Four Atlanta-area artists who have crossed over into textiles

Painters Steve McKenzie, Brian Carter, and Susan Hable Smith have created textile collections, and Clay McLaurin segued into fabric from screen printing.

Although Georgia’s textile industry is no longer the economic powerhouse it used to be, the state remains a breeding ground for independent fabric designers, many of whom have attained national prominence. We are particularly intrigued with a few local artists who have crossed over into textiles. Atlanta-area painters Steve McKenzie, Brian Carter, and Susan Hable Smith have created textile collections, and Clay McLaurin segued into fabric from screen printing.

Steve McKenzie fabric
Photograph by Whitney Ott

Steve McKenzie
Along with his wife, Jill, McKenzie is an active member of the Atlanta design community. He opened his eponymous home furnishings shop in the Westside design district in 2012 after a long, successful corporate career. In addition to being a retailer, interior designer, and artist, McKenzie has ventured into textile and rug design, both of which are influenced by his paintings.

“I was inspired to design textiles in 2012, after it hit me that I had an archive of work whose brushstrokes could be printed into patterns that would resemble my paintings. When designing my fabrics, it is important to me that you can see my hand and brush work, which is why I would describe my fabrics as very painterly.

I have a fondness for the rich history of textile-making in the South. That, combined with a Southern appreciation for flowers, is manifested in my fabrics.”

Clay McLaurin
Photograph by Whitney Ott

Clay McLaurin
After earning both undergraduate and master’s degrees in fabric design (from the University of Georgia and the Rhode Island School of Design, respectively), the native Atlantan worked as a fabric designer for other labels before founding his own firm, Clay McLaurin Studio, in 2013. McLaurin produces both fabric and wallpaper.

“While I was in school at the University of Georgia, I took a screen printing class and fell in love with printing onto fabric using designs I created myself. I liked the idea that the fabric could be manipulated or stretched and pulled onto another surface, thus becoming sculptural. It serves a purpose or a physical function rather than hanging on a wall. I believe fabric design to be a true form of art.

Nature has a huge influence on my work as an artist and in the patterns I create. Growing up in the South, I was outside a lot. For as long as I can remember, I have collected pods, seedlings, leaves, and other organic objects, allowing their designs to inspire
my own.”

Brian Carter
Photograph by Whitney Ott

Brian Carter
A Savannah native, Atlanta-based artist Carter works in a number of mediums, including collage, watercolor, decorative surfaces (such as hand-painted walls and floors), and now fabrics. Collaborating with the venerable international company Jim Thompson Textiles, Carter recently debuted his inaugural Studio B collection of printed linen.

“I’ve always been fascinated with pattern, so working with fabric was a natural extension of what I do.

My fabrics are very graphic and composed of quite simple shapes. Some are loosely based on historical motifs, while others are things I’ve come up with. They all have a hand-worked quality, either by painting, stamping, or cutting shapes out of paper.

The colorations are an important part of the design. I like unusual color combinations and tend to put colors together that react with or against each other.

I would like to expand the number of patterns and colorways, and would definitely like to see some of the patterns translated into wallpaper.”

Susan Hable Smith
Photograph by Whitney Ott

Susan Hable Smith
A resident of Athens, Hable Smith and her sister founded their textile company, Hable Construction, in 1999. A versatile artist and author of A Colorful Home, she recently collaborated with Hickory Chair on a debut furniture collection.

“My sister and I both came from a fashion accessory background. When we started our company, it was clear that we would use my art to create whatever we could to sell. Fashion accessories quickly turned into home furnishings, and the rest is history.

Our fabric patterns are similar to the art that I paint in many ways. I love simplified shapes that are large. I also seem to always get pulled into my garden, which serves as inspiration for pattern and painting.

My long-range goal is to have a lovely collection of fabrics that bring joy to the people who use them. The whole point is to make beautiful things that people can use to make their space their own.”

Pro Resources
Steve McKenzie’s:; Martin Nash, ADAC, Hable Construction: Bungalow Classic,; Hickory Chair, Brian Carter Studio B collection: Jim Thompson Showroom, ADAC, Clay McLaurin: Ainsworth-Noah, ADAC, (Nationally, McLaurin’s fabrics are also represented at Studio Four NYC, Nicky Rising, Evans & Sheldon, and Y&Co in Toronto.)

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2016 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.