Mickey Lawler, the famous fabric painter, artist, and educator, gave us so much insight into her business in part 1 of her interview. But believe it or not, that was just the beginning.
In the second part of my interview with Mickey Lawler, she gives us more in-depth discussion into her struggle with deciding on whether to go back to a “regular job” or pursue a creative career and the mindset that got her to start her business. We also talk about teaching, writing books and where inspiration comes from. Mickey then shares her five favorite tools and resources with us.
This second part is just as packed with good info as the first part.
So, let’s get right to the interview.
CN: How did you decide to make a career out of your textile work?
ML: Right after I sold the shop (read part 1 of the interview), I had an interesting experience. I had been an English teacher in high school before I got into all of this.
So, Dan (my husband), was like why don’t you go back to teaching so we could both have decent vacations and retirements. But I really didn’t want to go back to teaching. I’d been subbing at this school to help pay my daughter’s tuition and I’d applied for a full-time job.
So that summer, while at the Cape, I’d go to the beach and think about “do I want to go back to teaching or do I want to do Skydyes”? And I still remember. I got the sense that the answer would be shown to me.
What I asked of whatever forces in the universe you’d want to call it is “You know me. What will make me happiest – teaching or doing Skydyes?”
I came home after the summer and there was a letter from the school system saying “sorry, we hired someone else”. And I was so happy. That was the answer I was looking for.
Then I said my goal was I have to make money from this business to pay my daughter’s tuition.
CN: So, you had an incentive that pushed you to make this business work. It wasn’t just a hobby. It needed to generate an income.
ML: Yes!! Yes!! Plus, I had enough experience from the shop to know what not to do. One day, I saw a new sign downtown – Entrepreneurial Counselling. Well, this fellow talked to me for a while. He said his favorite clients were those who weren’t successful in business before and knew why. He set me off with a charge account so I could take charge cards. So, I really got off on the right footing there. He helped tremendously. And it just snowballed after that.
CN: So how did you get into teaching?
ML: Well, I’d taught at the shop. But I didn’t teach fabric painting. I always taught quilt making. I started lecturing and people said, “would you consider teaching a class in fabric painting?”. Dan was a little hesitant when I run it by him. He said, “if you teach people fabric painting will they want to buy your painted fabrics”? I said,”they will”. I said, “let’s give it a shot”. Because I loved teaching. Since I was little I loved teaching.
By teaching and vending, I got in touch with a lot of people who asked would you consider teaching our group. So then for many years, I had a lot of teaching engagements. And I still teach. It’s one of these things where you meet these people and meet these people. And it just kinda all happens.
CN: So, you find that one part of the business supports others.
ML: Yes, Absolutely. They’re all interconnected. And of course, with vending, you’re out there with the public. And especially in Houston, you meet people from all over… That’s where I met the person from C&T Publishing when I was thinking of writing a book. That was another time when Dan said if you write a book everybody is going to do it.
But I said well, how many people are out there? How many people do I need?
And so it’s worked out really well. I loved writing the first book. That was probably 1990 or 1991, I think.
CN: How did you get the publisher? Did you approach them with your book idea?
ML: I approached Patchwork Place in Houston. And they said they were really interested in that because it was very new – to do any kind of fabric painting and stuff- you know.
Then Yvonne Porcella came by the booth and I told her and she said “No, you’re going to go with C&T Publishing. C’mmon, I’ll introduce you. So we went over to their booth and talked to the people. I loved working for C&T at that time.
The book really did make a good amount of money. It was in print for 10 years, which is incredibly a long time.
Then they kept pushing me to write a second book. The second book was hard. Someone told me the second book is always hard. To try to come up with something new and different, still about painting was hard. But we ended up doing it.
They said can you do a book about what to do with this fabric now that I’ve painted it. So half the book is on how to paint fabric with new additions. Because I learned a lot of new things in between. And the second part is actual patterns for quilts I made. That book is called “Sky Quilts” and the first one is “Skydyes”.
CN: The second book was hard to write, huh? Were you worried about people’s expectations? Did the fact that your first book had been so successful make you feel people would be looking for you to top your first book?
ML: Yeah, there’s a little of that in there too. I don’t think I worried about it too much. But there was that. I guess it was just what more can I write that I hadn’t already written about fabric painting?
So, I played around with a lot of things during the year I was writing the second book. How do you paint this, how do you paint that? Fabric painting isn’t anything like painting on paper.
The paint goes here and there and the fabric absorbs it. I tell my students –
On my very best days of painting, I only have about 80% control over what happens. And that’s really a lot. But it’s the 20% I live for.
What’s going to happen when I put this color next to the other color. How is this configuration going to work out? And that’s what keeps me going.
Once in a while, I hit the doldrums and I say there’s no inspiration. There’s nothing new to paint. Then I just make myself do it. Then probably throw away that piece (laughing).
CN: So, there are times you find you have no inspiration but you still make yourself go paint?
ML: Of course, it’s like any kind of art, like writing or any other form of art. Sometimes you just hit a wall.
CN: I’ve written about that. Many people wait for inspiration and I write that you don’t have to wait for inspiration. You won’t always be inspired. You’ve just got to do it.
ML: I agree. I think it’s the work that leads to the inspiration. And sometimes that’s really hard.
CN: I want to follow-up on something you said earlier. Your husband was worried that if you taught how to paint, who’d buy your fabrics. And again, when you wanted to write the books, who’d buy your fabrics if you told them everything in your books.
I find that many creatives struggle with this very question of sharing their work, whether it be sharing their techniques or business tips. They have the same worries. If you teach people all you know, who’ll be interested in what you create?
How did that work out for you? Do you think writing and teaching enhanced your business or not?
ML: It enhanced my business!!! It didn’t cut into my business at all. What happened is that by teaching and probably writing too, people began to realize that wow, there’s a lot that goes into it. Do I really want to do this myself, invest in all the paints? But then there’s an appreciation of the actual work.
It made me an expert. And more people come up to me and ask, “You’re Mickey Lawler?” My daughter tells her son, you know your grandmother is a rock star in the quilt world.
There was excitement at being recognized at first. But I didn’t set out to become famous. I loved that other people love my fabrics. I love particularly that they use it as a tool. That I’m producing a tool for their creativity. And that to me is just amazing. I get a great deal of satisfaction out of that, especially when people send me photos of their work. That happens ever so often.
CN: I love that. Doing these things make you an expert
At this point, Mickey invited me to come see her studio.
In Mickey Lawler’s Studio
For a celebrity fabric painter, who’s been into fabric painting for more than 30 years, I expected to find cupboards upon cupboards full of fabrics in Mickey’s studio. I was pleasantly surprised when I got there.
She’s got just two narrow cupboards each with three shelves of fabric and another shelf in a different cabinet. That was it!!
When I did ask why she doesn’t have a large fabric stash like everyone else? This was her response.
“I have more than enough to last me a lifetime.”
She also has a small selection of commercial fabrics.
I was also surprised to see that Mickey had licensed some of her designs to fabric companies like Free Spirit Fabrics.
Also, one of Mickey’s daughters- Terry- is into fabric painting. And some of her designs were licensed to Free Spirit Fabrics too.
All in all, Mickey’s business encompasses 5 of the 7 income streams for making money in textile art that textile artists use to start or grow their businesses.
Mickey Lawler’s Revenue Streams
- Teaching workshops – both face-to-face and online
- Selling her original works (vending at shows)
- Accepting Commissions
- Licensing & Prints
- Building Authority – Publishing books
I know we all love to use what the celebrity artists use. So I asked Mickey to share with us her five favorite tools and resources. And here they are.
Mickey Lawler’s Fabric Painting Faves
- My many paint bottles (see photo below) that I use for mixing colors. (affiliate link)
- Three Dog Night CD’s that get me painting on dreary days. (affiliate link)
- That WOW moment when something unexpected and wonderful happens as the colors merge with a mind of their own.
- My looong hose with a mist setting to dampen my 5 yards of fabric outdoors. (affiliate link)
- The fabric I’ve used for years is a 100% Cotton Broadcloth Supreme #453 from Testfabrics
Plus, one extra fave:
And, most of all, the perfect day for painting – about 80 degrees, low humidity, brilliant sunshine, and cool breezes. Ahhh!
Mickey Lawler’s Services & Business Offerings
Learn more about Mickey’s business offerings
It was great talking to Mickey Lawler. As a creative person, I really love interacting with other creatives. Although I’m an introvert, I get really lit up and energized when I meet and chat with other creatives.
For all creatives, our journeys are really similar and it’s good to feed off each other’s energies and learn from one another. And so, I decided to do these business interviews to provide value to you, my reader. I hope you’ve enjoyed the interview and learned as much as I have.
Interview Quotes & Highlights
- Sharing your knowledge benefits your business. “Writing and teaching enhanced my business!!! It didn’t cut into my business at all. It made me an expert
- “I think it’s the work that leads to the inspiration. And sometimes that’s really hard”.
- “The second book was hard [to write]. Someone told me the second book is always hard.”
- The different segments of your business are interconnected. One part of your business will support the growth of the other parts.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about building a textile art business in this interview?
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Also published on Medium.