Artist In Residence

The Renaissance Of Natalie Shields

The illustrator, graphic designer, and creative director breaks down her practice and the inspiration behind her Byline cover.

By Gutes Guterman and Julia Rose Eng

Photo by Jon Rinker


Artist In Residence is a our digitally artist residency program. Each issue, we profile an artist who creates original artwork for Byline's homepage. Just as we seek to give writers a byline, we seek to give artists space.

In the creative world, no project or career takes form in a linear way. After all, nothing interesting happens on the straight and narrow. Where would we get our inspiration from if not from the fascinations we pick up along the way, the people we meet, and the tough decisions we face? We are the result of all that we have experienced, and it’s time to embrace it.

Natalie Shields, a Brooklyn-based designer and art director, is no stranger to the ebbs and flows of a creative career. Natalie’s design studio, Scheffe Shields, of which she's one-half, takes a unique approach to design. Steeped in design tradition and the archive, Natalie’s work combines classic with contemporary to create something entirely new. For this issue, we asked Natalie to design a striking cover for our Julian Casablancas & The Voidz edition of Music to Our Ears. It recently sold out, so we’re celebrating by stepping back in time with Natalie to reflect on the past with pride.

Gutes Guterman: How're you doing?

Natalie Sheilds: I'm solid. It’s been a busy like — I wanted to say, oh, it's been a busy first couple of weeks of the year. And then I'm like, oh my gosh, we're into the year solidly. But, you know, I'm counting blessings for being busy. Because you know, better than the opposite thing.

Gutes: What are you working on right now?

Natalie: I'm working on a book project with the publisher Phaidon. I don't know exactly how much I can say there, but it’s a big book project that's been going on for about a year and we're wrapping it up soon. And it involves a large sportswear brand that everyone knows. It's about the development of women's apparel through sports innovation, basically. That's kind of been a big undertaking, and I work full-time with a studio partner, Chloe Scheffe. She's my other half.

Gutes: How did you get started?

Natalie: I'm a full-time art director and graphic designer now in Brooklyn, and I've been here for almost a decade, which is crazy. I basically came right to New York after graduating from RISD in 2015.

I’ve just been kind of doing the classic like art school migraine. I'm from the Seattle area and was always kind of into art, but there wasn’t a name for design and art direction. I knew pretty much from ten years old and on, “I'm gonna go to art school.” But I'm also an exceedingly practical and, like, logistically minded person, so I was never like, “I'm gonna go and like, do sculpture.” I'm about my business too. So…

Gutes: I feel you. I'm a logistically oriented person who went to school for sculpture, and it's just like, “Why did I do that? Why did I do that?”

Natalie: Honestly, iconic. But yeah…I want to sort of always be as close to art as I can while also being a pretty like realistic person. I was never gonna be a struggling artist…I'm never going to like sacrifice my self-care and my lifestyle for, like, concept. I have so much admiration for people that can do that but…

Gutes: We're just not that breed!

Natalie: I like my nice stuff, sorry! But yeah, I went to school for graphic design and pretty much like stayed the course. I feel very lucky to enjoy my job, but obviously everything is a bit of a capitalist trap…design is sort of innately tied to commerce. I don't have any illusions that what I do is altruistic in any way. I'm lucky to have a lot of projects come my way that do allow me and Chloe to do our thing, to bring a lot of ideas to the table and bring our personalities to it, which has been great. I kind of have been doing that since I graduated. I did a couple of years at a handful of studios in New York.

“I knew pretty much from ten years old and on, 'I'm gonna go to art school.' But I'm also an exceedingly practical and, like, logistically minded person, so I was never like, 'I'm gonna go and like, do sculpture.'”

Gutes: What studios were you at?

Natalie: Mainly, I was at Doubleday and Cartwright, which is in Williamsburg. And they focus mostly on music and sports projects, which was my biggest like learning curve. That's essentially the first real job I had out of out of college, and you know, you're not actually good at anything when you leave school. And that was the place where I feel like I really got like my training wheels taken off.

Gutes: Why did you gravitate towards sports?

Natalie: I was a competitive powerlifter for 10 years, and I do not compete anymore because by old body is broken. But I still powerlift like recreationally.

Gutes: Woah! What is powerlifting?

Natalie: It's a solo competitive sport. In powerlifting, there are three lifts, which are the squat, deadlift, and benchpress. At a meet, and you're really trying to just do better than you personally did the last time. I got into that in college and just kept doing it. I wanted to do like sports design, which is even funnier, considering the reason I went to art school is that I wanted to work at Martha Stewart as a food stylist.

In high school, I worked in bakeries and wanted to do food styling and photography. I was like, “I'm gonna go to RISD because I want to work for Martha Stewart.” Then I immediately got there and was like, “I don't want to work for Martha Stewart. I'm a huge jock, I just want to work for the NBA.” I think it was like my way of rebelling against art school, which I found very oppressive…not my people at all. Now, I don't really work in sports, almost at all.

Gutes: Do you miss it? How does how you work now differ from how you used to work? Because I guess the obvious answer is that you're your own boss now, but I'm still curious.

Natalie: On a personality level, I get very intense hyper-fixations, and they last for a long time. Food styling, then sports…that kind of translates into what I'm interested in a professional sense. I'm my own boss, but I also have [a studio partner] I have to communicate with, and I have to stay balanced with her. I learn a lot from her, and I hope she learns from me, too. We both have a lot of book design and editorial experience, but I think the cultural sectors that we’re taking work within is broader. When I was working at a studio that was focused on sports, everything was sports, with or without my input. Chloe doesn't come from any sports background whatsoever, so the stuff that comes in through her is in areas that I've never done anything in before. And that's very exciting.

Gutes: How did you and Chloe form the studio?

Natalie: We met in our last year of college in a bookbinding class, which is funny because now we make a lot of books. She's actually also from the Pacific Northwest, but we both moved to New York after school and continued to be friends and occasionally worked together. We both worked at the luggage company Away for about two years, and that was when we realized we had like a very once in a lifetime work chemistry, which I'm sure you have with Byline. It's really rare to find someone else who you have like such good professional chemistry with.

Gutes: I always say that, like I think my most serious relationship is with Megan.

Natalie: It requires so much communication, so much trust, empathy, respect…all these things make up any healthy relationship. We had kind of planned on leaving Away and doing our own thing. Then the pandemic hit, and I was like, “I don't feel that I can quit my full time job.” During the pandemic ended up taking a job as like a senior art director in-house at Reebok for about a year, so I was like back in sports. Chloe, very patiently, was like no worries!

It requires a ton of upfront conversations about money and expectations, and I think a lot of people are not always emotionally prepared for that — they think it will work itself out. We have to be able to fight with each other and still be respectful. It's not that often, but when we do, it's pretty mature and straightforward. Now we've been doing the studio for about three years now.

Gutes: I'd love to talk about The Voidz cover a little bit. How did you like approach doing that? And do you have any sentiments on that?

Natalie: My personal style is like very influenced by a handful of things. I would say the biggest ones being, sequential art and comics, psychedelic Japanese poster art, and Art Nouveau illustration. I work in a very collage-based manner. With any illustration project, I'm trying to tell an abstract but quick story, which is the sequential art and comics influence. But for the cover, I had to draw six people in like a small space, so I pulled a Renaissance painting that’s this group of six people that are gathered around a monarch-ish figure, and they're gossiping. I wanted to have this classical reference while making all the colors hyper-contemporary. It’s a Sword in the Stone reference, where Julian is King Arthur like pulling it out of the amp instead of the stone.

Gutes: You really didn't have any context for what was going to be said [in his interview]. It worked out so well, because he does sort of talk about being a martyr for our times. That's what he's trying to do with his music and with how he approaches The Voidz versus The Strokes, so it actually was such a fitting narrative.

Natalie: I didn't want to just like draw a bunch of musicians with instruments, and I wanted to allude to their story and their dynamic a little bit while also kind of doing me to some degree. And I feel like we landed at a nice spot with it.

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