The story behind MB Studios will give you goosebumps.
It’s one of those stories you run into in the world of creative entrepreneurs, where a developing artist takes a leap in faith. Following a creative path to new life, the artist finds her new life leading back to more art.
Mary Burrows worked in the corporate world for fifteen years before her life took a different turn, with the birth of her first son. Born premature, he didn’t speak until he was four years old, and Mary entered into a time of learning to care for him. She quit her job and enrolled him in a Waldorf school.
Volunteering for the school, Mary became interested in art, particularly pottery. She acquired a kiln, and soon created a fine arts program for children, which she ran for five years. Her daughter was born during that time, and she found herself looking for ways to supplement her family’s income, all while continuing to be attuned to her children’s unique learning needs and her own developing artistic interests. MB Studios was born.
A dozen years later, the studio is a full-time, family-run business that “believes in the beauty of handmade and keeping it simple.” Showcased on countless design blogs and Etsy Spotlights, Mary was also one of Babble’s top moms of Etsy in 2011.
Bespoke Truckee caught up with Mary to find out more about making a life in art and learning.
Bespoke: Tell us more about
the early years and the path to where you are now.
Burrows: Teaching art to children was awesome. I loved it. I loved how organic it was, so spontaneous. Their lines are just so imperfect. But I was trying so many different kinds of schools for my son, and it became difficult to juggle an arts school—I had 30 students coming to my studio—with raising my kids. So I started making things, and a friend suggested I sell them.
I’ve done it slowly, over the years. It hasn’t been a straight line. There have been detours and curves to get where we are. In 2010, Etsy started to take off and I decided to home-school my kids. Then my husband was laid off from his job [specializing in tiling in the construction world], and so we decided to do this together.
It’s so cool, what we get to do now, and we’re learning a lot at the same time. Neither of us has had any art school or training, but we balance each other. He has helped me improve my projects and become more efficient with my time. Together we’ve made the porcelain dinnerware line that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. He has the mechanical side, with our glazes and molds, whereas I design the words and the graphics. We brainstorm together and make everything by hand.
Bespoke: How do you find the
words, or how do they find you?
Burrows: I look for words that kind of wake people up. I find them in all different places: when people request special pieces, Facebook and Pinterest. It’s funny. The kick-start was when I read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It made me want to find quotes that opened up people’s hearts, and made them think about their inner lives. I went into bookstore and found a book with quotes—Rumi and Emerson and Kahlil Gibran. My mom always read The Prophet growing up, and I loved that book.
But there are so many words out there, and I don’t want to overwhelm people when they come to the shop. I’m very selective. It just has to resonate with me.
Bespoke: What’s inspiring you
Burrows: Being outside with my kids when we’re walking—rocks, trees, leaves. Nature really inspires me. And patterns. I’m always drawn to patterns, especially when they’re very irregular.
Bespoke: How do you balance
work and family time?
Burrows: It’s always moving. It’s a juggling act, just trying to be aware of it. Me and my son are very similar. He’s always thinking of things. He’ll get very focused on a subject or project that interests him. When he gets excited about something, I try to find ways to help him earn extra money for what he wants to do. He’ll work in the studio. But I think balance is about just bringing awareness to it. That’s the important thing.
Bespoke: What do your kids
think of the business?
Burrows: I think they love what I love about it: that we get to be together as a family a lot. We have a detached studio at home. We do our learning all the time, but a lot of our focused learning happens in the morning. I really love what I do, so sometimes it’s hard for me to balance.
They’re kind of like little Buddhas. They snap me out of being too... how do I put it? When I get really into my art, it can be hard for me to switch my brain to doing something else. They’re good at reminding me when I need to focus on them. When I worked before, my husband stayed home with my son for the first two years. I have more appreciation for what I do now, because I get to cook with them and just be with them.
Bespoke: What’s next?
Burrows: I’ve focused on the pieces with text for a few years now, which appeal to everyone. I will continue with them, but I’m really excited about our dinnerware line, which is expanding. We’re making platters and cheese trays and little cutting boards. It’s different. I love the modern design. We’re constantly improving the process and adding new screen-prints each year. I’m also designing a new [Christmas] ornament in the shape of a house. It’s going to be neat, very irregular, and screen-printed with text and different textures.