Creative Couples: Natalya and Tom

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Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith; Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence; Gilbert and George. Creative couples have produced some of the world’s most influential artistic work, drawing out the strengths and brilliance in each other’s talents. Ahead of Valentine’s Day, we’re exploring the place where romance, collaboration and imagination meet by profiling four creative couples.

If you’d like a reminder that long-term romance in the age of Tinder is alive and well, meet Natalya Lobanova and Thomas Rawle. Multidisciplinary creatives in their own right, Tom and Natalya have combined their diverse skills by launching South London-based animation and sound design company, Thiing Studios. We sat down with them in their home studio, a beautifully-curated sunlit haven of creativity, to discuss the realities of being partners in life as well as business. 

How did you meet? 

N: Tinder: we matched, met up the next day, and have been inseparable since. Unromantic, but efficient!

T: We had a mutual friend and weirdly similar interests taste in art/music, considering we both have a tendency to go mega niche that’s pretty rare! 

When did you decide to start a business together? 

N: We were talking about it pretty early on as we realised our skills really complemented each other, but it took a while to seriously happen as I had to quit a job and essentially restart a career in a slightly different field – I was working as a writer/illustrator (but teaching myself to animate). I quit almost exactly a year ago, and we immediately launched our studio.

T: It was a while before it fell into place, we were both taking on projects of increasing scale individually, and it just made sense at a certain point to join up and help each other where we could.

Tell us about the work you do together.

N: We both animate – Tom specialises in composing/sound-design and 3D animation, and I take on the 2D work and storyboarding. The division of work and who takes the lead depends on the style of animation the client wants, each project is different!

What’s the most special part of working alongside your significant other? 

N: I think there is very little competitiveness, we just want the other to succeed as much as possible because our individual successes contribute to the overall effect.

T: You get to build something together, which I think is a rare thing to do in life. Most things are geared to be competitive, it’s wonderful when you can work with your partner to build something that lasts and also can be a mechanism to fund and pursue your own independent projects. 

Which of your achievements has been the most fun to share and celebrate together? 

N: To be honest, I don’t think we have really stopped to properly celebrate as the studio is still so new!

T: Like Natalya said, we’ve been way to busy to really stop, we’ve both got a bunch of stuff that we are knee-deep in at the moment so I think once we clear the decks, we can do both fun and celebration. 

How do you find a balance between a romantic relationship and business? Do you have any rules when it comes to how you divide your time or what you talk about at home? 

N: Our studio is also our home, spread across two rooms – thankfully, the bedroom is a work-free zone. We tend to work in separate rooms (so we can listen to our own preference of podcast), even when working on the same project. We generally try not to distract the other during daytime hours but spend evenings doing something together. We play video games or watch films and dissect how good the animation/SFX is haha.

T: We both have our own studio rooms in our apartment, so we have enough space to kind of go and do our own things and then hang out when we’re free, we also bounce ideas off each other all the time so it’s a good vibe. 

What is your number one piece of advice for collaborating with someone you love? 

N: Don’t just assume you can compartmentalise work and personal life. You can’t talk to your partner how you would speak to a colleague because they are so much more than just that, and personal things will bleed into business and vice versa. You need to be able to communicate very clearly. You can be annoyed about something in your own lives, but don’t let that translate into you being needlessly snippy at them while working on a project. Always talk things out, and treat them with even more respect and consideration than you would a colleague.

T: If your excited about what your partner is doing artistically and you both have great enthusiasm for each other’s work, you can’t really go wrong. I think being honest is really important and know how to deal with negative criticism, both in the receiving and giving situation. 

What exciting things do you have coming up in 2020? 

N: Our biggest goal for this year is to complete a short – ideally two, one directed by Tom and one by me, but both contributing to each. 

T: We’re both working on personal shorts in-between commercial work, and I have a few records I’ve been working on with various people, so I’m hoping 2020 will be a good year! 

Tom wears the Curtis in Brushed Silver and Natalya wears the Joyce in Crystal.

Images by Claire Posthuma 

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