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Q&A with Joe Vaux: Surreal Art and Puzzle Design

Seattle-based Artifact Puzzles specializes in artistic jigsaws, with laser-cut pieces designed by artists like Joe Vaux. Meet the man behind the mastery.

“I’ve always been a fan of puzzles.”

“[Artifact Puzzles founder] Maya Gupta was looking for imagery that would make good puzzles, and early on she said we’d love to have artists design the ‘whimsy pieces’—unique shapes beyond the normal puzzle standard, shapes that are actually identities. It sounded like a fun project.”

“It’s a puzzle building a puzzle.”

“I tried to extract simplified versions of things I’ve painted to make some of these whimsy pieces, these cornerstones. Some of these shapes, you’re like, ‘Wait, how do you even start from this?’ It took me three or four hours to solve one, and I know the art! It provides an extra challenge, an extra thing to look for.”

“As far as designing, I would just go.”

“You have your basic size framework, and the image. So I would just block in a few larger shapes, character-type shapes, and start divvying those up into puzzle-like pieces. There was a lot of erasing and figuring out ways to attach one thing to the next.”

“I’ve worked in animation—that’s how I’ve fed my family and taken care of business for 16 years now.”

“I’m surrounded by creative people. It just kind of fuels ideas of my own. I started working on Family Guy when it came back… I love telling stories with paintings, but I like the visual story telling of it and the comedy. It puts a smile on my face.”

“A big part of my success has been work ethic.”

“Both my parents are fine artists. They were professors as well, teaching full time and still maintaining this side career of producing these beautiful original works. They somehow managed to juggle [it], and it was all due to their passion for the art. I think that really played a huge role in my love of creating. You can do it all.”

“It’s all about passion.”

“You have to be aggressive and ‘create the space,’ as my dad would say. In the basketball court or soccer field, you can’t just stand around and watch things happen—you have to make things happen and, you know, make some sweet moves.”

For more on Artifact Puzzles, visit To learn more about Joe Vaux, head to

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest