Joe Vaux: The Importance of Never Growing Up Too Much

by Nathan SpoorPosted on

Nathan Spoor interviews artist Joe Vaux.

I met Joe a while back, and after running into him on random occasions I found that he was one of the most laid back and funniest characters in any given situation. But who is Joe Vaux ( really? Well, we at the Fructose aren’t afraid to ask the difficult questions, or the really easy cheesy ones. This is the tale of the man behind the curtain, behind the table, behind the desk, behind the wall where the paintings are made.

“Last Thing Standing”

So Joe, tell us a little about yourself. Who are you, and all that sort of good stuff

My name is Joe Vaux, born Joseph Nikolai Vaux in 1972. I’m the product of two amazingly talented and loving parents. Both my mother and Father are Professors of art and actively show their work in galleries around the world. Dad paints tranquil abstract landscapes that can sooth the soul. My mom creates amazing detailed pencil drawings of feathers and flora. But probably their most amazing work was done in the sack when I was conceived. (Ha! Just kidding) We had a family group show back in 2006 in my home town and the best comment I heard came from a friend talking to my folks: “Richard, Sandra, your work is so calming and peaceful what the hell happened to Joel? “Well I’ll tell you…

I think my first true love was Star Wars. I saw the movie when I was 5 and like most kids it blew off my buster browns. I was pretty obsessed with everything about it, playing for hours with my action figures. Building ships out of Legos, making drawings. It was awesome!

Now take a pinch of Star Wars and add an intense interest in fairy tales, Dr. Seuss, Smurfs, legos, monsters, music and an uncle-who-liked-to-scare-the-living-shit-out-of-me-AND-you and you can begin to get a sense of my building blocks.


When did you start painting?

I didn’t start painting until I was a junior in High School. It was around this time that I started to think about my future and possible paths to journey down. After getting some books that revealed a bit of the amazing art generated by the special effects team working at ILM, I thought “That’s what I want to do.” With my parents’ guidance I began construction on a portfolio that would get me into a great college art program. I ended up choosing Syracuse University for many reasons. It had a great art and film program without being strictly an art school and I was able to get a bit of a financial scholarship.

For the next four years I really buckled down and learned from teachers, friends and on my own. By my sophomore year I decided to focus on a degree in Illustration. I really enjoyed and blossomed during these college years. I was by no means ready for the world when I graduated high school. Those years of school opened my mind to new techniques and styles as well as gave me time to figure out my artistic voice. I met my wife and many other great friends there and consider this time to be exactly the bridge I needed to enter the professional art world.


What inspires you to create these paintings?

Like any artist I’m inspired by my surroundings. By day, I work as an assistant director on the Family Guy. I work with some pretty amazing artists who constantly inspire my creative juices. These guys and gals could draw me under a bridge and make me want to improve my craft.

Another source of inspiration is my family. Whether it’s my dog attacking my feet or my son twirling in a princess dress or my wife’s jokes – my idea bin is usually filled. Other things that float my creative boat are: weird plants, random junk in the street, clouds, movies, music, wacky people and of course: animals.


How do you approach beginning a new work?

When I’m searching for a new painting idea, I take these elements into consideration. I scramble them up and start doodling in my sketchbook. I think my best ideas hit me when I’m lying in bed just before sleep. Once I lock in on an idea it sticks in my brain. Since I seem to get mentally overwhelmed easily, I only have one painting on the desk at a time. As one image is nearing completion I start the brainstorming for the next piece and off I go again. A lot of people ask if I do detailed drawings before I paint and the answer is no. I hate doing things multiple times probably because of the nature of my day job. (Animation requires a lot retread of ideas) As a result, my sketch phase never really gets beyond a crude thumbnail. Every once in a while a main character in a piece will get a little more design attention but more often the final image doesn’t appear until I’ve drawn it up on the finished board.

I start with an under-painting , then draw in the details of the composition. After that I sit down and start chipping away at the madness, painting from back to front.

Sketches for “A Meeting of the Mind”

“A Meeting of the Mind”

What do you see as the difference between your day job work and your personal work?

There is a big difference between the work I do in animation and my personnel work. With my paintings there is only one person I need to consult, myself. In the office setting you are part of a team working to create a product. Many minds and hands generate the work contained in an episode. It’s obviously a lot less personal but still rewarding.

Sketches for “Breach of Contract”

Give us a little peek into this day gig of yours.

As an assistant director on Family Guy I work closely with my director to take two scripts a season through the storyboard process. We generally have two additional storyboard artists working with us to transform a script into the visuals the audience will see on the TV. After we receive a script we begin with a thumbnailing stage where we work out a lot shot selection. A lot of thinking and design is done during these couple of weeks. When these are approved we work on tightening the drawings and locking down the character acting. This process takes about 7 weeks. After more notes are addressed we build an animatic, which is a filmed storyboard with audio track and some sound effects. When the episode is locked, timed, checked and design is completed we are ready to ship. All the finished animation is done in Korea. Soon after shipping it’s time for us to begin a new episode and everything begins again.

“Breach of Contract”

Do you have any plans of putting out a volume of your work?

I’m hoping that this year I will be working with Mark Murphy of Murphy Design to put together a nice collection of my work in a book form. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while and think that Mark is the guy to really make a Joe Vaux book sing.

Ok, give us a peek into the daily life of Joe Vaux.

Oh, A day in the life of Joe Vaux. Get ready to get excited!

The family wakes up at about 7am. I take my lazy dog for a poop walk around the neighborhood. When we return my son, Zander is usually up and eating some breakfast. I sit down and chow on some cereal with my man and we talk about silly stuff. Then we usually play some crazy running games around the house while the the lazy dog suddenly feels inspired to tackle me around the legs.

8am it’s time to go to work. I’ll sit in some lovely LA traffic for about 20 minutes then pull into my building. Once inside, I fire up the old computer and start attacking my storyboards. Around 12:30 my pals get together for a bite to eat. We joke around for about an hour, then it’s back to work.

I usually get home around 6 pm. Eat dinner with the family then watch some cartoons wife the kid as we wind down for his bedtime. Then there’s a bath and some stories and the kids off to slumber land.

So when do you get to do any painting in all that?

8pm job number 2 begins. Now it’s always a bit easier to start this process if my wife (also a talented illustrator) happens to be busy in the studio as well. I’ll usually, if I’m good, paint for about 2 hours. By this time my eyeballs are spent. The wife and I will chill in front of the tube for a few and then hit the hay. After a bit of reading I’ll sometimes start thinking about my next images. Soon the brain shuts down and I’m out at around 11pm. People wonder how I get my paintings done with such a limited work time and all I can say is they do. I love my sleep.

How do you feel about showing in galleries as apposed to doing work just for yourself?


I love showing in galleries. Having always had a full time job, I’ve never relied on art sales for income. Sales have always been a nice surplus to the bread and butter. As a result, my work has never been driven by anything but the desire to get my visions out. The gallery setting allows me to have a fun night of seeing how others receive my work. It’s a nice release to the months of hard work.

“Tricked by Treats”

Do you have a favorite memory?

Favorite Memory: I have been lucky to have a life filled with good family, friends and fortune. There are a lot of good memories. If had I to pick one great moment it would probably be my 10th grade basketball game against the power house Oyster bay (JV). I was never the greatest basketball player. My sport skills were more adapted to soccer and volleyball. I decided to play hoops one winter mainly cause my old loved the game. I practiced hard but never received a lot of playing time. As the season progressed I began to resent the coach more and more. He definitely played favorites to certain teamates. Our last game of the season arrived and I was miserable. We were going to play Oyster Bay, a real tough B-ball team by our standards. I figured to spend most of this game on the bench. Early in the first quarter, our star player got in a scuffle with an opponent and threw a punch. Scott was ejected from the game and guess who goes in to take his place? I was immediately racked with nerves. After making a couple of decent passes I took my first shot of the game and it went in. I went through a change of emotion and suddenly became a 5 foot 4 inch terror. A kid possessed, I passed and shot the ball amazingly. It was awesome. When the game was over we still lost, but I felt like a million bucks. In the locker room the coach was kind of speechless. He managed “Incredible Game Joe”. I stared him in the eye and just thought “Fuck you!” Man that was a great day.

Do you have a favorite place in the world?

New Zealand is probably the coolest place in the world that I’ve seen, but ultimately home and my studio is where I’m happiest.

“Dirty Deeds”

Any favorite pastimes?

Having fun with my kid. This includes drawing, playing, watching movies, climbing, eating treats, whatever.

When I’m working I like to have a couple options entertainment wise. I either pop on a sweet film that I’ve seen a million times i.e. Fellowship of the Ring, Temple of Doom, Alien, Commando, just to name a few. Or, have some sweet tunes playing. Movie soundtracks work well but I also get a boost from bands like Grandaddy, The Shins, Mr. Bungle, Triumph, The Darkness, Pink Floyd, The Dandy Warhols, and David Bowie – also just a few of my Favorites.

“And Death Shall Set You Free”

If you had an unlimited amount of resources to create something, what would that be?

If money was no object and time was plentiful I would love to make some sort of animated film or video game based on my work. It really would be a blast to see the art move. I also like the idea of doing some really large work.

Joe is a friend of all beasts, big and small.

Who would win in a big wheel race, you or bigfoot?

I would beat bigfoot, no problem. Have you been on one of those things lately? It’s impossible to get your legs tucked into peddle position. Bigfoot wouldn’t even be able to get his ass in the seat.

Thank Joe! And if you’re listening, Sasquatch, your big hairy ass has been called out… Let the games begin!

-Brought to you by Nathan Spoor,

Comments are closed.