Name: Ashley Gilbert
Age: 29 years old
Living in: Eatontown, NJ
Company: White Stallion Studio
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts, Rutgers University
Favorite Social Media Platform: Instagram
Tell us about your life before White Stallion Studio. What were you doing after graduation? What inspired you to start White Stallion Studio?
I knew the name of my business before I ever wanted it to be a business. It was something I doodled in high school after convincing my parents to lease me a big white horse from my riding instructor. Of course I thought it was so cool that he was a stallion, not a normal thing for most people to ride, as stallions can be quite aggressive and hard to handle. Pete was anything but, and did so much to shape that next ten years of my life, eventually becoming my first horse. If I ever had my own art studio it was going to be called “White Stallion Studio” I said. I majored in art in college, but after trying two other majors, as an art job seemed more of an “on the side job.” When I graduated college I ran a horse program at a Christian camp. I did a little art, but not much. As an artist you just love to create, it’s weird to think of art as a job. In fact you, Sam, are what started me on the path to offering my work for sale to more than just people I know, by setting me up with Audra at Deconstructed Living. But time was always a limiting factor. After three years of that I moved up a little in the equestrian world and began managing a horse farm on a private estate. This was a little less work for a little more money and I started to see that I might have the time to do more art. I began to make things for people like I had done when I was younger. I had always done oil painting or colored pencil drawings and I was suddenly struck with the idea that I wanted to try wood burning. I really don’t know what inspired me to try it. I have always been drawn to very tedious mediums and pyrography, the proper name for woodburning, is extremely tedious and difficult. I liked the challenge a lot, but even at this point I had to be encouraged by friends to start an etsy store. I also began to document it on my instagram. I was so amazed at the feedback I was getting that I decided to commit. I was going to make White Stallion Studio my very own business.
What was it like when you first started White Stallion Studio, and what did you learn in the first three months after launching your business?
It was sort of awkward when I started. I sort of just did it with no preparation. It was hard for me to get out of my comfort zone so I sort of forced myself by launching my Etsy page. I was used to making things for people I knew and I was always used to barely charging anything because hey, I loved making stuff anyway. It was really hard for me to put a price on my work. Especially when nothing sold at first. I also felt like I didn’t have enough
examples of my artwork. I knew I could make anything really, but how do you show your consumers that? So in the first few months I actually retreated back to my comfort zone and asked friends if I could make them things and get their feedback. From there I did some research and tried to determine what products did I actually want to make and sell. So I sort of did everything backwards, but for me, a perfectionist, who might have other wise taken 10 years to set up a business, that was a really good thing. I still think I’m figuring it out and getting more and more outside of my comfort zone all the time.
What is one of the hardest lessons you have learned since the inception of your business? What is one of the best moments?
The hardest thing for me is that there are so many good artists out there. I know I’m a good artist, but it’s hard not to compare. I had to take a step back a figure out why I was even doing it. For me, I realized I was enjoying connecting with people and making things that people loved. I also realized, especially around Christmas time that I am a limited person and cannot do as much as I think. Each piece of art takes time and even if I didn’t eat or sleep I could not please everyone because I’m not a factory, I’m a one woman show. That was hard for me because I really wanted to please my customers and not lose business. I started to realize though that boundaries are appropriate and if I can’t do something by a particular time, I can’t promise to do it, even if it meant disappointing someone and losing business.
The best moment was I was featured on a YouTube channel! I took the time to make something for a girl I didn’t even know, but followed on Instagram. She had been struggling with some unknown things and these things in her life were keeping her from taking riding lessons. I knew what it was like to be in her shoes and I felt compelled to make her a small little plaque with a picture of her riding and a quote about not giving up. I asked her if I could mail it to her and she accepted. Little did I know that she had a YouTube channel and filmed an unboxing of my plaque and linked my website in her video. I have no idea if her channel is popular or if anyone even saw it, but in that moment I felt famous! I felt like my art meant something to someone.
Do you have any advice for new entrepreneurs who are looking to launch their own businesses?
Do a little more research and planning
than I did and get connected to people that know what to do. As much as I can read things on my own finding people I know that can give me first hand tips on things I can do to help my business made such a difference. Also be ok with things not taking off right away. You can’t do everything right the first time around. Chart what you did though, so you can learn and improve. I bought a business planner, but there are many resources online for recording business statistics.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I don’t really have a typical day because I don’t have an office to go to, but it always starts with coffee and taking my dog outside. I often check my Instagram at that time and post or interact with people. I am a morning person, so I often start work on projects first thing. If I don’t have current orders, I’m designing or making new products. I also like to make gifts, so sometimes it’s personal work for a friend or family member. I’m working on finishing my studio in my new house and can’t wait for it to be done so I have somewhere to retreat to. I usually “listen” to movies or TV shows on my computer while I work. I enjoy that type of multitasking and I can gauge how well I’m working by how many shows I’ve watched in
order to finish something. Some days I need to spend time working on my website or record keeping- that’s my not so favorite part. In the afternoon I take my dog to the barn and go do something with my horse. I’m currently recovering from surgery on a torn tendon, but riding my horse and running would be my activities of choice before heading home to make dinner for my husband and do other household stuff. My husband works the night shift at the local hospital and if he’s headed to work I often may go back to work on an art project. If he’s home we might attempt to be real people and go out or, let’s be real, we just sit on the couch in our PJs with our very snuggly dog and watch TV.
What goals or plans do you have for White Stallion Studios?
I’m not entirely sure. I’m not the type of person that plans to make a million dollars, I just know I really enjoy it and want it to be lucrative enough that it makes sense for me to keep doing it. I would ideally like to make enough money so I could stay home and raise a family eventually as well as continue my horse stuff. My husband likes to joke about my “horse habit”, so pretty much if I could cover that I’d feel really successful. I am planning to add more products to my shop and eventually I’d like to get out of using etsy all together and have people be able to order directly from my website. I’d also like to physically have enough pieces to take to fairs and flea markets-we have some really good ones locally.
One thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I’m extremely introverted and I actually find it hard to meet strangers and be in large groups of people. I was always the quiet smart kid with a horse t-shirt on. I carried around my sketchbook so I didn’t have to talk to people. I wasn’t sad or depressed, I had plenty of friends, I’ve just always sort of been quietly independent. Yet all of my jobs have been something where I need to sell myself and my skills, whether riding or training horses, teaching, managing a barn , or art. I’ve had to learn to be comfortable with what is extremely uncomfortable to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really friendly, but I feel super
awkward most of the time. I’ve found that going out of my way to interact with or encourage others does give me great joy, but I don’t know if it will ever come naturally to me.
Best way to blow off steam after a hard day?
I love to work with my horse, whether riding or ground work. It’s that animal ability to get you without needing to say a thing that I love. Anything could be going on and they just accept you. I’ll take my dog for a walk or run too, but currently I’m recovering from an overuse injury (so yea sometimes I’m that crazy runner person too to blow off steam). And some days just sitting down with really good food (like pizza from my favorite place) and watching all the shows on my dvr will do it!
To see more from White Stallion Studios, check out their website or connect with them on Facebook or Instagram!