Friday, February 19, 2010

Your Neighbor Can Paint Your House

People come to the Heights for many different reasons and from many different places. Knowing my own journey (a Yankee born, raised and educated. Tried to get to New Orleans after college to volunteer and party but ended up in Dallas instead. Thought I was very close to leaving Texas, until I met and married a native. Now I'm here for the long haul), I am fascinated by how and why other people are here. I find that many are like myself: Accidental Houstonians who have come to embrace the city, to realize it gets the short end of the stick in a lot of National conversations and that it is far better than Dallas, even though The Weather Channel often thinks their city deserves a spot on the map and ours does not.

Cartoonist Mary Lawton is an Accidental Houstonian as well. Born and raised on Long Island, she came to Houston via NY, Boston and Berkeley. Her road to being a published cartoonist was almost just as accidental.

After graduating from high school, Mary headed to Europe. While she had always been an artist, Mary's travels veered her toward another art form: food and cooking. During her European travels she was eating and "learning about the world of food" by experiencing a lot of foods she hadn't been exposed to growing up. When she returned to the States, Mary started apprenticing in French restaurants in Boston. She was quickly moving up in culinary circles there, cooking for a living, but she would continue to draw at night.

In Boston, Mary found herself in a social circle that was dominated by cartoonists. At the time, cartoonist Lynda Barry was up and coming and they were all obsessed with her. Barry and another guy who you might have heard of, Matt Groening, were exposing the cartoon world to a "cool and novel" genre, one where it was ok, even cool, to be the outcast. Mary and her friends wanted to emulate the style of Barry and Groening. Mary practiced writing in Lynda Barry's style, letting her own style evolve in to something that was personal but also commercial.

Being a totally self taught artist, Mary's work continually grew and changed and she learned more about herself and her art. She submitted cartoon after cartoon to publications, waiting to see what one would hit the mark. In 1983, Mary had a cartoon published. Getting paid was a great motivator and she continued to hone her art and her humor, getting better and better.

Life pressed forward and eventually Mary left Boston and ended up in Berkeley. While she was there, she reconnected with someone she had met on the East Coast and a relationship developed. During this time, Mary also found herself picking up a paint brush pretty regularly. She had painted in high school but in Berkeley it was more a hobby than anything. She was teaching herself about it. She found she loved the act of painting and the process of self-teaching was exciting.

A collection of birds in her signature style decorates a wall in Mary's house

Then, as often happens, the relationship moved Mary again. Her husband was offered a job at Baylor and they came to Houston. Mary had never been to Houston and didn't know much about it. While her husband visited Baylor, she was given tour guides to show her the city. In a week, Mary saw every neighborhood in the city. That was all they had to make their decision. They knew they wanted an old house, something to remind them of places they had been before. Mary was actually attracted to the West University area, but the prices were well out of their range, even 15 years ago. In the Heights, Mary found a nice sized, partially renovated bungalow. Realizing that this neighborhood offered more house for her money, they bought the bungalow and never found a reason to leave; 15 years later they still live in that same house.

Mary's lovely bungalow, where she and her family have lived since she settled in Houston 15 years ago.

I feel that a fascinating story lies behind every door in the Heights. I fell in love with the beautiful, original door at Mary's house.

Mary and her husband proceeded to do some work on the house, personalize it. She has always worked from home so having a space that reflects her life and her work is important to her. They also expanded their family by 2 sons, raised in that same house. Now that the boys are a pre-teen and teenager, Mary can already see the way this house will work for her and her husband as the two boys eventually head off on their own. As life evolves, so does a bungalow.

Mary's sunny living room, where she paints while looking out at the goings on in the neighborhood

A portrait of Mary's mother based on a photograph from the 1940s

Having a family helped Mary expand her material for cartooning, but she also found that the market for cartoons has shrunk- and it was small to begin with. About 8 years ago, she was still cartooning and getting published, selling her cartoons to magazines and printing greeting cards but started to paint more and more. She was painting pictures of friends and family, eventually also painting the homes they live in. Word of mouth spread the news about her delightful, colorful and personal paintings. A local Realtor heard about it and even commissioned small home paintings from Mary as gifts for clients.

These days Mary's professional life focuses on painting people and the places they call home. She especially enjoys painting the beautiful homes of The Heights. If you would like an amazing keepsake of your home, she can do simple paintings of just a house or more elaborate pieces with you, your family and pets. She takes commissioned projects regularly and can work with all kinds of budgets.

I discussed having Mary do a project for us with my husband. I think we are going to go for it. We are getting cramped in our little bungalow and wonder if more space isn't in our near future (in the Heights, of course). It will be nice to have something special to always remind us of our 1st house in The Heights, the one we bought when we were first married and where we had our children.

A Heights painting Mary did several years ago for friends of hers who live in the neighborhood. Friends and family were the impetus for her to begin painting people and their homes.

If you are interested in finding out more about having your own home painted (or giving one as a gift) email Mary for information.

Photo courtesy of Mary


  1. Mary is my sister and I couldn't be more proud of her. Thank you for recognizing her talents
    and sharing them with those who have not had the good fortune of meeting her!
    Jeanette Reynolds

  2. Thanks, Jeanette. It was a pleasure meeting Mary and chatting with her. I hope many more people have the opportunity to do the same :)


  3. Mary is my sister as well. I love her paintings- they make me smile. She seems to get more talented every year! Thank you so much for featuring her!
    Pat Patrick
    Houston, TX

  4. I was simply dying for some useful information about painting and found the same in your blog. Simply great stuff! I have forwarded your blog link to some of my friends as well. Hope you will keep writing such write-ups in the future as well.