Shawn & Natalie
Photography by Meredith Jenks
Both graphic designers by trade, Shawn Carney (previously the Senior Art Director at T: The New York Times Style Magazine) works with Li, Inc. and, Natalie Herrera is a freelance Art Director. Outside of the design world Shawn plays music and Natalie is a known ceramicist, High Gloss.
TWP: How did you two meet?
SHAWN: There was a house party. There was only one person dancing in the middle of the living room and that was Natalie. And I’d seen her in the cafeteria earlier that week.
TWP: Oh, so you were in school together?
SHAWN: Yeah, we did a summer transfer program to kind of get up to speed. And it was a six-week-intensive type over the summer.
NATALIE: We were in different sections, but we kept running into each other. Our friend Greg who we credit for our anniversary date is also the reason why I feel like we are together.
SHAWN: Friends of ours got together privately and bet when we would get together. We were just circling around each other for a while. When we assembled back at school in September I saw her again. And we basically used our friend Greg as a quasi-date.
NATALIE: It took a while for us to date each other. We were both in graphic design at RISD, it's such a small school...So Shawn was in my color theory class, my studio, everything. Very present.
It took a while for us to date each other.
TWP: What is it like both being designers, in the same industry?
SHAWN: We actually don't talk about it that much. I think if we need help from each other it’s different. You know that separation of church and state you get home, sometimes you don’t want to talk about design or anything close to it. A lot of times when we get home, we don't acknowledge that at all.
NATALIE: We kind of do different things within design, so it's cool to bounce ideas off each other. At the beginning, we both felt like we had similar taste, but different interests. When we were graduating and looking for work, and thinking, “how do we grow up, how do we move forward with this”... I ended up coming to New York immediately because Shawn was like, “I'm totally going to live in New York, that's the only place I want to live” and then he immediately took a job in Philadelphia. I think naturally we both found different work. We never felt like we were in competition or anything because we just ended up splitting cities, building slightly different networks.
SHAWN: I think we've always been good at that. We have very similar points of view, we just do different things. We were born six days apart. Same age. We are very connected.
TWP: How did you guys go from milling around each other to dating?
NATALIE: You know love at first sight...I saw him at the cafeteria and then later, later, later he told me he had the same experience. This was before the dance party. I was just waiting for an opportunity where I was in a good headspace because we were both coming out of other relationships. I was waiting for the time when I felt like we could just fall into it.
SHAWN: I don't think either of us thought we were ready.
NATALIE: I knew that I liked being around him. I think it would have been a lot harder to date during school if we had not ended up being in the same studio — we were just around each other all the time, and it just naturally worked.
I was waiting for the time when I felt like we could just fall into it.
NATALIE: In school, we had an exercise in a color theory class where you're supposed to make the perfect grey by mixing two complementary colors. I picked purple and yellow to mix until it was perfectly grey. Anyway, I was meditating on that exercise for six or seven hours… I mean it was a long time, and I had done an all-nighter, and this is where Shawn can pick up the story...but it was the perfect grey!
SHAWN: Natalie spent all night on this thing...and I came into studio the next morning after a full night sleep. I was admiring her work from above on the table below..and I just drooled right on the gouache paint, essentially ruining the whole thing. That’s sort of been our vibe for the past 11 years...Natalie, the “careful methodic” one, and Shawn, the “burst in the door and knock everything over” one. But I don’t want to curse myself, I've been pretty good lately.
NATALIE: Yeah, he's been pretty good...you know that saying “like a bull in a China shop”... well our apartment is filled with ceramics everywhere. So he’s set up for disaster.
NATALIE: Shawn has an incredible sense for making good decisions and has an inner confidence that makes work seem really effortless for him. At times I don’t know how to add or help with that part of his life, other than to champion his successes and drop light brags about him when I can. He’s constantly getting obsessed with new creative things...music, woodworking, painting, cooking…and I’ll always be the supportive one—offering feedback, trying to give new perspective, or letting him explore on his own...I still don’t really like going to his shows though—too much standing around in a loud bar. But, I will eat his fresh pasta.
SHAWN: She’s not the groupie type. She never goes to shows and her support comes from letting me do that on my own. I think we've kind of gotten to the secret of how we've been able to stay happy—it’s that we give each other tons of space for the things that we need to explore. Like when I play music, that's my little world. We have so many interests in common, and there's so much similarity between how we think, that it's important to set some spaces apart to be our own person too. And then we can give each other feedback in a more un-biased way, because we haven't really been a part of it. I was in a band for like 7 years, and everyone trusted Natalie's opinion about a song or recording... mostly because she doesn’t know anything about the recording process. She'd just say something like, “that guitar sounds too twangy”, or “the bass sounds like mud”. She was like a one-person focus group. Creatively, I think I'm much more of a maker-type person. I often don't plan at all. Natalie is a bit more of a high-concept, in-depth thinking person. I envy that. I'd rather do things twenty times over and just not think about it ahead of time. There's just such a different way of working, that they complement each other.
We give each other tons of space for the things that we need to explore.
SHAWN: This is the one that gets me. So, in school I had an internship over the winter at a letterpress printer in Nashville and I was down there for like a month. I was kind of cold and miserable. Natalie called me one day and she was like, “hey I ordered you a cake or a cookie or something from this bakery downtown, you just have to go pick it up.” And I had to bike into downtown Nashville in the middle of the winter to pick up a cookie.
NATALIE: I thought it was nearby.
SHAWN: And instead of the cookie, Natalie was sitting in the back of the cafe and surprised me in person. I needed that badly at the time.
NATALIE: Somebody recently told me about this thing, the five languages of love. Shawn “language” is is affection and gift-giving. So in hindsight, I understand why that was so meaningful to him. Mine is affection and service (mostly in form of food). Anything Shawn does so that I don't have to think about it, feels like the most romantic thing. Shawn will make me breakfast or mail out a letter for me or something...he always knows when I can't do something or I’m overwhelmed, and he knows just how to fix it.
SHAWN: Natalie's a pretty cheap date too. If it's our anniversary or something, she doesn’t really want to go out or anything. She just wants a grilled cheese and a movie at home.
NATALIE: We never really talked about marriage at all before. Getting engaged was really spontaneous...maybe not for him, but for me because I just assumed coupling was enough.
SHAWN: We always talked about being together long-term, but we never really talked about marriage. One day, I woke up and I was like, “I want to do something about this.” Even though we're not very conventional, traditional people in that way, a good friend of ours has a jewelry company, so I thought that was the perfect solution. My mom, who's really funny, she brought me in her room and said, “I have…I know you're not worrying about this… I don't know… but I have this ring. It was your great grandmother's” and I was like, “Okay, I'll take it.” Our friend melted it down and recast it. We were going on this trip to Big Sur and I was thought that this was going to be a really good opportunity. Big Sur is romantic blah blah blah. A couple of weeks before, Natalie announced that she invited our friend Cynthia on our trip to Big Sur. In my head, I was like, “awesome, great.” I had to wait for an opportunity...One day Cynthia and Natalie said, “there's this spa in Big Sur” and I was like, “no, that's okay, we're not doing that."
NATALIE: I was like, “I need a spa after this holiday.” I had just met his family in Portland. I needed a break to decompress and this was my chance. I was like, "what are you saying no for?" And he said, “it’s expensive” and I said, “I can pay for us, we need to go” and he just kept saying no.
SHAWN: I was like, “let's just drive around for a little bit, go see the sunset.” And we ended up totally driving through the classic sunset picture.
NATALIE: The road we were on was so wavy and we kept seeing the sun going in and out behind every turn, and I was like, “I just want to see it.” He said, “it's not safe here.” I could tell something was up by this lame excuse. He finally pulled over.
SHAWN: We haven't really made plans to get formally married yet. Everyone wants to know when we're getting married. That's the thing, if being legally married mattered that much for us, I think we would have done it a long time ago. And it’d be cool to have a huge party or something.
NATALIE: Shawn is a huge extravert. His groupings are so big. I was like, “twenty people” and he was like, “two hundred.”
SHAWN: We started thinking it would make more sense to start saving for land or a house somewhere and we started focusing on that. And once we do that, maybe it will be a really good excuse to have a rager.
We always talked about being together long-term, but we never really talked about marriage. One day, I woke up and I was like, “I want to do something about this.”
NATALIE: We went to a brunch spot in the Upper East Side with a friend and on the walls were all these dog and pet photos of people who eat there. I think that was a prime spot for an Animal Haven to park their donation truck right outside of. We had brunch and as soon as we walked out, Shawn just bolts it for this truck.
SHAWN: I never talked about getting a pet at all....
NATALIE: He does this thing where we have no conversation and he just does things.
SHAWN: And you agree sometimes.
NATALIE: Yeaahhh. Well, I said no after he had already named the thing Klaus.
SHAWN: I walked out and the cat was looking at me, and I sorta locked eyes with it. And I was like, “Uh, I think we should get a cat.”
NATALIE: We walked away with our friend. Shawn looked like he was about to cry, so I said, “do you really want this cat?” Because I'm terrified of cats. I don't like cats; I've never been around cats. I was like, “maybe this is that time where I'm supposed to say yes” because I was doing this thing where there were a lot of no's in our relationship at that time. I was like, “no, no, no.” I was trying to do this thing where every two no's I'd have to say yes. I was like, “I think this is the yes.” So, I just asked him to check his barometer and he said, “yeah.” He went to go get the cat and I went to go get a leash. But, I realized you don't need a leash for a cat, so I got other stuff. And now, now we can't go anywhere without missing the cat.
SHAWN: Natalie's sort of a house cat herself.
NATALIE: Yeah, I'm getting over it though. I used to say my dream was to become a house cat. There's this quote, I was watching Mad Men and the father, the main character said, “you're a house cat, you're extremely important and you don't have to do much.” But, I don't want that anymore.
SHAWN: For us it's about giving each other space and friendship.
NATALIE: There's a respect of each other's time. If Shawn's out of town or something, Shawn's mom would message me if he didn't reach out to her asking if he was okay. I would tell her that I hadn’t really talked to him. I give him his space and let him enjoy the things and live in that moment. We don't keep huge tabs on each other. We have plenty of time together, and get together with mutual friends, but then we also have separate friend circles and separate friend nights.
SHAWN: It's easier said than done because that's built on trust. We have ultimate trust that if you give someone space, they're not going to abuse it. When we're together, we're really together and always pretty much on the same page in terms of how we're feeling or what we want to do. It makes us more interested in each other....instead of like, I know every little thing about you or I know exactly what you did all day, everyday...when we have dinner, we actually have something to talk about.
NATALIE: We don't have that crazy love, hate relationship where someone might stab the other in the back and then they're still together. And I say that because I've been watching so many movies about relationships. I've just been observing relationships. I have friends who are dating and they'll tell me about something and I say, you know, I've been dating the same person for eleven years, I don't know what it's like. I don't know what to tell you. I pick up my dating advice from watching other relationships intently, trying to understand the secrets.
SHAWN: People ask, if they're about ready to get engaged, how do you know? And I'm like, “you just have to really like the person and respect the shit out of them.” I respect Natalie's mind and work and personality so much, I just can’t conceive giving that up.
NATALIE: Good thing I'm not a crier. Thanks, Shawn. Yesterday we were in the car driving to the hardware store. I thought, this seems like a really basic thing to do. You know, we're in our car driving to run errands and I just turn to him and I say, are you bored? And he says, “no, you keep me on my toes”. That’s not really what I meant when I asked him the question, but it’s good to know anyway.
SHAWN: I’ve been a lot of things, but I don't think I've ever been bored with you.
People ask, if they're about ready to get engaged, how do you know? And I'm like, “you just have to really like the person and respect the shit out of them.”
NATALIE: Shawn's incredibly social and it helps me a lot in feeling comfortable. We've done this Meyers-Briggs thing and I'm actually every single letter opposite him, in terms of extrovert, introvert, thinking, perceiving, all those things. He's so good at bringing people together and planning things. Had it not been for him, I'd have been more socially awkward or a loner in the way that I really just enjoy doing things without planning where to meet, who to meet, but just going with it. There are a lot of times in my life where something wouldn’t have happened if it wasn't for him reminding, oh we should plan a dinner with whoever, or we haven't seem whoever in a long time. I feel these things, but for some reason it's always taken me energy to figure out how to connect. He just does it so seamlessly. Even in those situations, he just makes me feel comfortable because he's just so good at holding it all together. I get to enjoy the people because I want and enjoy the moment, but I don't feel the pressure of something that comes naturally to him - orchestrating the flow.
SHAWN: Natalie has one of the most interesting, beautiful brains of anybody I've ever met. She's so determined and so driven and persistent with what she wants to do. It's incredible to me because I have a hard time; I want to be involved in everything all the time and so rarely am able to focus on one thing. Her ability to do that is amazing. She’s also an amazing dancer and pretty good singer, though she’ll never do it for you on demand. I was just thinking about advice for other people. I think you have to always keep caring. You just have to keep caring. And for that, I think we keep getting better and better at this relationship thing as we go along.
NATALIE: Having The Klaus has made things feel really good. I say that because I can see Shawn growing and changing, like how he cares so much for Klaus. I know more about him through this weird animal, how he treats Klaus, what he's worried about. The other day we were in the car, Shawn freaked about because he figured out that we’ve had Klaus for eight years. He almost started crying thinking that she's almost going to die. I can tell that he loves deeply...even if it's with animals who only love you because you feed them.
SHAWN: Oh, boy.
You just have to keep caring.