A “Career Girl” Who Quit Her Job For Art | Mixed-Media Art Event

Have you ever dreamed of quitting your day job to pursue your dreams? We hear about people doing this all the time. I find it nothing less than inspiring when people are actually able to take the leap, especially in the case of Art Journaling Live instructor Mary Beth Shaw, also known as “Stencil Girl.” It’s hard to imagine this artist, whose abstract mixed-media art is full of beauty and creativity, sitting behind a desk working in a field dominated by left-brained projects and tasks. Fortunately for us, she left it all behind, set an art goal, and achieved it.

In the following Q&A with Mary Beth, learn how her career path curved this way and that, weaving a life that, although not for everyone, is admirable.

Mixed-media art ideas with Mary Beth Shaw | ClothPaperScissors.com
Mixed-media art by Mary Beth Shaw (PIN THIS!)

CH: When and how did you fall in love with using stencils in your mixed-media art?
MBS: About 10 years ago when I was participating in outdoor art fairs, I frequently used found objects to create patterns in my work. I used my version of stencils and stamps: a little green plastic toy fence, round and square foam parts, open lacy fabrics—you get the idea. The ability to add interesting texture and/or paint thrilled me, and I found myself gravitating to a pattern-on-pattern look, often in a monochromatic color scheme. I couldn’t find store-bought stencils that I liked and, after taking a class with Ann Bagby, I started to hand cut my own designs. One thing led to another, and here I am today.

Printmaking art sample by Mary Beth Shaw

CH: What’s the biggest misconception people have about stencils?
MBS: I think that people tend to underestimate the flexibility of stencils. A mixed-media artist can use a stencil with so many different mediums to create a multitude of effects! Having such an uber cool tool in your repertoire . . . well, it just doesn’t get any better than that in my book.

CH: Prior to being a professional artist, you worked in the insurance industry for nearly two decades. What prompted you to make such a huge life change and pursue your love of art? Is there anything you would have done differently?
MBS: Yes, it is a crazy path, isn’t it? As I was nearing age 40, I felt unfulfilled with my career. I was about to hit the wall, and I knew I didn’t want to continue on my career path. I asked my husband if I could quit my job in lieu of a 40th birthday present. He was shocked because he knew me solely as a “career girl.” It seemed like an insane request, and I suppose it was. He was, however, unbelievably supportive. I felt quite strongly that I had another path inside of me, and I knew it would be creative, but I just didn’t know what it would involve or where it would lead me.

I don’t think I would change a thing because serendipity has been my guide on this journey (Relate to this? Tweet it!). That said, it was quite a stunner when my hubby lost his job about 18 months into my quest. I had just started to get some footing with my art, had found a studio, and I was selling my artwork for the first time. Having my safety net pulled away scared me to death, but it ultimately led me to become more serious about my work.

CH: I see that Traci Bautista, author of Printmaking Unleashed, was a special guest in one of your previous webinars. Tell me your favorite thing about Traci or her artistic style.
MBS: Traci and I have been friends for several years and were thrilled when we were both selected to become Golden Artist Colors(R) Educators last fall. We spent a wonderful week in New Orleans eating, drinking, and art-ing. Traci is a very giving person; she was extremely helpful to me when I was a ‘newbie’ in the mixed-media world, especially around the time I wrote my first book. I’m grateful to her for her professional generosity and advice. And, to this day, I don’t understand how that girl can make such gorgeous, loose art without getting paint on her clothing or messing up her nails; she is just too darn cute!

CH: Just for fun: music or silence in your art studio?
MBS: Music! I like all kinds of music, from global tunes like Buddha Bar to classical, blues, and retro stuff like Patsy Cline, Tom Jones, and Burt Bacharach. I enjoy allowing my muse to dance.

In addition to creating versatile stencils for artists and teaching mixed-media, Mary Beth is a frequent host of mixed-media webinars, such as the upcoming May 5 “Art Journaling Love Sneak Preview” with fellow Art Journaling Live instructor Nathalie Kalbach. Learn more and register here, and I’ll “see” you online!

Until next time,


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