CARA VAN LEUVEN
Cara Van Leuven first picked up a paint brush after she lost her corporate job and little bungalow during the 2008 recession. What was first construed as a great loss became her greatest gift. Cara found an unrehabbed loft in downtown St. Louis that was affordable and full of artists. They encouraged her to try painting, so she depicted her first love and the only thing she ever really sketched — horses.
It was also during this time that Cara picked up a job as a carriage driver, giving guided tours of the city while being pulled around by a heavy horse. Cara grew up riding in Fort Wayne, Indiana, earning most of her accolades in the jumper ring. The void she felt when she sold her horse to go to college haunted her, but being around horses after a decade started to reshape her soul.
It was not long that Cara’s paintings began to sell and commissions began rolling in. Her early work was heavily inspired by New Mexican artwork (she called Albuquerque home for five years following college graduation). The colors were bright and earthy; the horses doned huge eyes, much like the Day of the Dead figurines so prevalent in the Southwest.
Today her work consists of layered oils, applied primarily through pallet knives. Each piece begins with a multicolored background and outlines brimming with color. After a week of drying, the piece is revisited with a top coat that remains generous enough to allow the background colors to surprise the eye. Outlines become more monochromatic, yet do not overshadow the vibrant coat underneath. Bodies are filled in, tails and manes are added. After a week, the piece is met with a combination of oil paint and mineral spirits that is sprayed or wiped on and wiped off repeatedly for an aged effect.
The reason for the long legs on horses is to reflect the animals’ fragility. As an avid equestrian herself, Cara very well understands how easily unexpected accidents can occur. The longer the legs, the larger her vet bills were during the time of the painting.
Before working full-time as an artist, Cara, who earned her BA in photojournalism from Western Kentucky University, began her career in design at The Albuquerque Journal. Fearful for the livelihood of newspapers in the early 2000s, she moved into more corporate design roles — from jewelry catalogs to boutique ad agency work.
When a transfer presented itself in 2006, Cara took advantage of the opportunity to be back in the Midwest and planted roots in St. Louis, Missouri. She continued her work at ad agencies with a focus on the client side. It was that combination of design and customer-focus that led Cara to create her own merchandise line.
Cara’s tote bags, panties, pillow cases and more evolved from her original artwork and paintings. The products are manufactured in small batches in Canada and are of the most superior quality.
Highland, Illinois. After six months of intense renovations, an old brick home in the middle of seemingly nowhere had two new people proud to call it home. The six acres surrounding the Civil War era building is alive with two horses, two border collies, two cats, five ducks and three geese.
Cara actively competes in horse trials and jumpers. After getting her young horse saddle and people friendly, young Hazel will soon be making appearances at small shows while Penny, her older and spicy mare, will continue eventing and jumping.
Her only complaint about country life? “Everytime I walk from the back door to the studio, those two horses scream at me for company and food. It’s a terrible distraction”