Publishing and Multi-Day Quilt Retreats: A Chat with Pokey Bolton

In this edition of textile art business interview, we’ll be talking about publishing for textile artists and multi-day retreats. I’m pleased to welcome Pokey Bolton to the blog to help us with that. Pokey is the owner of Crafting a Life, LLC — an events and media company. She was a founder of the popular magazine Quilting Arts Magazine® and was the Editorial Director for the Quilt & Paper Division at Interweave and the founding host of Quilting Arts TV on PBS.

In this interview, Pokey and I discuss:

  • Her creative journey up to where she is right now
  • If it’s necessary for textile artists to get published
  • Why creatives and makers need to attend retreats
  • What teachers need to know in order to consider teaching at retreats
  • How to navigate both print and social media to your benefit
  • PLUS a video to boost your confidence in your creative journeys

Let’s get started.

CN: Hi Pokey, welcome to the Clara Nartey blog and to this edition of Textile Business interviews. I’m so happy to have you here.
 PB: Thank you so much for having me, Clara. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pokey Bolton Explains Why she Loves Fabrics

Pokey Bolton | Quilting Arts Magazine | Quilting Arts TV | Publishing Quilt Books | Quilt Retreats | Retreats for Quilt Teachers| |
Silverado Trail in Napa where Pokey Bolton lives and hosts retreats

CN: Pokey, is there something about fabrics in particular that makes you enjoy working with them?
 PB: I come from a line of quilters on my mother’s side, and my father’s side of my family is rooted in the American-made furniture manufacturing business — always sensitive to textiles that they used in furniture pieces to bring to the market. One of my grandmothers, too, had a knack for interior decorating. Simply put, I just grew up around fabrics. It made sense that my favorite medium was (and still is) fabric.

Pokey Bolton: The Start of Her Creative Journey

Craft Napa- Group photo

CN: Briefly tell us how your creative journey started and how your passion for magazines and crazy quilts started you on the path to publishing Quilting Arts magazine and your long career in the publishing business.
 PB: Going back a bit, in 1999 while living in Boston, I was a doctoral student at Boston University and a full-time public school special needs teacher in Newton Public Schools.

While on a winter break from both teaching and schooling at night at BU, I bought a sewing machine and a Fons and Porter’s book on quilting and decided this was how I was going to spend my stay-cation: learning to quilt. I was immediately addicted, and specifically enamored with the world of crazy quilting. I found the history of this quilt form­–not to mention the combination of embroidery stitches and various fabrics­–fascinating.

I think Victorians were some of the first the pioneers of upcycling: taking men’s ties, old velvets, cottons, silks and such, and with needle and thread transforming them into individual works of art, rich in self-expression.

Coincidentally, I had had some magazine experience previously, having worked at a B-B investment magazine when I graduated college, so I left both my job as a teacher and took a hiatus from my doctoral program, and took what I knew to start a desktop publishing business: Quilting Arts. I didn’t have initial plans for Quilting Arts to be on newsstands; I thought it would be a subscription-based publication for about 1000 people or so.

For the first issue, I gave all of the advertising away for free, and thankfully some companies in the industry saw relevance in what I was doing — most especially thread companies (e.g. Sulky and YLI), and as things progressed, by the third issue I had a steady advertising base. Wholesale orders for local quilt shops started to come in, too, as well as distribution channels for stores like Barnes and Noble and Walmart.

Pokey Bolton Answers: Should Textile Artists Get Published?

Pokey Bolton | Quilting Arts Magazine | Quilting Arts TV | Publishing Quilt Books | Quilt Retreats | Retreats for Quilt Teachers| |
Jennifer Sampou’s Class at the Art Barn
“I think it is wiser to see it as a piece in the pie of being a professional artist.”

CN: Should quilt/textile artists be interested in getting published? What will it do for their careers?
 PB: Maybe publishing is their endgame, but I think it is wiser to see it as a piece in the pie of being a professional artist, and just one way of getting their word and art out. It will help them get more exposure — for teaching opportunities, possible TV spots, future articles, and the like, but I also think a lot of artists nowadays can reach audiences directly through online channels, such as YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook with live videos. Blogs still have a lot of relevance, too.

CN: Books or Magazines, which ones should quilt/textile artists be aiming to get published in?
 PB: It depends where an artist is in their career and what their goal is. If they have enough material for a book and a following, then try for a book. If they want to test the waters and have an idea (or two), then a magazine article or column may be the way to go.

CN: As a publisher what were some of the common mistakes you noticed artists made in approaching or submitting their works to publications?
 PB: Worst mistakes would be poorly edited material and presenting unprofessionally. When a pitch comes through, it should be polished. My advice: vet your pitch, your idea, or your article by a friend or colleague. Make sure, too, you follow the guidelines for submissions, including requirements for image resolution. Also, if an idea for something is declined the first time, don’t stop trying! Regroup, keep making art, and pitch again.

CN: Self-publishing versus established publishing company (book deal)? Which is the better route to go as an artist?
 PB: It depends on a few factors:

  1. How soon do you want to get the book published?
  2. Do you have enough time, financial resources and know-how to publish and distribute it yourself?
  3. Do you need (and count) on significant monetary gain for this? Some commercial publishers no longer offer royalty advances, given that the publishing market has become a little soft.

Pokey Bolton Talks More About Publishing

Pokey Bolton | Quilting Arts Magazine | Quilting Arts TV | Publishing Quilt Books | Quilt Retreats | Retreats for Quilt Teachers| |
Pokey Bolton Art Barn
“I am choosy about what I may publish in the future. Publishing is not what it was a decade ago”

CN: You sold your publishing company Quilting Arts to Interweave. Stayed on for a while and then left. Now that you’re hosting retreats and events do you have any plans of going back to publishing in the future?
 PB: Currently, not in a significant way. With my business Crafting a Life LLC that I launched in Napa, I’m dabbling and have published one book so far, co-authored by Carol Soderlund and Melanie Testa called Playful Fabric Printing. This is a wonderful book that I felt very passionate about getting into the hands of makers wanting to create their own fabric line and learn surface design techniques.

I am choosy about what I may publish in the future. Publishing is not what it was a decade ago: brick and mortars are closing or being very particular about what books they feature in their stores; distributors are extremely picky about what they choose to distribute; Amazon is asking publishers to take steep discounts — not to mention that so much content is free on YouTube to learn a skill or specific technique.

CN: What’s your read of the current publishing landscape?
 PB: I will always favor books over digital offerings, but it is a tough environment.

If a book (or magazine) is going to make it, I think it needs to set itself apart from the pack, and maybe think about a more direct-to-consumer approach. Specifically for periodicals, I am loving some of the newer magazines on the market that are subscription-based and not looking to wholesale and advertising as big revenue streams. I am thinking in particular of UPPERCASE Magazine, Curated Quilts, and Quiltfolk. Their price-per-issue and subscription prices are a little higher, but they are worth it in my opinion.

Pokey Bolton Discusses Retreats for Makers, Crafters, & Artists

Pokey Bolton | Quilting Arts Magazine | Quilting Arts TV | Publishing Quilt Books | Quilt Retreats | Retreats for Quilt Teachers| |
Canaros (A part of Napa)

CN: Tell us some more what you’re currently passionate about.
 PB: I am focusing my energies right now on retreats. I launched our annual event — Craft Napa, a four-day retreat held in downtown Napa back in 2016, and also built an art barn on my property to host very small retreats at other times of the year. In addition to Craft Napa (which last year we offered 41 classes), we’ve had several retreats here, including the first Modern Masters retreat, a four-day retreat with Denyse Schmidt last summer. Last month we hosted Jennifer Sampou for a two-day retreat and it was such an immersive and hands-on experience. I am enjoying hosting these and creating memories.

CN: Why do you think it’s important for creatives to have retreats, meet-ups, and conferences? Face-to-face interactions?
 PB: As humans, we are inherently social. Quilters and makers need community — face-to-face community-that you cannot replicate in an online experience such as taking an online course or watching a video. More so than ever, given the pressures and divisiveness we face as a society, we need this shared, quality time together. That is why I wanted to launch CRAFT NAPA in the month of January — to set the tone and creative goals for the year for the quilting and crafting community.

CN: What did you like most about being in the publishing business?
 PB: I loved helping a deserving and talented artist make it to print and share themselves with a wider audience. Same goes for when I was a TV host, and for what I do now: host events and retreats, and creating a space for teachers to connect directly with their students.

Pokey Bolton: How Artists Can Harness Media to their Benefit

CN: You were the founding host for the PBS national TV program Quilting Arts TV. So, you’ve got experience in both print media and television. So, my question to you is this. With all the different forms of media currently available to artists — print, television, social media — how can artists harness them to their benefit? Now that you’ve gone back to running your own business again how do you leverage the different types of media?
 PB: With the ever-shifting environment of publishing, I strongly encourage artists — seeking to develop a following — to take advantage of social media. Both Instagram and FB offer platforms to develop audiences and develop them fairly quickly. (I am personally more of an Instagram fan than FB.) When I hear artists say they are bummed that a publisher (or events coordinator) asks about their social media exposure, such as how many followers and on what platforms and they balk, I have to wonder why. It’s very simple: it’s a business, and that editor, publisher, or events coordinator is investing in you. It does not hurt to put some energy in growing your audience. A publisher or events coordinator will see this as a plus towards their investment to promoting your work and perhaps make them more confident that it will be a financial success for both parties.

Pokey’s Thought’s on Retreats with Regards to Fiber Art Teachers

Pokey Bolton | Quilting Arts Magazine | Quilting Arts TV | Publishing Quilt Books | Quilt Retreats | Retreats for Quilt Teachers| |
Victoria Findlay Wolfe’s class at CRAFT NAPA

CN: From publishing to hosting retreats, that seems like two opposite things. It seems like in one case you’re behind the scenes getting things going and in the other, you’re out front running the show. Which skills did you bring from your previous jobs and which new ones did you have to acquire to get all of this started?
 PB: I actually find them to be the same skill set. Both are pretty much behind the scenes in terms of getting the content ready and present it in its best light to an audience. For example, for our annual event, CRAFT NAPA, we have to revamp the website for every edition, edit the material, make sure photography is stellar, get contracts out, not to mention write and schedule regular newsletters to market the event, all the while staying on deadline.

CN: Why would a fiber art teacher want to teach at a retreat compared to other teaching gigs? What’s in it for them?
 PB: I cannot speak for monetary compensation (every entity is different) but I think a retreat by definition is more intimate, offers more 1:1 attention and is context based. There is the teacher to draw the student, yes, but there is also the context — the environment where that retreat is taking place. That is why I chose Napa to launch my retreat and events business. I wanted it to be set in a beautiful, verdant, inspiring location so people could enjoy the classes but also enjoy the locale — Napa.

CN: As a relatively new retreat, how do you attract skilled teachers to present at your event?
 PB: We are readying for our fourth edition already, which I can’t believe! I think the fact that I have been in this industry for 18 years and have established relationships and have a wide variety of experience in publishing and media, have been pretty key.

CN: As a fiber art teacher is there ever a good reason to consider teaching at other retreats if you already have a retreat or two where you’ve been teaching for years and have grown your own following? In other words, is there an advantage to teaching at one venue over the other? And what are they?
 PB: I think it just depends on goals: if you can profit from it monetarily (which you should); the venue can help grow your audience; and/or you know it is going to be a great, memory-making experience, it’s worth trying new venues. I have actually taught internationally too, so I understand this from my own teaching perspective. If I hadn’t been asked to teach in some parts of Australia (for example) I would never have visited there.

3 Ways to Determine if an Event (Retreat) is Right for a Fiber Art Teacher

Victoria-Findlay-Wolfe-CRAF

CN: What are 3 ways to determine if an event (retreat) is the right thing for your audience?
 PB: I think you are asking from the perspective of a teacher vs. an event producer so I will answer as best I can from a teacher’s perspective, and I have my top three:

  1. Will it get my goods in front of a new or an expanded audience?
  2. Will the event let me have a pop-up shop or offer free space at a market so I can sell my patterns, kits, and things to an expanded audience?
  3. Does the venue/retreat have a solid, multi-faceted marketing strategy to help sell my classes at their event?

Learn More about Craft Napa Retreats

CN: Awesome! So before we go, can you tell us when is the next Craft Napa? What can participants expect and where can they register?
 PB: Craft Napa 2019 takes place January 9–13, 2019, and registration opens June 1, 2018. We have 38 workshops taught by 16 teachers in quilting, collage, screen printing, surface design, and mixed media. It’s a fun retreat to kick off the new year, and a great way, too, to see Napa Valley. More information on all of the workshop offerings and particulars can be found at craftnapa.com.

Thank you, Clara, for having me as a guest!

Confidence Boost for Creatives

Watch Pokey Bolton speak on how to get more work done by tuning out

Interview Highlights

  • Publishing is not what it was a decade ago: brick and mortars are closing or being very particular about what books they feature in their stores
  • I strongly encourage artists — seeking to develop a following — to take advantage of social media.
  • If you can profit from it monetarily (which you should); the venue can help grow your audience
  • More so than ever, given the pressures and divisiveness we face as a society, we need this shared, quality time together.

I hope you enjoyed this interview with Pokey Bolton. In the comments below, tell me what jumped out at you or spoke to you in this interview. I can’t wait to hear from you.

Originally published at CLARA NARTEY |Textile Artist.