Designer Desk: Artist Natalie Reynolds


It’s been way too long since I’ve posted a Designer Desk feature. Admittedly, this bums me out because meeting and shooting the work-spaces of local Vancouver designers, makers, and artists is something that I love to do! Few things re-charge my design batteries like talking with fellow creatives about what makes them tick.  I’ve done a number of shoots and interviews over the past few months that are in the hopper just waiting to be edited, written up and shared. On the top of this list is Artist; Natalie Reynolds.

Natalie gave up her long-time graphic arts career to pursue her love of painting and now works full-time as a contemporary artist creating vibrant, abstract works in a variety of scales. I visited Natalie’s studio MONTHS ago and she has been the perfect image of patience ever since. We had  a great time chatting about her paintings, how she’s found a strong dedication to her art, and how her space at 1000 Parker St. helps her focus.


I understand that you have a background in graphic design, how did you shift your focus to painting and when did you decide to make it your full-time gig?

I worked as a graphic artist for 15 years prior to focusing full-time on my painting two years ago. Painting has always been my first love but graphic art provided the income, so I only painted sporadically. It was challenging to focus on my art on a regular, ongoing basis, and I knew it would take committing to an out-of-home studio to really set things in motion. My job as a graphic artist was becoming increasingly less “creative” and it got to the point where I knew if I didn’t take the step in finding a studio that I would have huge regret. Having my studio has made all the difference. Oh, and I quit my job in October of 2012 too!

Can you give us a brief breakdown of the process behind your paintings?  What is your favorite part of that process? 

I begin painting with no pre-determined goal or outcome; the less I think about what I’m going to paint, or be pedantic in the approach, the more I can access my imagination with no constraints. As my work is primarily abstract there is no need to work from photos or any reference materials. I have always surrounded myself with lots of visual stimuli in the form of magazines, books, and art, plus I grew up in a contemporary art-filled home, so I imagine this is all milling around in my brain somewhere!  Almost all of my paintings have black in them and as much as I love, and have been using a lot of bright colour, black has always been my primary (non)colour selection. I start with a canvas or other surface and lay the paint down via brush or palette knife, and from there it’s a layering technique. Good composition is imperative, and with my years of layout and design experience I have developed a strong eye for it and simply compose as I paint. Loose narratives often emerge via the shapes and patterns I create, and when they do I go with it and end up with paintings that appear to tell a story. I like to work on several paintings at a time as I have a short attention span – it works best for me to go back and forth between canvasses. My favourite part of the process is remaining detached and not worrying about the outcome. I consider creating art a constant stream of process, and know if one painting doesn’t work the next one will.

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What does a typical day-in-the-life-of-Natalie look like?

Snuggle my cat & husband, coffee, Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, spin class, cello practice, studio time. Not necessarily in that order.

Describe your workspace and why it works for you:

My studio is in the Parker Street Studios building which is such an old, rabbit warren type of building – I just love it.  My space is about 375 sq. ft. with wooden beams, old windows and a mess of a floor. I love the high, vaulted ceiling and New York atelier feeling.  I have sufficient wall space with 2 bright windows, and it just generally has a really good vibe.  I work on both easels and the wall and love working BIG, but at the pace I’m going, storage is going to start becoming an issue!  I have a little bookcase stuffed with books, magazines, an espresso maker, plus a big table on which I can display some portfolio pieces and smaller works. 


What item or element of your workspace could you not function without and why?

There isn’t one specific element, although my library of books and magazines is definitely really important for inspiration. I have furnished my space to be a simplistic, yet ergonomically designed studio in which everything kind of works together for me.  Because my paintings are not precise, nor would I want them to be, my brushes don’t have to be anything specific or special … as long as I have a big selection of quality and size then I can grab whatever moves me at the time, and I often use non-conformist tools like makeup brushes, nails, sticks, tape, etc.

Do you have any work rituals or habits that help you focus and get down to biz?

Not really, but I probably should! I try to go into my studio anywhere between 5-7 days a week, even if I end up just sitting there (on my big, Fuchsia Fatboy chair!) reading art magazines for part of the day … it’s important to create the habit/regimen of going into the studio and treating it like a 9-5 job.  The 20+ minute drive means that I am making a concerted effort to get there so that in itself is part of the ritual, I guess.  Ensuring I have all the paints and canvasses/paper, and keeping things organized, is imperative so there is as little distraction as possible from the actual act of painting.

What’s next for you/what are you working on right now?

I [participated in] the yearly Culture Crawl which is always an exhaustive effort; It’s really good for me as I need deadlines to keep me in line, and I use it as a barometer for creating work and treat it as a type of show in itself. I have two art shows ( so far ) in 2015, and will be prepping for these over the next few months. In the next year I will continue to paint, albeit I have to narrow the focus down even more and work on creating a strong, cohesive body of work, as my ultimate goal is to gain gallery representation. It’s going to be a long, colourful journey!

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Quick fire round:

The first thing I do in the morning: Coffee and more coffee
When not at my desk, you can find me: In a spin class (I’m addicted!), cramming for a cello lesson, perusing galleries
Pencil or Pen?  Depends on my mood… pen, usually
Coffee or tea?  COFFEE!!!
Favorite Vancouver neighbourhood: I live in the West Side, which I love, but I connect most with Gastown
What I love about it: Cobblestone/brick/cafes/shops/grit vs. gentrification
What I would change about Vancouver: Nothing really, it’s a great city and as long as I get to NYC every year or two, I’m good!
What I’m reading right now: Oh boy… I am so ADD with books and always have a bunch on the go: Breakfast with Lucien; Methods & Theories of Art History; Outliers; Creative Block, plus magazines: Art Forum; Canadian Art; Borderlines; Modern Painters
Media that I read/watch/listen to almost daily: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and I try to watch a little news to stay informed
Vancouver Maker/Designer/Artist that we need to know about: There are so many talented Vancouver artists, but I’ll narrow it down to two: Andy Dixon & Fiona Ackerman

Big thanks Natalie for being such a lovely host at her studio (this lady knows that baked goods are the way to this girl’s heart) and of course many thanks for her patience, I hope this photos were worth the wait!  To see Natalie’s work or to get in touch, head over to her website. You can also follow give her some love on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

If you know of a designer, artist or maker in Vancouver that you’d like to see featured in an upcoming Designer Desk, please let me know in the comment section below.

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