Welcome back to Thrillable Hours, my interview series about alternative careers for lawyers.
As I mentioned in the last Q&A, I’ve been introduced to several of these interviewees through readers who have written from around the globe. This next interview is one of those examples. Reader Colin saw Nathan Sawaya’s The Art of the Brick exhibit in Singapore, noted that it was from a former lawyer and then emailed me when he got back to his laptop in case I wanted to feature Nathan for this series. Definitely! Nathan is a New York-based artist who creates 3D works and large-scale sculptures using only toy building blocks. LEGO bricks to be exact.
Hope you enjoy!
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Alternative Careers for Lawyers: Q&A with Nathan Sawaya, LEGO Artist
What made you decide to leave the practice of law? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?
I’m not sure I ever wanted to be a lawyer. When I think back I can’t remember feeling passionate about practicing law. It’s all kinda foggy. But I do have crystal clear memories of wanting to be an artist. Of wanting to create, and to transform nothings into somethings. So at the end of a long day lawyering, I would be craving creativity. Sometimes I would paint, sometime draw and sometimes sculpt. And I sculpted out of various things. One day I challenged myself to sculpt out of a toy from my childhood. I did a large scale piece out of LEGO and my friends and family encouraged me to try a few more. Soon I put a website together to showcase my large sculptures. It was the day that my website crashed from too many hits that I realized it was time to make a change and leave the law to go play with toys.
What do you find most fulfilling about your current job as an artist? Why did you choose LEGO sculptures for your most recent exhibitions?
Well first of all, being an artist is way more fun than being a lawyer. Sorry, but it just is. I wear jeans everyday and have an endless supply of materials in which to play. I am also my own boss. And if I want a day off, or a vacation, my boss always says “Yes.” But the best part is that it is also very rewarding to inspire others. For a lot of my artwork I use LEGO bricks. I love seeing people’s reactions to the work when they see it for the first time. They can connect to the work on a different level because of the familiarity with the toy. And many times, after seeing my exhibitions, folks tell me that they go home and start creating with their own LEGO bricks.
In addition, my touring exhibition, The Art of the Brick, has brought more than a million people into the contemporary art world who might not have otherwise ever stepped foot in an art museum or gallery. There are countless children who have now been exposed to art. Not something that would have happened if I’d stayed a lawyer.
Do you have any advice for professionals who are interested in branching out from traditional private practice but concerned about what is out there?
Making that transition can be hard. When you’re ready to take that leap, all I can say is that you really find out who your friends are. It’s amazing how people I thought were my friends became so negative about me leaving the law. Of course I was leaving to go play with toys everyday, and while they had every right to think I was crazy, they still could have supported me. My advice to anyone wanting to branch out is to cut the negative people out of your life. Find the people that have your back and believe in you, your talents and your happiness.
Do you still identify as a lawyer or use the skills you developed in your legal training?
My legal training has been an important step in making me who I am today. It has trained me to think critically about situations. I have friends who are artists who say that I do have a bit of an advantage because I can negotiate with clients without having to engage a lawyer to do so.
What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?
They are right.
The worst day as an artist is still better than the best day as a lawyer.
Nathan Sawaya Updates from March 2017
Adding some of the newer news from Nathan since this interview ran several years ago:
- He got involved in ComiCon by designing a couture dress made out of LEGO. Per the artist himself: “One of the great things I like to do with my work is to challenge myself to collaborate with other types of artists but still push Lego in a new direction. For this, to work in fashion was a whole different challenge.” Sawaya adds: “We just wanted to make wearable art out of Lego.”
- Bored Panda features 20 of his artwork pieces on their site.
- More about ComicCon and Sawaya, featuring his new exhibit on DC Entertainment superheroes and villains, the 100 sculptures in “Art of the Brick: DC Comics”, which will debut at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney before continuing on a global tour.
- Interview with Guinness Book of Records here.
- Runner’s World piece by Nathan here.
- And finally, a full documentary was released July 31, 2016. Called “A Lego Brickumentary,” it covers the LEGO obsession most of us collectively enjoy, exploring the essential nature of human creativity and the ways we seek to build and understand our world. Trailer for the movie:
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Nathan Sawaya is a New York-based artist. Sawaya currently has four exhibitions touring North America, Asia and Australia, with each exhibition focusing on LEGO as an art medium. The creations, constructed from nearly one million pieces, were built from standard bricks beginning as early as 2000. In 2011, CNN named The Art of the Brick on of the top 12 must see exhibitions in the world. Born in Colville, Washington and raised in Veneta, Oregon, Sawaya’s childhood dreams were always fun and creative. He drew cartoons, wrote stories, perfected magic tricks and of course also played with LEGO. His days were filled with imagination. When it came time for college, Sawaya moved to New York City and attended NYU. He attended NYU School of Law and became an attorney. But soon he realized he would rather be sitting on the floor expressing himself with LEGO bricks, than sitting in a boardroom negotiating contracts. It was then that Sawaya rediscovered his beloved LEGO bricks and indulged in his inner child to create what many believe is a new art revolution using LEGO as an art medium. For more information about Nathan Sawaya and his artwork, visit his site Brick Artist.
17 thoughts on “Thrillable Hours: Nathan Sawaya, LEGO Artist”
Wow, that is amazing Lego art! I have shown my Legomaniac kids to inspire them!
So glad you found him and could do the interview! I promise I’ll let you know every time I meet ex-lawyers doing crazy things ;-)
Love these words. “My advice to anyone wanting to branch out is to cut the negative people out of your life. Find the people that have your back and believe in you, your talents and your happiness”. True indeed. A mentor who believes in our passion and talent is really what we only need.
Amazing creation! Who would have thought that a lawyer can turn into a brick artist. Kudos to this guy.
what a great article! I also love your website. I’m currently in law school and I’m terrified about what’s going to happen when it’s over! I love that you just follow your passions and live life on your own terms – very inspirational! :)
Beautiful artwork. Proof that not everybody is living the ideal life in a traditional professional work environment. Sometimes you just have to take the big risk
That’s wonderful! It’s so cool when a person finds what they want to do from just toying around. :) he’s an inspiration.
Woowww the stuff this guy does with lego is amazing! I’d love to see it for real, but your article is the next best thing. Thanks for sharing!
Perfect timing! I’m in Singapore this week. Will definitely check out the exhibit. Thanks!
Indeed. Beautiful Work Nathan.
I wish I knew this was a career option back in the day, I was a LEGO freak as a kid!
I doubt that the guy who invented Lego had any idea that his toy would end up as such an amazing art form.
Good choice to leave your job! You are doing much better now :)
This an amazing post. I never thought of Legos as an art medium, although any child would challenge that perception. But I seriously, feel moved by these pieces. I can’t believe that a plastic Lego could carry so much energy. Thanks for sharing this.
Wow! this is really awesome, Never thought Lego would be this great. Great job indeed. I’ll love to see it in person.
Fantastic work! Great story. Thanks for sharing!
that is one of the most phenomenal things i have ever seen! brilliant and inspirational stuff! Hope i get to see it someday!