Cayla Zeek

Cayla Zeek

Cayla Zeek recently opened Mattea Studio, 313 Jefferson St. She left teaching to pursue art full time after designing the 2017 Festival International. She balances creating punny greeting cards, goods with Louisiana flora/fauna, freelance design work and oil paintings. 

I grew up in Lafayette. My dad left the then-University of Southwestern Louisiana to start his own computer software business called Ez-Bis, and he built out that business ever since. He’s someone I often go to for business advice when it comes to things like taxes, health insurance, employees, etc. My mom has done so many different things from teaching, to sales, to accounting. She met my dad when she started working for Ez-Bis and they got together shortly after that. My mom is a tenacious woman. She’s hot and fast to accomplish a goal. She inspires me to tackle the world and never give up. She’s taught me a method of improvisation as in we won’t read the instructions when opening the box but instead just passionately dive right in to putting something together. My dad, on the other hand, is the one I will look to for breaking things down technically and paying attention to the rules in place. Both, I feel, are valuable tactics in life.

I’ve had so many mentors throughout the phases of my life. I’ve always bonded deeply with my art and English teachers when I was a child. I’d say my art teachers in high school, Angela Reihl and Kim Thibodeaux, were huge for me recognizing, "Hey, this art thing is something I can do as a career path." They taught me discipline, technique and gave me confidence in my work. More than teachers, they were my counselors and were not afraid to sit next to me and ask, “What’s wrong?” if I was having a really hard time emotionally. My painting professor, Allan Jones, is another who I consider a huge mentor. He pushed me to try new things and to remain disciplined with creating. He taught me that having natural talent is one thing but it’s important to show up and put in the work at the end of the day. Show up to class, show up when putting together a portfolio and show up to present your work. And then there was Jason and Jillian Johnson, who cultivated my artistic talents into the world of business with Red Arrow Workshop. They taught me so much about the inner workings of small business and design. My business was built with their support and knowledge.

I love scientific manuals with illustrations of birds and flora such as Peterson bird guides or books filled with nature photographs. I love visiting galleries and museums viewing paintings such as Dutch still lifes, Japanese watercolors, iconography, Johnathan Singer Sargent, Carvaggio, Lucien Frued, Walter Anderson, Georgia O'Keefe, etc. I’ll plan a lot initially and like to make sketches of the work I want to pursue making. I allow for things to change during the process as new discoveries are made during the work. It truly is a contradictory process blending between heavy planning and spontaneous decision-making in the moment.

The career transition was both a leap of faith and also a path I could not ignore. It got to the point where I could not juggle having a steady job and pursuing art. I was trying to fit in creating during the day and getting in trouble for drawing or illustrating while I was teaching. It was in those moments where I realized I wanted to be creating with the children in the class more so than having to be in charge. My work was taking off, and I was ready to make the transition after the second year of teaching. There are many times I miss the security of having a job, but I also know I don’t really want to work for anyone else.

Mattea is my middle name. When I was younger, I hated my middle name as it was hard for teachers to spell and kids thought it was super weird. My mother wanted me to be guarded by St. Matthew and chose Mattea as the feminine version of Matteo or Matthew. I told this to people who asked me for years, and then I met an Italian woman recently who said there is no feminine version of Matthew and that it doesn't translate. Well, that just made me appreciate the name even more deeply. It is a spark of creativity, innovation and my ties to spirituality — all perfect to represent my ideas of art and business.

I’ve been making puns all my life. Wordplay is a fun part of the brain and tickles me. I imagine it comes from reading so much as a kid, and my dad was always making puns growing up — much to my mother’s eye rolls. I used to have pun-offs with my friends in college, where we’d sit at a bar, pick a topic and make punny remarks back and forth. I feel a little out of practice today, but I just need to continue pun sparring and get my improvisational confidence back in play. I plot out all my punny cards in my journal — I have lists and lists of puns. Often times take suggestions from others with an image they want to see on a card and I’ll make a pun for it.

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Email Adam Daigle at adaigle@theadvocate.com.