Interview with Nathan Sawaya: The Award-Winning Lego Artist

Grace Farry, Staff Writer

Since their creation in 1932, Lego bricks have become one of the world’s most popular toys. They provide a sense of nostalgia, and still a modern version of creativity. These toys, though advertised towards children, can be a great hobby for adults, and for some, like Nathan Sawaya, even a career. 

Nathan Sawaya started his art profession after quitting his job as an attorney 20 years ago. He had always played with lego kits since a kid but had started buying them again as a stress outlet for after work. He would be working full days as a lawyer, and then 6 h at night doing commission work for people all over the globe, and soon he decided to leave the law firm behind and become a full time artist, using legos as his medium for art. Since then he has been creating art for 15 years for “The Art of the Brick ”, the first major museum exhibition to use LEGO bricks as the sole art medium. Nathan “ likes using the bricks because you get these very distinct lines. You get these sharp corners, these right angles, all these little squares and rectangles, when you see the work up close, and then you back away from it, and all those corners they blend into curves, and that’s kind of the magic of using lego.” 

Legos however, are strictly the medium he uses. Nathan “doesnt want it to feel like you’re walking into a lego store.” He buys all his own bricks, about a quarter of a million every month,  directly from the LEGO company, which is a Danish company, based in Denmark, and so the bricks are delivered from Europe. They’re shipped over by boat, so he has to order them on a 4 to 5 month schedule, from the time he orders them to the time the palettes of brick actually show up. Nathan Sawata has a good business relationship with the LEGO company. Though, It started off a little rocky. His first interaction with the LEGO group was a cease and desist letter that came early on when he had just started putting his work up on the web, as he was growing in popularity. The cease and desist was more about how he was using their trademark, and not about the actual work itself. But soon, legal matters cleared over, and eventually Nathan was instead talking to their marketing team and developing a relationship where he had the privilege of being able to order directly from them. And at times the two will cross promote or Nathan will help with a project, but still, Nathan and his art are separate from the LEGO Company. 

His inventory usually consists of 10 million pieces, organized by color and shape. Nathan has two inventories, one in Las Angeles and Las Vegas. Oftentimes there will only be a certain brick available for a certain amount of time, so Nathan makes sure to stock up when he has the opportunity. Organization is important as LEGO artwork is a very precise and time consuming process. Each piece needs to be glued down, and these projects can take months on end. Still, LEGO artwork is enjoyable, and it evokes all parts of the brain. You don’t realize but as you’re building these pieces, small or large, you’re including your math, engineering, and science skills. You can learn a lot from just expressing yourself and using your imagination. 

This hard work pays off, and Nathan has earned himself many great achievements. He often helps out on Fox’s popular competition show “ Lego Masters”. Nathan is also the only person in the world who has been given the official titles of a LEGO Master Model Builder and a LEGO Certified Professional. Nathan Sawaya has artwork in every continent besides Antarctica. Artwork is something that can be shared universally, no matter anyone’s race, language, or beliefs. “We may not speak the same language but we can speak lego.” Nathan stated. And so anyone can become an artist, to him, you don’t need to go to art school or be an expert. Art is a way of expressing yourself, and all you need is a will and an imagination.