Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree
During my interview with Leta and Wade, one word kept coming to mind over and over again: complementary.
“We’re blowing in and out of multiple things with the answer here,” says Wade, almost apologetically. He’s struggling to find a response to an admittedly obtuse question. “I don’t know how to give you a one-liner to what’s successful.”
“Success is not a one-liner,” says Leta.
“There! That’s the one-liner,” exclaims Wade. They both laugh heartily. I can practically hear them smiling at each other through the phone.
This kind of thing happens throughout our conversation. Each question I ask is responded to thoughtfully, and it’s interesting to note how much each of them responds and jumps off the other. There is a natural back and forth between the two when discussing everything from the conceptual difference between art and design to the specific details of creative projects they worked on in high school. These two simply complement each other in a fascinating way.
To be fair, there might have been some contextual bias here — I had their fantastic portrait project by the name of “Complements” on my mind during our interview — but I think this word would have come to mind regardless. For one, Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree are not only creative partners but life partners (they tied the knot earlier this year, in fact). Both are art directors and graphic designers, and they share similar inspirations and interests (they actually met online, thanks to a mutual appreciation for Swiss graphic designer Josef Muller-Brockmann). And, as if that weren’t enough, they lean heavily on each other’s input for collaborative and solo projects alike. Just about everything they produce has received input from their combined ingenuity, creativity, and dedicated work ethic.
“The conversations that we have about each other are often about our work,” explains Leta. “Even if Wade and I aren’t working on a project together simultaneously, we both know every detail about each other’s current projects. I think we were looking for that dynamic when we met each other in the first place. Not only were we looking for someone to confide in — and have a real romantic partnership with — but also we wanted to relate to each other in our practices and in our creative mentalities.”
This doesn’t work for everyone — there are couples who don’t want to bring their work home with them, and they keep those practices entirely separate — but for Leta and Wade, there is no ‘off’ button. Wade chimes in: “I think because our backgrounds are so drastically different, our points of view strengthen the other’s perspective. Because we can always have those dialogues, and because we are so on top of each other’s work, and life — and because those things are all so intertwined with our personal well-being — the output of our work is always influenced by the other person. Even if it’s a personal project, the input from the other person means it becomes theirs as well. All input affects output.”
From each other to stuffy galleries to gardens to anime, this diversity of inputs shows in their work, their apartment, and in their personal expressions of style. In a recent interview with Need Supply, the word “directed play” was used when describing the world they create. Which is fitting. One glance through their portfolio exhibits highly designed and curated expressions of capital-F Fun. It’s clear there is consideration and meaning behind every image they produce; and yet, everything is grounded with quirk and color and whimsy.
Scrolling through either of the couple’s Instagram feed yields image after image of bright, color-laden visuals, to the degree that it feels like a creative signature of sorts. It’s a marked (and enjoyable) contrast from the desaturated imagery typical of the platform, so I found it interesting that color is, to both of them, something that is, while important, more of a natural extension of their creative process than an intentional focus.
“I think, for me, color kind of trickles back into my studies,” explains Leta. “I took a color theory course based on Josef Albers, who was a Bauhaus professor and color theorist and painter. It was on the juxtaposition of color, the perception of color, and how color can be read as different things, not just chosen based on your preference or your ‘favorite’. From an early beginning in my education, I learned that color itself could be as much a medium as anything else. It’s the same as painting on paper or making something out of wood. It’s utilizing that chromatic equation and is just as important as everything else. We’re not using color for the sake of using color or making it obvious that we ‘love color’ or whatever the latest hashtag for that is. We’re using it to link to psychological and sensory experiences.”
Wade echoes in agreement. “It’s always attuned to a concept and what the output is going to be. It’s never really just there to be there. Sometimes black and white photos are totally appropriate, and that’s the vibe that it’s meant to be. But sometimes not. The importance of color is very high in any instance, but it’s both subjective and contextual. It has to feel appropriate.”
This is a repetitive theme in our conversation. Both Leta and Wade create artistic and thought-provoking imagery, but it’s always subjective and contextual, serving a purpose. And they approach so many areas of their life this way. With intentionality and thought. Complemented with a heavy dose of not taking themselves too seriously.
Leta: Neither of my parents were very artistic, per se, but one thing that got me going was anime. I started drawing a lot of my own fan art and my own characters. From there, I got hooked on watching Sailor Moon from Cartoon Network when I’d come home from school. For my 12th birthday, I asked my parents for Adobe Photoshop, because I wanted to start coloring in my drawings and seeing what else I could do with them. I would eventually upload them to DeviantArt and share them on the internet. That kind of led me into learning more about the Adobe suite. I did some architectural drawing when I was in high school. I started experimenting with photography a bit. I was coding my own personal sites with HTML and CSS. I also designed every page of our yearbook. All of the titles were set in Cooper Black, the body type was in a handwriting typeface. I made all of these icons that had drop shadows. That was me learning. I didn’t even know InDesign at that point, I was using QuarkXPress. By the time I was about to graduate, I knew that graphic design was the only enticing route for me.
When I went to college, during my semesters and during the summer, I would commute to or live in the city, just to gain different experience. That’s part of my overachiever complex, I think. I wanted as many different experiences as possible. I worked in publishing, I worked in animation, I worked in branding, just to figure out what I liked and what I didn’t like. There were a lot of things that I didn’t like, but it was really beneficial for me to just push myself into these different routes of design. I think too, it’s great when you’re young, you have all of this energy, so I could go to my internship, and then come back to school, and pull an all-nighter and finish all of my assignments, and go to class the next day, and then sleep after class. It was really exhilarating, because I was pushing myself to my furthest possible potential.
Wade: I was never really that kid that was always in the corner drawing, or anything, but I was always into creating stuff. At the age of 10 or 11, when I got into playing video games, I started to make things more, making characters out of cardboard. When I got into highschool, I started doing a lot more design-based, art-based things, folio subjects is what we called them, woodwork, metalwork, art, and a course called “Design”, which was extremely broad, but I did that with friends, and then went to a program after high school called Youth 13, where I could figure out whether I wanted to be an artist, a designer, and learn what all of those things actually were. It was very much a catalyst as well for me.
Another thing that was helpful, which I always try to instill into junior designers or interns, is to ask a shit-ton of questions, because that’s the only way you’re going to learn at that age. When I did my industry placement, I was very honest and upfront with people I was working with, trying to get all the nuggets of information I could, so then I knew where I could go.
On Design and Art
Wade: The difference between art and design is such a tricky question, because Leta and I could create a sculpture tomorrow, and it could be art. It’s all about context. I would never want to say I’m an artist, I would say I’m a designer or an art director, but I can create things dependent on context that some people will see as art. It’s a tricky divide. Communication is one big difference between the two, because with design, it’s about client goals or objectives, and meeting those determines a “successful” project. It’s such a project to project kind of thing in so many ways, in the sense of, a project can be successful if you’ve met the brief, but it can also be successful if you don’t. When Leta is reviewing a piece of my design or something, and she’d be like, ‘oh, I think it should have a ceiling that’s more like Ettore Sottsass or a pattern-making’ or something like that. We’re speaking the same language, but speaking it through other forms of language; design is a language and art is a language, or vessels for ideas, is a really important thing, I think, as well. I guess that’s a fair answer for art and design: vessels for ideas. That’s the one-liner right there.
Leta: I love that, as graphic designers, we really can delve into any medium and still find it useful. In some way, something can be applicable to whatever it is that we’re doing. We can do portraiture, and portraiture is photography, but it’s also something that we can deliver to a client and get paid for, and be really proud of it.
We need to create a solution to a problem, but I think we’re unique in that we do not restrict our solutions to screen-only exports. We’re willing to utilize everything we possibly can to create the solution, which is why our studio is filled with plants and blocks and wigs and clay, because by utilizing all of these things, we create better and more unique solutions.
On the Daily Routine
Leta: Every day is so different. The morning routine is maybe the most constant, but some days we’re shopping for props — say, looking to find pool noodles in the middle of winter — while other days we’re going to a foam manufacturer to get foam for a costume we’re building. I think the great thing about what we do is that we don’t need to specialize, so that makes each day completely different. We’re constantly figuring out new ways to do things, or we’re doing projects that we say we know how to do — but we don’t really know how to do them — so we just figure it out on the fly. That keeps things interesting.
Wade: I would say that we work six days a week constantly, and we have an active desire to not work Saturdays. Generally, that would involve doing some form of activity that’s trying to inspire our thoughts. Usually, it’s gallery visiting, and gallery hopping, and that kind of thing. But our weeks fluctuate so much. Leta was in San Francisco for a month as of three weeks ago, doing an artist residency for Facebook, and now, before we leave for Japan, I’m working in-house at a studio, helping them on a bunch of projects. I’ve done that before, led projects but with other people in their spaces, which is exciting. We get to jump around and do whatever we want and wear so many different hats. You’re always changing, you’re always evolving, your work and your output are always getting better or stronger through these different activations of thought.
Now that we’re freelancers, if typesetting at 3:00 in the afternoon is just not vibing, I’ll probably get out of the studio and just go play basketball for an hour or two and then come back and see where my headspace is at. That’s the most amazing part of where we’re at with our careers, is that we can define our own schedules, define our own success, in any particular way that we want to. It’s incredibly liberating.
Leta: Our weekend gallery trips, absolutely. I think when we travel, too, we try to make a portion of it about seeing landscapes, gardens, buildings, or galleries that we’ve never seen before. We’ve become incredibly impressionable from those. Also, for me, the Memphis movement with Ettore Sottsass and Nathalie du Pasquier. I think I’m glad that we both have a decent knowledge of design history, too, where we know about those movements, and we’re able to re-contextualize them, or we know the history of them, and know how they’ve influenced what’s happening now or today.
I feel like misinterpretations are also incredibly influential. Sometimes Wade will either show me a sketch, or tell me about something that he’s thinking about doing, and I’ll see something in my head that is entirely different, because I didn’t totally understand his concept, and that just turns into something new and different also. That’s just because my hearing isn’t so good sometimes.
Wade: Yeah. Experiences are definitely the things that will inspire me the most. Second to that is friends and what they’re creating. Seeing a friend create something and put it out in the world is super inspiring, whether that be for something that’s visual or music or something like that. I love that creativity, it’s sort of thinking, driving forces people to connect, and that’s where a big inspiration for me lies. That’s why we all love traveling, it’s because you’re absorbing new things that can, whether that’s social behaviors or communication and how things are communicated.
There are also pivotal artists or designers we look up to very much. Lawrence Weiner is a huge inspiration for us. The thinking is so simple and so beautiful that it can transcend whether it’s a design object or whether it’s an art piece. His work makes those questions really interesting, taking from one thing, making another. Ikko Tanaka and many other designers are keystones to our trajectory as well.
To wrap our interview, I have to ask, as I often do, what’s next for this couple, who has already accomplished so much.
It turns out they’re making their co-working relationship official by starting an official studio together. “I think people already assume that we work together,” says Leta. “But this is kind of making it fully official. In the past year, we’ve done a lot of really official things, in getting married, getting a studio, and now actually officially launching this.
“That’s the next major thing that we’re really excited to pursue and put out into the world,” adds Wade. “That’s our next little baby.”
“No real babies, though,” Leta is quick to add, with a laugh.
No matter how complementary, sometimes one adventure at a time is enough.