Julie McGuffee on Turning Her Painting Hobby into a Business

Posted by on Jan 03, 2015

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Julie McGuffee

CraftFoxes:  How long have you been doing decorative painting and glass etching? 

Julie McGuffee:  I've always loved to paint and I became interested in folk art in the 70s. Then in the 80s, I took a class on Bavarian folk art and was immediately hooked. A couple years later, I began to teach folk art (aka decorative painting) techniques and sold my painted projects at a local craft mall. I had been working mostly on wood, but I didn't like taking the time to prep the wood pieces, so I starting painting a lot of plates and etched glass ornaments. The etched glass surface had "tooth," so it was an easy surface to paint on using regular acrylic paints (as opposed to glass paints).

etched glass handpainted plate
JM:  In the early 90s, I saw Barb Bosler demo her etchall® glass etching products at a trade show, which opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for me. I was no longer limited to buying pre-etched glass — etchall was so easy to use. Plus, it didn't smell toxic and it was reusable! 

CF:  How have you seen design trends in glass etching and decorative painting change over the years? 

JM:  Decorative painting styles have changed very little over the years, since folk art itself is hundreds of years old. It's a very forgiving art form — it's easy to produce great results whether one feels talented or not. Glass etching is also timeless — there's just something inherently elegant about etched glass. And now we’re seeing a wider variety of styles with recycling and upcycling becoming more popular in home décor. Glass etching is a great way to personalize items for holiday gifts, weddings and showers. Now that so many crafters are using digital die-cutting machines to cut their own stencils for etching, the sky's the limit as far as designs go! I love the fact that anyone can learn to do decorative painting. No previous experience is required … only the desire to do something creative and the willingness to try. 

handpainted flower glass vase
CF:  When did you realize your hobby could become a business? 

JM:  For many years, I sold my handpainted projects at the local craft mall, craft fairs and also at annual Oktoberfest and Christkindlmarkt festivals. I enjoyed the fact that selling my projects supported the costs of my hobby. By teaching classes, I quickly learned how to turn my little hobby into a business. In 1991, someone from Design Originals (a craft book publisher) purchased some of my handpainted ornaments and asked if I would be willing to write instructions so they could be featured in a book. The publisher liked what I did and invited me to write their first full-color craft book on decorative painting. It was my first of about 50 different books covering a whole range of crafts that I authored. 

etched glass candle votives
CF:  How do you recommend a newbie should start with glass etching and decorative painting? 

JM:  Glass etching and decorative painting are really two different art forms. I combine them because I love them both, and etched glass is a great surface for decorative painting. Glass etching is really simple, you can either spread an etching crème across an adhesive stencil to etch a positive image, or dip a glass covered with adhesive shapes into etching liquid to frost the whole glass and leave a negative image. Or you can dab etching crème randomly to create a frosted stippled background, like on my painted rose plate above. Etching works on ceramic too — try it on tiles from your local home store! Both the etching crème and etching liquid can be used multiple times, so there’s no waste. 

etched handpainted glass vase
JM:  Decorative painting can look very complicated, but it's actually really easy. There are lots of pattern books available, but it's always best to start with a book or video on basic brushstroke techniques. Once you learn how to use specific brushes to create different types of strokes, you can create all kinds of letters, borders and images. I love painting on glass because I can paint on the front and the back to create a dimensional look. Glassware, vases, etc. are available for very little cost at dollar stores, secondhand stores and craft stores. 

The most important thing I would tell newbies is that folk art is exactly that — art by folk — regular folk, like you and me. There's really no right or wrong way to do it — the painting is meant to be decorative, not photo-realistic. The whole idea is to paint something you like! Visit my blog to see more of the craft projects I like to make.

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(1 comment)
  • by marilyn.gossett
    User profile

    Great interview with Julie. For the many people who have created projects from her books over the years, I am sure they will enjoy learning about how she got her start and for her encouraging words. She is a multi-media, multi talented designer.