Back in 2003, Joe was working as a graphic artist in the apparel industry by day, while doing underground art shows by night. His paintings, seen as anthropomorphic illustrations of daily life, or dark themes with cute animals, allowed him to eventually quit his day job and go full fledge as a painter. Recently, he visited the glassworks in Småland, Sweden to check on the progress of the design he is working on with IKEA.
What’s it been like working with IKEA?
A lot of fun! It’s probably one of the best collaborations I’ve done. The team has been really open to following my vision, and I feel grateful to be working with such knowledgeable people. I’ve always loved IKEA and its designs. I mean, 50% of my house is IKEA and that kind of says a lot.
What does your creative process look like?
I draw all the time. I’m always sketching and writing down interesting phrases or thoughts. It can really be anything that sparks my attention, and along the way, it becomes something that I never meant, but better than I realised. It sort of takes on a life of its own. The toys usually come from the paintings. I’ll decide what character from one of my paintings that would be great as a toy.
Have you been able to apply your way of working to glassmaking?
I don’t think so, because glass has such specific requirements and quite a few obstacles. With plastic, which I usually work with, you can stretch and form it over a longer period of time. With glass, you have that one shot – it has to come straight out perfectly. Colours were a big challenge as well since there are a limited number of paint applications.
What was your very first toy design?
The first design was actually a bunny, called Mr. Bunny. Of course, I grew up watching the Loony Tunes and all that, but it wasn’t necessarily Bugs Bunny that inspired me. The real reason was my paintings – people really reacted to the bunny character. He’s sort of autobiographical in a way. The release was a big hit, and it really put me on the map, at least in the designer toy world. It opened a lot of doors for me. So I feel lucky to have that. That’s also why it felt quite natural to make a bunny out of glass for IKEA.
What are some of your greatest inspirations?
Growing up I always wanted to be a Disney animator. Some of my heroes are guys like Chuck Jones and Walt Disney. Those are also some of my biggest influences when creating my work. So, in a way you could say that my style really comes from always wanting to be an animator.
Fast facts about Joe Ledbetter
Five things you can’t live without? Paint, avocados – love avocados! my record player, espresso… Oh and my family of course.
Your favourite food/colour/music? Sushi, light blue, and in terms of music: punk rock, reggae, jazz.
Describe yourself in three words: Agreeable, mellow, creative.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Solitaire maybe. It used to be video games, but I had to quit – it’s just too addictive.
Your favourite destination is? I love going places I’ve never been.