Equestrian Art: Cayla White of Studio 31

June 25, 2022

Hi, I'm Paige, half of the duo behind Fairway Stables™

This website is the one I've been searching for, for years; a compilation of knowledge on all things horsemanship, including practical advice on how to start an equestrian business.

No matter your experience level with horses or homesteading, I hope this is a place you can get lost in, and learn something along the way - we welcome everyone from vets, to lifelong ranchers, trainer, to nonprofits contributing.


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Today we are taking a break from our trusty equine and homesteading guides to enjoy the finer things in life. Fine equestrian art, that is. We sat down with Cayla, the artist of Studio 31 to learn about the story behind her equestrian art studio. Here’s what she had to say.

Table of Contents

I’d love to hear about your background and what led you to begin painting equestrian art! Did you grow up around horses? 

First off I want to say I was thrilled when asked about an interview for this blog, then I immediately fet intimidated! I don’t have a long boring list of achievements or academic or business degrees. I’m simply someone who has a God given talent and a deep and true passion for everything horses. That’s all I’ve ever been for as long as I can remember! I now run my own thriving creative business doing what I love. What most consider a hobby is most certainly now my career.

Equestrian Lifestyle Painting Studio 31 fairwaystables.com

 When people ask about my history with horses I kinda laugh, shrug and jokingly credit my mother for my very frilly 90’s nursery that had carousel horses on a strip of horizontal wallpaper that surrounded the room.  (Does anyone still do that? Trends tend to circle around you know, time will tell!) I grew up in the hot and dusty city of Phoenix, Arizona. I was a tomboy with three brothers and a grandpa who owned a quarter horse, a Spanish walker and an Arabian. A true John Wayne who loves the mountains and nature. We would go elk hunting in November. It was one of the best family traditions.

“We would pack out in the quiet cold mountains with the horses, and it was life to my soul.” 

Escaping from the hot and crowded city hours away to the crisp mountains on horseback… pure heaven. My aunt 

also was a true horse lover who had several friends with horses that definitely fueled the fire for my love of them. The very long in short story of that was I helped tame a high strung thoroughbred filly who eventually became a registered racehorse with my name (Cayla’s Flash.) I also bought my first horse with my own saved money when I was in high school, a painted Missouri fox trotter named Prizzy from another set of mountain trail riding friends. 

And finally, I couldn’t be in a published article without accrediting my Grandma Judy, who was such a rock during the younger part of my life. She was the one who would pick me up from school, take me over to our friend’s house who boarded thoroughbreds down the street from her, and just let me “be” with the horses. That woman would just sit for hours and not once complain. As a parent to two young daughters myself, she had a patience and wisdom I have yet to achieve!  

I was too young to be alone so she would sit in the shade while I did what I wanted. Homework on the hay, feed the horses carrots or run along the fence to play chase, all while trying not to burn myself on the metal fencing in the 100+ degree desert heat. And please.. I don’t want to hear “it’s a dry heat” from none of y’all.. 118 is 118..  and it’s horrible dry, humid or otherwise!

“That strength and endurance wrapped in a quiet velvet beauty was enough to inspire the kind of person I wanted to be.”

Horses have a presence that is so calm, strong and beautiful.  It was such a sense of grounding that I didn’t quite understand as a young child. But, looking back as an adult, seeing some of the things I went through, it’s easy to understand why I gravitated towards them. Horses were more than a phase I think most little girls go through at some point in their lives. Now as a wife and mother it’s even more grounding and is the driving force behind my paintings. “Strength and dignity are her clothing.” Proverbs 31:25

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Were you trained in painting? 

I’ve never actually had any proper lessons or training in art. It’s just always been something natural. Even in kindergarten I remember being mad at my sweet teacher because we had to use those large toddler sized crayons. (You know, the ones you have to hold in a full fist because they’re too wide between little fingers to hold properly.) I begged for smaller sized crayons because I couldn’t properly color within the lines, and it drove me insane! 

My pops is really the only other artistic person in our family. We started with the original Bob Ross paint set in the garage and even now the smell of my oils brings up those memories. He said around the age of 7 or 8 I had surpassed the techniques he knew to teach. So from there we went to every art event and spoke to every creative person he knew trying to get me advice (or noticed) I guess.

“Creative projects and art have always been our special connection, and even to this day [my dad] is my biggest fan.”

Equestrian Lifestyle Painting Studio 31 fairwaystables.com

But art is a hobby, not a career (so they say), and when my love of horses grew stronger than my love of art, that is how I spent my time rather than pursuing the “artist path”. But that was fine with me because artists to me were weird! They all seemed too moody and educated and just painted flowers or shapes with deep confusing purposes in stuffy galleries that had little effect on me. Thinking about it now I just didn’t connect with the “right” art. 

There were a lot of ups and downs growing up and my grounding was in horses, so art took a backseat for a long time. I also married my high school sweetheart not long after graduating high school. We bought a house, had two children, made it through a recession and then moved across the country to plant some new roots as a family. Because of that time in life, both art and horses were out of the picture for a while. Life certainly ebbs and flows in seasons, don’t ask a sunflower to grow during a frost. It will flourish and tower high in its proper time.

Tell us about how you started your equestrian art business! Why did you to want to begin this business, and what actual steps did you take to start it?

Well I’ve always had random art projects here and there but never consistently and never anything that I felt inspired to create. I can say I officially started towards the end of 2020, just trying to earn a little extra grocery money! Things were getting pretty tight as a result of Covid. I suddenly realized that I had to make this a success or we might lose everything we’ve worked so hard for. 

Equestrian Lifestyle Painting Studio 31 fairwaystables.com

So, for my personal story, my first step was mental. I remember saying to myself, “I’m a wife, a mom, a strong, capable woman. We are on the brink of everything falling apart. If this is not successful, we lose. The time is now. Where did I put those paints..?” So, the first step was deciding I can (and had to!) From there nothing was holding me back. 

I was scouting out the resources to make it happen (along with a lot of prayer and coffee). That’s when I came across Emily Jeffords, she’s a total game changer! If you are even considering a creative career path I highly recommend looking into her “Making Art Work” course. It’s absolutely amazing and you can certainly have a sustainable creative business. She has a 12 week course, hosts retreats and masterminds, has a vibrant and supportive creative entrepreneur community and tons of free podcasts! 

When you’re starting a business on a complete bootstrap budget you are no longer just an “artist.” You have to be a photographer, an editor, a website designer, content producer, newsletter author, the bookkeeper, the product packing and delivering department, your own HR (to yourself) and still have to make dinner and fold laundry. (And at the time I was also homeschooling my young girls.) At this point I realized the only thing that I actually knew how to do was paint and horses. That was the easy part. But, let me tell you, the equestrian community is very tight knit and supportive. It took me 30 years, but I’ve found my people!! 

It may sound silly to some, but because horses are my grounding and inspiration so often, I find myself relating to them in different phases. In 2020-21 I definitely was envisioning myself as a draft horse: strong and capable, but enduring a heavy load for an important job to get done. I didn’t look very pretty covered in sweat and mud but with my head down and blinders on, my golly, “that field got plowed”!  

I started out with a “painting a day” challenge last March alongside the Making Art Work course, implementing each week’s lessons as I created. It was photography one week, marketing the next, then dabbling in my website design another. It was a personal time to get back in the swing of art altogether. 

Equestrian Lifestyle Painting Studio 31 fairwaystables.com

Remember I was just trying to earn grocery money and hadn’t hardly touched my paints in years! This was easy daily content to build my following and get the hang of social media. Prior to this, I hadn’t posted on my personal Instagram in almost a year, and honestly, I couldn’t stand Facebook. But during a pandemic there were no art shows, no open galleries and most businesses around our small town either didn’t have in person seating or were closed altogether. I had little display options outside my studio. Social media was the only answer, and I reluctantly had to embrace it. 

So then using my outdated iphone I got busy (and also really good at using lightroom to make up for the lack of camera quality.) The painting a day was also really the turning point of deciding on only making equestrian art. It was scary thinking I was going to lose needed income from turning down seaside paintings and a lot of dog portraits. However, once people knew what I was about I had finally connected with my target audience within my own creative passion. I was really able to hone in on skills I’ve never taken the time to truly subject study in depth.

“When you know what you’re passionate about, whatever it is, own it, grow in it and the creative energy will always be there.”

People can really sense that and admire it. And when they admire it, it sparks something within them. They want it. They buy it. It brings joy to them and income for you! I wasn’t too worried about my audience growing either. Yes of course I wanted people to notice my work, but that was not my sole focus. I wanted the “right” people in my audience. 

To this day I still have a smaller following, but I have great connections with most of them individually. They’re highly engaged and also buy or commission my work. Therefore, I can put more energy into what I care about (my art) rather than the flashy, high maintenance influencer side of social media. Trust me I tried it, and it was exhausting. 

Maybe some of you could balance that. If so, go for it! It’s amazing in its own light. BUT if not, know and acknowledge that, it’s totally okay. The thousands of lookers and scrollers don’t matter. You only need one buyer anyway!

Equestrian Lifestyle Painting Studio 31 fairwaystables.com

What inspires your work? 

First of all the world in general is full of noise–most of which is unnecessary, and yet we carry that with a heavy burden. It’s busy, demanding, loud and fast-paced. I feel that it is particularly aimed at women to be more and do more than we’ll ever be able to accomplish at once. I’m personally a wife, mother, home caretaker, creative, small business owner and a woman living in this modern day, so I understand this all too well! So, in a sense I hope that what I create is just the opposite. I think that both minimal and serene can live alongside strength and dignity within a single painting.

“I believe that boldness can also be found in the quiet.” 

Just because the horse in one particular image is standing calmly, we all know that it can become a force to reckon with in an instant. Don’t confuse meekness with weakness! I believe there is beauty and respect within that that I personally aim to reflect in my own life. Through my work, I hope women will resonate with that even if they can’t quite vocalize the connection exactly. It’s something internal. 

Equestrian Lifestyle Painting Studio 31 fairwaystables.com

There are many, many similarities and lessons mirroring women (and society in general) with horses that I think we can all take life lessons from. But, I get very passionate and long winded so perhaps for another time and interview! Or message me through my website and I’ll be happy to elaborate or offer some encouragement! 

But as far as my paintings directly are addressed, I feel that light and texture capture the core essence of my equine subjects best. The direction the hair grows or is braided along the mane, the little whips that create the perfect velvet muzzle or the way lighting can bring out the secret purple and green undertones on a bay. No two are the same, just as with every person, yet we are all beautiful in the eyes of our creator. This is why I don’t particularly enjoy painting a lot of scenery and most of my work has minimal background at all. This leaves the eye to solely focus on the subject. And with proper perspective and composition, you can focus even more on the most personal and distinctive attributes of each painting.  

I’ve had no proper training in art. This, I believe, gives me my own unique perspective as to how I interpret each painting. Some who trained more classically may call it “wrong,” but it’s how I do things. You constantly learn and acquire skills over time.  I’m learning to be both content and open with each piece I create, knowing it’s the best that single individual work will be and moving on, improving slightly more with the next.

“E.M. Forester said it best ‘A work of art is never finished. It is merely abandoned.’” 

When I’m painting I’m not “copying” the image. I’m “capturing” the horse. Photos are easy to come by, they’re flat, digital or physical images about a flash in time. When you think about it, it is truly lovely for what it is, a photograph. Which, at one point in time, was truly an innovative luxury. A painting, however, has a soul, a texture, it has layers, depth, intentionality and precision. When you stand close to it you can smell the mediums that make up that work. Elements that were once earthly derived flax, pigments, and linseed now become linen canvas and paint. It’s beauty created from beauty. 

Equestrian Lifestyle Painting Studio 31 fairwaystables.com

There was thought and planning in each stroke and color that was mixed and placed at the right time. This does not happen by accident. The same happens in life and with our relationships, not just with our horses (although that does stand true.) But, if we can take the time to live intentionally, there is beauty, meaning and purpose. (Again, a whole other passion rant I could go off on.. message me or sign up for my new up and coming studio newsletter if you want more.) 

Nonetheless, a painting is time, a painting is investment and a painting is intentionality. Putting those towards something you love so dearly, you can truly cherish it in a new way. This is what I bring to my equine paintings, particularly commissions. The fact that others entrust me with something so precious as their horse and the relationship it carries, something they’ve devoted their own time, intentionality and passion to, it’s a humbling honor and one I do not take lightly!

What do you hope to achieve with your equestrian art?

Oh many things! Whether one person will experience them all from a single work will probably be far and few, however, an original creation of any kind can effect everyone in some way. Art has been around for centuries, but those who take the time to appreciate it will find a new kind of luxury that’s really not so new at all.

Equestrian Lifestyle Painting Studio 31 fairwaystables.com

The fellow creative can appreciate the time and skill put into actually creating. An interior designer might be drawn to the colors or shapes it brings into a room. An equestrian at heart truly loves all things equine. Perhaps the particular equine in the image will remind someone of their personal heart horse and have a little heart flutter with that memory. It brings pride to the owner or commissioner of the artwork to solely hold that numbered certificate of authenticity and hang the work in their space. It brings beauty and quality within their home alongside the personal indulgence of possible “bragging rights” as guests admire or inquire about it during parties or holidays. 

Call it chi, good vibes, or luxury, when an original piece of art is in your space, it’s a positive experience. Grand scale artwork of a high prized champion hanging above the mantle or a mini of a memorial heart horse framed on your desk space can have a beautiful impact. Our homes should be a safe haven in this crazy, busy and often negative world. If I can add to the beauty and security of such an important space, I’ve done my job!

What advice do you have for any aspiring artists? 

There is truly a remarkable demand for originality in so many creative areas that I didn’t even know about or see the options for artists until I actually became one! The starving artist cliche is definitely false. Just look around you; every store, home or business has something that a creative made or designed! I’m happy to personally talk to people about the steps I’m currently taking. For a much more detailed scope, seriously, listen to the “Do it for the process” podcast by Emily Jeffords! (I swear this isn’t a sponsored plug!)  If she doesn’t give you the encouragement AND tools to kickstart your creative entrepreneurial journey, then you just might not be cut out for it! 

And of course I got all my legal advice and help straight from Paige Hulse herself! The Creative Law Shop has honestly been fantastic to work with. When my career was really growing and headed into a bigger step, I called Paige and literally told her, “I don’t know what I don’t know, please help!” I feel comfortable moving forward to bigger and better things now that I’m confidently building on a secure base for the future of Studio 31.

Equestrian Lifestyle Painting Studio 31 fairwaystables.com

Do you take on commissions other than horses? 

Yes and no. Other than my oil paintings completed inside my studio that take months to complete, I’ve begun painting live events as well! I’ve done several weddings which are always a delight for myself, the wedding guests and of course the bride and groom. I’m also offering, get this, live barn paintings! This means I’d travel to your location and paint on the spot your barn, property or horses! It’s such a fun and much more loose aesthetic type of work. As an artist it is refreshing to be outside and physically be with my painting subjects.  

For the client it’s truly wonderful and almost a lost luxury to have an artist on site, pallet in hand. To watch the artwork come to life in person is a unique and fun experience. In the end you’re left with a beautiful heirloom piece of work to remember it by! Now if you’re asking if I will take commissions to paint your other pets or your favorite vacation photo? I can easily refer you to several other artists who would do an amazing job! But, my passion and talent niche is definitely equine from here on out…

Equestrian Lifestyle Painting Studio 31 fairwaystables.com

What types of equestrian art commissions are you booking? What equestrian art products do you offer?

I am only accepting equine commissions as well as the live painting bookings. There are several products in the works I’m hoping to offer soon, including wallpaper! I’m also looking into equestrian textile design alongside a few fellow interior designers, so be on the lookout for that! 

I’m creating equestrian paint workshops, retreats and even a local sip and paint! All equestrian themed and all elevated and reimagined from ones typically offered. I want to create the most beautiful experience possible! The best way to stay in the loop is to sign up for my studio newsletter found on my site. It’s always short and sweet and the subscribers get insight to what’s up and coming, first access to commission availability, new collection and product releases, and exclusive discounts which are indeed a rare treat! This is all extremely helpful come the second half of the year as I prepare early for the holiday season!

Equestrian Lifestyle Painting Studio 31 fairwaystables.com

Finally, how can people find you and book you for future equestrian art projects? 

My website has all the information! The goal for my site is to be a personal extension of my studio. Updated often and just an overall enjoyable place to be. Now I’m no web designer so upon the publishing of this blog I’ll see how far I’ve actually gotten! But, details on booking, a look into the process, a completed works gallery alongside ones currently in progress will be found there. You are also welcome to message me anytime with any questions about booking my services. 

If you’re a creative as well looking for tips or insight or just want to share a personal story I’m here for it! The entire equestrian community is so wonderful. I truly enjoy hearing about people and their horses. I’m considering making it a requirement when booking a commission; I need your story! I spend so much time, hours upon hours over months at a time, living around these images as I create and go about my day in my home studio. It creates such a connection.

I love all the information and stories I can get about a particular horse I’m capturing! It becomes extremely personal and I’ve been known to cry when shipping off artwork. The post office lady actually gave me a hug once! So yes, please, visit my site to stay in-the-know so you don’t miss something amazing. Message me and say hi! I look forward to possibly seeing you, and hopefully your horse as well one day!

Equestrian Lifestyle Painting Studio 31 fairwaystables.com

Conclusion

We were so lucky to sit down with Cayla to learn more about her equestrian art. You can really feel her passion for all things equestrian through her art and our conversation today. Be sure to check out her website and social media accounts to see more of her amazing equestrian art!

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