’ve crafted the scene around him. And then my saying was Victor says, “Don’t forget to wear your rubbers.”

Nikki

16:15
That’s awesome. Mary Beth, do you have images of some of these that we could share in the show notes?

Laura

Yeah, I would love to see one or two of those things.

Mary Beth

16:25
Yeah. And I did lots of things with pictures of me when I was a kid. And yeah, I was just like, like I would wear this really unfortunate outfits you know, and me standing on the front porch wearing this crazy unfortunate outfit. And the saying was “wear it like you mean it.” I mean, I guess they were kind of either funny and or inspirational but in different edgy or was, it was very popular.

Nikki

16:55
Isn’t your StencilGirl Logo with an image of you?

Mary Beth

16:58
Yeah, that’s me too.

Nikki

16:59
Yeah, I thought so. I thought so.

Mary Beth

17:02
Yeah, it was one of those kids. I was like, really, really cute until I got to about five or six or seven. And then I had to wear coke bottle glasses, and I had buck teeth. And then I like went through like probably twenty ugly years before I could afford to get…

Nikki

17:19
Before you got cute again? Okay, so tell us about the transition from the art festivals and the collages, to starting to use stencils and turning it into a business.

Mary Beth

17:40
Right? I, you know, I was always trying to develop ways to earn money. Because I mean, it’s about multiple streams of income, you know, you have to dial up these multiple streams, or else you’re never gonna make it work and the art fairs only a certain time of the year, you know, so the rest of the year… So I got involved with this store here locally, and I met some interior designers who were doing, like faux finishing on walls. And yeah, using stencils. And I thought, wow, these are so cool. Because when I knew stencils, it was like these cruddy, really thick blue stencils that you would maybe just do a little border a ducks in a baby’s room or something. It wasn’t anything like I was doing and I thought, wow, these are so cool. Why should they just have this for the faux finishing world, this needs to be like, this need to be in my world, too. And also crazy expensive. And anyway, so I became interested in it and I started to dabble in hand cutting stencils that I was using in my own work. And by this time, we’re probably up to maybe 2007, 2008 when the recession was rearing its very ugly head, and not a good time to be standing in a tent trying to sell art, right. So I’m trying to think about what’s going to be my next thing, we had done the shows for five years and so anyway, I put in a teaching app out at Art Fest in Port Townsend, Washington, the Teesha Moore event that used to happen out there– did either of you go to that? Well, I, I went to it in 2007 because one of my friends said you should be teaching out there and I’m like, no, I don’t know, I just I’m not sure. And so he talked me into going out there and so I went out there in 2007. I looked around and I thought hey, I should try to teach here, nobody is actually teaching I’m doing, you know. There were a lot of really great teachers, but not doing exactly what I was doing. So for the next year, I put in my app and I I did get accepted to teach so then people who saw my stencils, and my students, became interested in buying them. But they were hand cut, I mean, there was no way. So I decided, you know what, I think I have a few of these manufactured. So I had six of my designs manufactured. And, of course, that was the year I didn’t get accepted to teach out there.

Nikki

20:22
Oh great, now what am I gonna do with all of these?

Mary Beth

20:27
Right? So I thought, Okay, I’m gonna take my stencils out there, and I’m gonna go ahead and bend the six stencils. I had a, you know, six foot long table and with six piles of stencils, no packages, no signage, no nothing. I sold out, I had 100 of each design. And I sold out in less than 30 minutes. It was like a bunch of sharks descended on the table. What I did when I got out there, and this has been kind of my, how we run the business, I decided that the best way to sell the stencils was to get them in the hands of teachers who knew how to use them?

Nikki

21:09
Oh yeah.

Laura

21:09
Yeah, that’s smart.

Mary Beth

21:10
I went to all my friends. And I gave them a set of the six stencils. So I kind of seeded the waters before the waters before the event started. So by the time the event started, everybody had seen them in their classes already, and they wanted to buy them. And so it just ended up being – and I’ve always kind of run the business like that, just kind of from my gut, like, what does my gut tell me is the right thing to do here, you know, and it’s like, well, if I can’t be out there showing them, I want my friends to be out there showing them. So…

Laura

21:44
Yeah, and I remember that just going to… I used to be a designer member of the Craft and Hobby Association. And you would go to those shows and go to like to the Ranger booth, for example, and see, like somebody is demoing either, you know, Tim Holtz, or someone is demoing the latest thing. And it’s like hotcakes, right? I mean, it’s that’s so smart to put your product in the hands of the teachers, because everybody wants to create what the teachers are creating. And they need the same tools, right?

Mary Beth

22:10
They do. And I mean, as intuitive as it might seem to use a stencil, there’s a lot of intricacies about it. So there are things that are helpful to know when you’re starting out. And that can enable you to be more successful right out of the box. So yeah, it definitely makes a difference.

Laura

22:29
I know I’ve used your stencils before for doing sort of intuitive layered acrylic paintings, where you can just build the layers on top of each other and have those the stencil images peeking through the layers. I just I’m fascinated by that. It’s just so much fun.

Mary Beth

22:44
Yeah, I like that to the the idea of pattern, you know, coming forward and receding in, because I use them primarily in my abstract work.

Laura

22:54
Yeah, me as well.

Nikki

22:56
So how did you go from a table of an unlabeled on unpackaged stencils to being StencilGirl?

Mary Beth

23:08
Oh my god. So that’s so funny. The next day, I was walking around there on campus at Art Fest. And all these people were talking about the stencils. You could hear like this little rumble, you know, like it was the talk and in the cafeteria and people were like, Who was that Stencil Girl?

Mary Beth

23:33
I just remember calling my husband and I said oh my gosh, I think we might be on to something, people loved the stencils. And so I came home and I bought on some kind of box website, I put my little six stencils in there. And I got this picture of myself as a child and I started using StencilGirl and I have trademarked that name. And I just, I don’t know, I just intuitively felt like I needed to move forward with it. And I didn’t honestly ever envision it would be as large as it is today.

Nikki

24:12
I just had an idea. So if you ever decide you need a rebranding, I’m totally imagining StencilGirl as a superhero. Yeah, she gets a cape, her cape looks like a stencil. And her tiara looks like a stencil and she’s gonna save the world with stencils, so keep me in mind when you’re ready for a rebrand.

Mary Beth

24:42
My dad will say I never did get any royalties for that photo. Because, you know, I designed six and then I did six more, so I had a dozen stencils and I was kind of like Okay, I’m done.

Nikki

25:00
No, you weren’t.

Mary Beth

25:03
And then actually it kind of goes back to encaustic, Nikki, because Trish Seggebrush, came up to me and said, you know what, I have a couple designs that I would like to have, would you consider making some for me? And I had to give it some thought. And then I thought, you know, that’s not a bad idea, why not do it like publishers do, where we do the costs, we bear all the costs of manufacturing and so forth. And then we pay a royalty to the designing artist and it allows the design artists to have some passive income, which is what every artist needs. We all know that.

Nikki

25:44
Yes, we do.

Mary Beth

25:46
So I thought this might be an idea. So from my insurance days, of course, I knew a lot about contracts. So I wrote a contract. Because isn’t that what people do like an idiot? Yeah, later, my attorneys like really? You know, it’s like, this is pretty good, but we could do. So um,

Nikki

26:11
So Trish was your first artists?

Mary Beth

26:12
Trish was our first, yeah, yeah.

Nikki

26:15
And, and so were you still having somebody else manufacture them? Or did you start doing the manufacturing?

Mary Beth

26:23
Wel, we thought that it would be great if we had a way to test the stencils. And I think when we bought our first laser, I think we did foolishly think we were going to do all of our manufacturing. But that quickly ended, it was like, okay, we bought…

Nikki

26:44
But you had no idea of the scale you were going to get to, did you?

Laura

26:47
Yeah, the volume that you had, right?

Mary Beth

26:48
Exactly. I had no idea the volume. The lasers did allow us to test a lot of product and to put a lot of designs up quickly. And I don’t have trouble with making decisions, you might have gathered that. I would say, you know, sometimes people will ask you, what is your greatest strength? And I think my greatest strength is the ability to fly by the seat of my pants.

Nikki

27:14
That’s fantastic.

Laura

27:15
I need to learn how to do that. Just so you know.

Nikki

27:17
Yes. Laura’s middle name is overthinking.

Mary Beth

27:20
Well, no, I do that also. But then I go ahead with it. So I kinda run them simultaneously in my head. But then…

Nikki

27:29
You’re the perfect balance of me and Laura, because I’ll do things, I’ll make decisions way too quickly. She’ll overthink it. But you have the balance of being able to merge them both.

Mary Beth

27:40
Interesting. I really don’t know where I got that skill set. But I think part of it comes from I had some really bad crap happen to me in my life, and so I sort of run my whole life with the, well can’t be any worse than what I’ve been through, you know… sort of running in the background.

Nikki

28:01
Hey, if that makes you able to get things done, then more power to you.

Laura

28:07
It helps you have that leap of faith. Right?

Mary Beth

28:09
Well, it does. It does. And yeah, so getting our first laser machine was, it was a big step for us. It really helped us to throw a lot of designs against the wall, see which ones our clientele was going to like and to start building a clientele. And I mean, I didn’t even have a really a mission statement at that time. That kind of came later.

Laura

28:34
So what is your mission statement?

Mary Beth

28:36
Well, I would say that. I don’t have it formally written out. but I know what it is. And it is basically to educate people on how to use stencils and to create community through the use of stencils. And when I do those things, the stencils sell themselves, basically, you know.

Nikki

29:00
Education and community are what everybody is looking for. So if you can provide those things, then really they’ll buy anything from you.

Mary Beth

29:12
Well, and I didn’t I think again, it was it was very intuitive. I have always felt that I was the demographic, that I’m our client avatar, you know, I’m the person, I was making things in a bedroom in a condo, you know, trying to heal myself from past hurts, trying to find other people to do this with me. And, you know, that was what I wanted. Now, the advent of the Internet has just enabled this and ramped it up.

Nikki

29:43
Oh, yeah.

Laura

29:44
So you went from your website that had you know, 12 designs on it. You started adding in some designers to come help and you created your contract with your royalties. Then how did you expand from there?

Mary Beth

29:56
Well, it it just was like kind of a snowball going downhill. I mean, it just like kept gathering more snow and it was getting bigger and bigger. And I was kind of getting beyond my, my skill set, you know, I just am like the idea, girl, you know, I get the ideas and then I’m like, Oh my god, I’m in over my head. I knew, it was just me, it was my husband, my husband’s the money guy. And that was kind of always what he had done when he was working for corporations is he was, he was more sales/money, you know, so he’s really good at that kind of thing. So he could obviously handle the royalties and keep track of the monies and so forth. But I felt like I needed somebody who could actually do the day to day running of the business, because I still wanted to be an artist. And I need that in my soul, to be an artist. And so I reached out to my son in law, who is a chemical engineer, with a master’s in chemical engineering. Wouldn’t seem like the first guy you might pick, but he’s wildly creative. And he was working in the automotive industry at that time, and he was so just not satisfied with his job, you know. And so I kind of reached out to him in the way that hey, we’re thinking about adding, you know, a third person to this, sit down, crunch some numbers and see what you would need to come on board with us. And I teased him the whole way because he’s my son in law, so my stepdaughter’s husband. So I said, you know what, it doesn’t get much worse than this, dude, you’re going to be working with your step-mother-in-law.

Nikki

31:54
It’s the worst of all family relationships.

Mary Beth

31:58
This is never gonna work, but we’re gonna give it a shot.

Nikki

32:01
How long have the three of you been working together?

Mary Beth

32:03
Well, I started the company in 2010. And I would say he came in probably about the three year mark maybe, and just brought such creativity, such ideas. It’s like the three of us are really the perfect triode around the business.

Nikki

32:24
That’s fantastic.

Mary Beth

32:26
Yeah, it’s just been great, I mean, other than my grandsons at dinner going, why do we have to talk about stencils all the time? I mean, since I didn’t ever, you know, I wasn’t ever blessed with having my own children, you know, to have Beth, I’ve claimed her my stepdaughter and her boys as mine, you know, they are mine.

Nikki

32:52
Well of course they’re yours. They’re your family.

Mary Beth

32:54
And so we would always be talking about troubleshooting the business. And I said, one day, they’ll be sending you to college. And that’s where they are today.

Laura

33:03
Wow.

Nikki

33:04
Yeah that’s fantastic. So I know that you also still, you still do some teaching. I know you’ve come to Paducah and have taught at Ephemera Paducah. multiple, multiple times. How does that fit in with the stencils side of things? And where did the books come in?

Mary Beth

33:25
Yeah, I don’t know. Sometimes looking back, it’s like, wow, how did I do all that? I don’t know.

Nikki

33:31
It’s a lot.

Mary Beth

33:32
It is.

Nikki

33:33
It’s all related. But…

Mary Beth

33:35
It is all related. And I think that I have always just tried to do what felt really authentic to me. When I was contacted about writing my first book, I declined. I said, No, I don’t think so. I don’t really think I want to write a book and I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THIS SAYS Jenny she was so, what?

Nikki

33:58
You don’t want a book?

Mary Beth

34:00
And I kept saying No, I am not going to write a book until I can think of an angle that bring something new to the mixed media world. I don’t want to just be this glob on that says the same thing everybody’s saying.

Nikki

34:14
So what was the approach when she asked you about doing a book? What did she want?

Mary Beth

34:18
Well, she just wanted me to figure out what it was for me and I didn’t know so I had to spend a lot of time thinking about that. And then I got to thinking about the idea that it I think making art is so much like cooking it’s like you know, texture, flavor, spice, all these different things that are relevant to cooking are so relevant to making art too. So that was the premise of my first book Flavor for Mixed Media. The second book was obviously just every way I could think of to use a stencil at that time.

Laura

34:54
And what I love about your stencils too is, like Nikki mentioned that she met you through encaustic And I did through the crafting world and through mixed media painting, but because they’re sort of heat resistant, right, you can actually use them for encaustics that there’s so many different uses of them. And I’m sure you cover all of that in the book.

Mary Beth

35:12
It’s amazing all the ways people use them. I mean, anything from glasswork to metal to encaustic to jewelry to wood-burning to the normal – normal, whatever normal paint. So, yeah, they’re very versatile.

Nikki

35:32
Yeah, I used some most recently in a cold wax class that I took at Ephemera.

Mary Beth

35:39
Yes, yes. These days, I kind of view that as part of my purpose is to always be thinking about how to use the stencils, which I really love because I love the mad scientist part of pushing the products to their edge and use them in ways that might not be typical. I really love that. Like, I love to just get a product and start using it really, without ever knowing what it’s supposed to be used for. Sometimes you get into trouble, but usually I can figure my way out.

Laura

36:16
Yeah, that’s that whole other creativity element, you’re doing something creative, but then you’re pushing those boundaries and seeing what else can I do. I mean, as a teacher, that’s really useful, too, because you’re giving people all these new ideas and techniques they can use, which brings me to this past year. So 2020 was a tough year for a lot of creative businesses, especially in the teaching world, because a lot of classes weren’t being held in person anymore. How did how to COVID impact your business?

Mary Beth

36:44
Well, I think that we were oddly prepared because we had a pretty strong presence on the internet. And I had been live streaming really, since the beginnings of live streaming. And so we made a pivot to online, online, online. And I started live streaming as much as I could manage physically. And it really…

Nikki

37:11
You did a lot. And I remember seeing quite a few.

Mary Beth

37:14
I know, and I felt like, I mean, again, I am the client, you know, I was at home, I was lonely, I wanted to make art, I was scared, I didn’t know what tomorrow was gonna bring. The whole bottom had fallen out from everything. So I just felt like, I am the client. That’s how they’re all feeling too. They can’t see their parents, they can’t see their kids, their grandkids, et cetera, et cetera. So all we can do is try to work with what we have and make some art. And I’ve always considered art somewhat of a self soothing activity for myself. And so I sort of went on that premise. But to me self soothing doesn’t mean that you’re wallowing in tears, it means you’re having fun, and it’s about community. And so that was what I tried to do was to keep that going online.

Nikki

38:11
So you did a lot of live streaming. Do you also have online courses?

Mary Beth

38:19
We do, we have an education portal called stencilgirlstudios.com.

Nikki

38:25
And we’ll link to all the different parts of it in the show notes.

Mary Beth

38:30
I have some classes on there. And some of our designers also have classes on there. So we have those classes. And then whenever our stencil designers are teaching, we like to help them publicize if they want our help, we’re happy to share that with our audience. So I think it makes good sense to share with people. And that’s kind of been my approach to everything is, hey, look at the stencil. Look what this can do. Oh my gosh, you know, and it’s all about the sharing.

Nikki

39:05
Well, let’s talk a little bit about all the things you share on your different websites, because I know that you’ll share what, what some of your stencil designers are doing. And I know you have some of them write columns for you. And I know Kristin, I don’t know if she’s still doing it, was writing a column for you and… Kristin Williams. Talk a little bit more about how you work with other artists and the back and forth.

Mary Beth

39:34
Yes, well, social media has been, obviously, so important for us to grow our business. So early on I think we sort of picked the places we felt more comfortable. And it was mainly Instagram and Facebook. So we had Instagram and Facebook as our primary social media platforms. Then we also had a blog where we are offer a lot of regular, I mean pretty much everyday programming on our blog. So when you look at those three places, to fill the material that feeds those places, comes from either our design team, which is a creative team that works with us to just use the stencils and to create projects. So that’s one group of people. And then we have another group of people called our columnists. And it was my idea to make our blog more of kind of like an online magazine, where you would see this monthly column from a person that’s maybe a little bit more in depth than just a blog post, and you will see a recurring theme from a columnist. And so I thought that would be great. Well, then somewhere along the way, I kind of lost, I didn’t realize what all YouTube was doing. So we’ve spent a lot of time trying to grow YouTube recently, because I think I just thought YouTube was another social media platform. But then it became clear to me this actually a big, big search engine. And that’s information that’s gonna live on for years. So we started trying to do more on YouTube as well. And it’s a lot, it’s a lot of balls.

Nikki

41:24
Yeah, it is.

Laura

41:26
There is a lot of content that you’re having to create. And especially when it’s educational content, there’s a lot of work that goes into that, that people don’t always realize. So you have these different design team you mentioned, and your columnists that support you. Do you open the design team up once a year? Or how do people join those?

Mary Beth

41:48
Yes, we just announced a new group of people in May. And so our old team left and our new team came forward. And it’s always fun when you get a new group of people.

Nikki

42:00
And how do you put these groups together?

Mary Beth

42:02
Well, we seek applications and we look at the work that people have done and how it matches up with what we’re doing. We like to have diversity in the work, we like to have diversity in our people, we look at a lot of different things. So it’s not all about how many followers they have on Instagram, it’s more about who they are as a person. And what they’re going to bring this, you know, compatible with what we believe but also different and helps us expand what we believe because we really, I like to cross cultures, cross countries, and, you know, stencils for the whole world.

Nikki

42:44
So you have designers that create stencil designs for you. But then you also have your creative team that makes work from stencils, right? And that’s two different groups of people. I guess maybe there’s some overlap maybe…

Mary Beth

42:57
There is some overlap. What almost always happens is that the people that come on, as our creative team almost always decide they want to design stencils. They’re like, Oh, now that I’ve used these, I have some new ideas too, and sometimes it works out great. It’s all about the – what the creative team does, It’s more about, they’re helping us with our publicity and our education, because our artist designers design the stencils, but then I don’t have an expectation that they’re going to spend every working hour promoting their own stencils. I mean, they have a lot of other work to do as well.

Nikki

43:38
Right. And so if somebody was interested in designing some stencils for you, how would they go about that?

Mary Beth

43:45
Yes, well, we do have an application and they would contact Carol Baxter, carol@stencilgirlsproducts.com. And she has an application that we’ve developed through the years that kind of gives them the walkthrough of everything they need to know.

Nikki

44:02
And do you have that information on your website?

Mary Beth

44:05
No, she can send it to each person individually.

Nikki

44:09
Okay. If you like, we’d love to share that information in our show notes to absolutely and maybe use it ourselves.

Mary Beth

44:21
We have over 2000 stencils. We do not discontinue stencils, because here’s the thing, we own lasers. You know, we have a stencil from 10 years ago that we’ve only got five of, somebody wants to buy number six. Okay, we can cut that. You know, so that’s the big advantage of having a couple lasers in the house.

Nikki

44:43
So do you have some sort of publishing schedule for new stencils? Do you release collections, themes?

Mary Beth

44:51
We do. We we release all year long and I know when I started the business, the craft and hobby Association kind of had this two time a year release thing. And I just didn’t care for that I, it just didn’t make sense to me as a small business it made no sense whatsoever. I didn’t have the personnel to manage these huge releases twice a year, so was much easier for me to manage ongoing releases. And we also have always wanted to keep our manufacturing here in the United States. Every part of our business is here. So we figured, well, we could just release all year long.

Nikki

45:33
Yeah. Nice

Mary Beth

45:34
So yes, we do have…Carol is my genius assistant who manages all that for me. And I’m one of these people, I said before, I’m like the idea girl – minutia drives me insane.

Laura

45:53
So Carol handles the minutia.

Mary Beth

45:55
I’m just like, Okay, I got this idea. Okay, okay, okay, and I get a whipped up, and I can articulate it. And then I’m like, they asked me the details, unh uh.

Laura

46:04
You’re on your on the next idea.

Mary Beth

46:06
I know, I…

Nikki

46:07
It sounds like you’ve put a great team together to be able to handle that, you know, your husband can handle the money details, Carol can handle the work with people and get the ideas together. You’re just like, throwing out the ideas. Awesome.

Mary Beth

46:27
One of my initial ideas that everybody, the two boys laughed at me, the boys are my husband and my business partner, both my business partners, I said you know, I think I want to do a club. And they’re like, What do you mean? And I said, Well, we would have like, a group of three stencils a month that they’d get, and they’d pay 25 bucks a month, and they get this three stencils and they’d also get a coupon. And we’d make a video, so they get education. And, you know, they could be in and out of the club anytime they wanted. And this was back – oh, my gosh, that’s been going on since – I don’t even know, I think 2012 might have been our first year.

Nikki

47:06
Wow, and clubs like that are so popular these days.

Mary Beth

47:11
Right. Right. And I had no idea, I just thought, wow, that’d be so fun, you know, and it has turned out to be amazing. Just an amazing community, a great group of people that are in our club. Yeah.

Nikki

47:27
You have a big group?

Mary Beth

47:28
Yeah, we do. I can’t say but we do.

Laura

47:32
And that’s on Facebook as well.

Mary Beth

47:36
We have a group on Facebook, one of the private groups where they all hang out, and they do trades and all sorts of things. And I’m in and out, I jump in and out. And really a wonderful community we’ve had some illness and this and that, and people get to know one another. And oh, you know, I know somebody who could use a greeting card, that kind of thing, just just this lovely outpouring of true concern for other people, you know, it’s sweet.

Nikki

48:08
It’s great, the communities that form around similar interests.

Mary Beth

48:12
Yeah, it really is. It really is, that’s the beautiful thing about art.

Laura

48:16
Yeah, it connects everybody.

Nikki

48:17
So our listeners, for the most part, are artists who are trying to get their thing going, you know, they may just be starting, or they’ve been doing it as a hobby forever, or like you they had another career. Well, like all of us, they had another career. And what everybody has in common is they’re really trying to get their thing off the ground. So you’ve done that with a bunch of different things. What kind of advice would you give to people who are just getting started and trying to find their place?

Mary Beth

48:55
Well, I would say, Don’t be afraid, just, you know, feel the fear and do it anyway, that kind of thing. Right? You have to just move… if you’re waiting for every single thing to be perfect, and all the planets to align and you know, that’s never gonna happen. You’re gonna just have to really move forward with it. And I have always felt that if I was being true to myself, and being my own authentic person and giving it the best that I could, that that was all I could do as a human, you know. Now, regarding the logistics of it… I took B-School with Marie Forleo.

Nikki

49:41
So did we.

Laura

49:42
So did we.

Mary Beth

49:43
Did you? I didn’t know that. And I gotta say, that is really a good thing to do.

Nikki

49:51
Yeah, it sure is.

Laura

49:52
It’s a good program

Mary Beth

49:53
It’s a really good program if you’re looking for somebody who’s just like put all the stuff together and you just boom, boom, boom, go through it, you know, and I took it too late, I had already done so much of the stuff before, because I didn’t have enough money to take it when I probably needed to take it. But anyway, it was still so advantageous to me. So it’s nice if you can do something like that, or find a mentor who might help you. You know, if you have areas of weakness, which I know mine are, even though I do have a functioning business part of my brain, I think I like to let that part of my brain atrophy.

Laura

50:34
That’s what your business partners are for.

Nikki

50:36
Absolutely, absolutely. So you’re saying the things that the main thing that we’re all about? It’s right in our name, Startist, the most important thing is just get started. Don’t let fear stop you from just getting started.

Mary Beth

50:51
Right. Right. I really do think that’s just the key, because I see, I see a lot of people, or people that will come to me and ask me advice. And people I see like running other businesses. And I kind of I’m like, mmm, I know what it is. They keep changing direction all the time. And you have to have some some level of consistency with whatever it is that you do also. I mean, you can’t just like throw it out there and expect some miracle to happen. You know, you have to methodically and consistently focus and do what it is that you believe in.

Nikki

51:31
Absolutely. Talk to us about what’s next for you.

Mary Beth

51:35
Since the pandemic, it has caused a stir in me. A stir… And I’m not sure what’s next. I mean, StencilGirl, obviously is here to stay. I would like to get back to creating more my own art. Honestly, I don’t feel as though I necessarily have a true body of work right now. Because I spend so much time on demoing the stencils and working with them. So I’d kind of like to get back to my body of work. What’s next? You know when I look around the mixed media world – I talked to Kristin, about this. I think everybody’s art looks the same right now.

Nikki

52:17
There is a lot of stuff out there that all looks alike.

Mary Beth

52:19
And I haven’t seen this for a long time. You know, it takes a long time for everybody to catch up and all become the same. But we’re there, we’re there. Somebody needs to bust out and do something different. And I wouldn’t mind being that person.

Nikki

52:35
That sounds fantastic. Do you think it’s because we’re all… everybody’s taking so many classes these days? That they end up just… everybody’s being influenced by the same people? And…

Mary Beth

52:49
I do I do. I think we’re in a, we’re, you know, I’m sure every generation thinks that they’re in some unique position that no one generation’s ever been in before. But it seems like we’re in some unique position where we have been, you know, in our home for a whole year just looking at the computer, watching imagery and seeking stimulation of one source or another and the art has all become very distilled. And I don’t know, I’m kinda, I need to bust out of it for sure.

Laura

53:22
All right. I can’t wait to see what that looks like.

Nikki

53:25
It’s time to bust it out, Mary Beth.

Mary Beth

53:27
I know, we need to shake it up, ladies.

Nikki

53:30
All right. Let’s shake it up. So let me ask you, Mary Beth, I believe I just recently saw an announcement about a retreat/workshop thing you’re doing in Italy next year?

Mary Beth

53:46
Oh, my God. No, it’s this year.

Nikki

53:47
It’s this year.

Mary Beth

53:48
In September. We’ve been waiting… it was supposed to be last year, naturally it didn’t happen. So we’ve been waiting to see if it was going to be possible this year. And it is. I work with a tour group called The Blue Walk and two ladies that are hilarious, knowledgeable, fun. They live in Italy. So it’s an art tour and it’s fantastic. We’ve got a couple more spaces. This is very small group travel. So, I think we have like eight people signed up right now and I don’t think we want more than 10. So it’s quite an opportunity if you’re up for a trip to Italy.

Nikki

53:54
So where in Italy and what’s involved?

Mary Beth

54:21
We are flying into to Venice, and…

Nikki

54:38
Uh, I love Venice.

Mary Beth

54:40
I know this is kind of like the parts of Italy I hadn’t seen yet, that I wanted to see. So we’ll do Parma, Padua, Venice, and then we’ll go across to Cinqueterra, Lake Como, Milan, Rapallo, Portofino. I mean, it’s just like oh my gosh…

Nikki

55:01
That’s a lot of places how long is this trip?

Mary Beth

55:03
Well, there’s two segments of it. So the first part is 10 days and then there’s another three days that you can add on.

Nikki

55:11
Wow. And is it travel the whole time? Or is there…

Mary Beth

55:14
No, they set it up so that we do like three days at a time. So it will be in one area for like three days, and then we’ll move to the next area for three days. It’s a really nice pace, I’ve traveled with the group before and honestly, never ever had so much fun. They are just, they’re friends.

Nikki

55:33
And what are you teaching?

Mary Beth

55:34
And they Well, I don’t know, no. We will be working in journals. And we will be doing some journaling that is reflective of the trip, I like to kind of be a hunter and gatherer and I really like to flow with the trip and gather things and put them in our journal. And so that when you come home, you can pick up that journal, and it can instantly transport you back to that time and you have amazing memories. That’s what makes it special to me.

Nikki

56:07
It’s all about taking things in and feeding yourself so that you have things to work with when you get home.

Mary Beth

56:12
Absolutely. And then we’ll be doing other stuff, too. We’ve got a cooking class scheduled, and I believe there’s like a ceramic class. There’s all kinds of really fun things. They do an amazing trip. Just absolutely delightful.

Laura

G 56:27
That sounds so fabulous.

Nikki

56:29
We’ll link to that in the show notes too. So if there’s still spots when we release the episode, and… Laura, how can we manage to go on that trip?

Laura

56:41
I don’t know. We’ve got to figure it out.

Mary Beth

56:44
That’d be a blast to have you guys along.

Nikki

56:46
Oh that would be so much fun.

Laura

56:47
We would have so much.

Mary Beth

56:49
They do they do this great trip because it’s not like super high end, but it’s not low end. It’s not like you’re backpacking either, you know. So it’s kind of like every detail’s attended to.

Nikki

57:00
That’s nice because we’re way too old to go backpacking,

Mary Beth

57:03
I know, and I’m way too stupid to figure out all the details. I was the artist on a trip to Greece we did. And oh my gosh, it was just idyllic. And they live in Italy. So they know Italy.

Nikki

57:19
Yeah.

Laura

57:19
And I went to Paris a few years ago with a friend and we did urban sketching just on our own across Paris, it’s sort of like what you were talking about, but, but I still don’t have all of my book, three years later put together. But I had so much fun doing it. And I loved that idea. And that concept of gathering things, you know, in that moment, and creating and stopping to see what you’re looking at, like stopping to absorb it because sometimes we get in that rush, rush rush of life. And so when you’re on a trip, and you can just…

Mary Beth

57:50
There’s ways artistically to do… like when we went to Greece, and I think we’ll probably do this again in Italy, I had them use that cyanotype paper, and we gathered some foliage and laid it out on the paper. So you have these the imagery of the exact foliage. And that was really cool. And then I love doing rubbings where you can have like, you know, city names and textures that you find along the way, things like that. There are elements in your journal that are literally exactly where you were. Oh, and we saw a black beach and we were staying on a black beach in Greece. And we all glued some of the black sand in our journals.

Nikki

58:31
Nice, that reminds me of being in Monet’s garden in Giverny and and picking up some flower petals.

Laura

58:41
Did you steal a flower?

Nikki

58:42
I didn’t pick anything off. I didn’t pick anything that was growing. But I did take some flower petals that were on the ground, and they’re still tucked in a sketchbook.

Mary Beth

58:52
Oh, wow, that’s so cool. Love it.

Laura

58:55
I think it’s one of my favorite places on the planet, actually.

Nikki

58:57
Oh my god. So beautiful.

Laura

58:58
Giverny.

Mary Beth

58:59
I have never been here. I’d like to go there, yeah.

Nikki

59:02
Well, by all means, do it.

Laura

59:06

Mary Beth, we just want to thank you for being here today and sharing your advice and your adventure of StencilGirl that you’ve had for the last, what? 10/11 years.

Nikki

59:16
Thank you so much.

Mary Beth

59:17
Thank you. It was really fun.

Laura

59:20
For today’s Startist Society show notes and links to all things Marybeth Shaw and StencilGirl, go to startistsociety.com/stencilgirl. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, we’d love for you to leave us a five star rating and review. Reviews help us reach more Startist like you and keep us inspired to continue creating new episodes. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

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