Lego Artist: Nathan Sawaya

Lego Artist: Nathan Sawaya

Justina (Yijia) Liu, Staff Writer

Nathan Sawaya is an artist who works primarily with Lego bricks and was recently featured on Interviewing the Headliners to which The Arcadia Quill was invited to attend. He used to be an attorney and left his career behind almost 20 years ago to pursue his art. 15 years ago, he founded the Art of the Brick which is a touring art exhibition that focuses on art primarily out of Lego. That is how he makes his living these days. 

When asked about his favorite workpiece, Mr. Sawaya has a hard time picking. 

“It is hard to pick a favorite because you know you put a lot into each piece,” said Mr. Sawaya. “It’s like picking a favorite child, right? I’ve done hundreds of works over the years, so for me, the favorite piece is really the next one that’s the next thing I’m focused on because that is where all my energy is.” 

He believes that the piece that he thinks about the most becomes his favorite at the time. If he thinks about all of his work in general, he would probably say there’s a piece called “Yellow”. It is a yellow figurine made from Legos of a man opening his chest that is the most iconic, and more people contacted him about that work than any other work. Thus, for that reason, it has become one of his more popular pieces. Even though he can’t be sure that it is his favorite, it is definitely up there on the list. 

When asked by interviewer Kyle Mathieu for advice for aspiring Lego artists, Sawaya said he believes that if one’s pursuit is to become an independent artist, then they have to focus a lot of time on improving their art skills in general, but there’s a lot of engineering and math that goes into building with Legos. However, at the end of the day, patience is a big part of it. Learning how to build with the bricks over time, like big projects that don’t get completed in a day,  is important. Frequently, there is something that takes weeks or even months to create. Taking Legos apart and rebuilding them takes more patience. So for that reason, you really have to go into it with that patience and knowing that when working on a project, it might not look exactly how you wanted it to look at first. 

If you are interested in being a designer for a company, you have to learn all the “ins and outs” of all the elements. These days, there are around 20,000 different types of individual Lego pieces that one has to learn. Learning how to keep an inventory is a key part of learning how to use those pieces in a unique way to become a designer. But in all cases, practicing building is the most important.

The head interviewer John Vitti then asked Mr. Sawaya, “How do you make certain projects in certain sizes?”

“It takes time in figuring that out because sometimes size is an important component of the art,” replied Mr. Sawaya. “It is making it larger than life, and so in those cases, you know, I just start from the beginning. If I know this piece is going to be a human form, it’s going to be gigantic, and a lot of times on my human forms project, I focus just on life-size.” 

He tries to make the projects accurate to life and often uses himself as a model. Like the piece in Boston being shown right now, the engineering that goes into that is a lot bigger. He spent three months just to build it and even rented an apartment in New York City for it. It required an intense and very tedious amount of building because he wanted to make it as accurate as possible. But when working with something that big, it gets slow. He had to make sure everything goes in order. 

Mr. Sawaya believes that Lego is a form of language. Even for people who are not familiar with it, once they get to put two pieces together, they have mastered the language of Lego. Additionally, Lego is also very successful at this point, so people all over the world are familiar with it. He meets people who might not speak the same language, but they can speak Lego. That is why he loves his career so much. 


Design by Lorin Teng