How Sawaya Found the Building Blocks to Success

An In-depth Look at Nathan Sawaya, the LEGO Brick Artist.

Yellow by Nathan Sawaya - Photo from BrickArtist.com

Yellow by Nathan Sawaya – Photo from BrickArtist.com

Who graduates from NYU Law School and becomes a corporate attorney for a well known international firm just to give it all up to play with LEGOs? Nathan Sawaya did just that. Once a corporate attorney for an international law firm, he is now a full-time independent artist who presently has exhibits in New York, Miami and Maui. His artwork has been exhibited in countries all over the world and is nothing short of incredible. He has built custom lego brick art pieces for several events, trade shows as well as corporate logo sculptures. He has made almost everything you can think of out of these little plastic bricks like umbrellas, portraits, life size replicas, animals, figures and objects.

A Hobby Becomes A Business / Career Opportunity

Sawaya’s story is a model for any business owner or professional who wants to take their business and/or career in a new direction even when it may seem risky to others. Sawaya left a career as an attorney which for him was relatively safe but not necessarily fulfilling, for a career as an artist. Not just any artist, a LEGO brick artist. Sawaya was determined and decided to literally build a new career based on something he was passionate about. Gaining national attention as an artist in 2004 by winning a national search for a professional LEGO Master Model Builder, Sawaya has been enamored with LEGOs ever since he got his first set at 5 years old.

By turning his hobby into a career, Sawaya proves that there is nothing better than making a living doing something you love to do. It also proves that no matter what career or business you started, it is never too late to make a change. We do not have to be cemented to our first choice. There is always risk in business and there is no greater investment than when we first invest in our own ideas and strengths even when some would consider them just hobbies.

Life Size Replica by Nathan Sawaya - Photo from BrickArtist.com

Life Size Replica by Nathan Sawaya – Photo from BrickArtist.com

A Life Long Passion Defines A Brand

Sawaya went from having a career as an attorney to becoming a brand. Even with a degree from NYU, being an attorney was not as fulfilling as creating awe-inspiring art with LEGOs. In an interview with Image Magazine, Sawaya said that rather than use his desk-top to study, he used it to build a model of Greenwich Village, NY. Sawaya did not allow his law degree to define who he was or in which direction his career would inevitably go. Too often we feel like we have already invested a lot in ourselves or our business and are not willing to try something new even when what we are doing is not what we are passionate about. Sawaya proves that it is never too late to make a change and the change does not have to be limited to the confines of what we studied in school. By default you are going to more than likely have a wealth of knowledge on things you are passionate about. Never underestimate just how much you know and didn’t learn from sitting in a class but rather from life experience and interest. This knowledge is just as important as what was learned in school and in cases like Nathan Sawaya’s more profitable as well as fulfilling.

The Carlton at Moss Gallery by Nathan Sawaya - Photo from BrickArtist.com

The Carlton at Moss Gallery by Nathan Sawaya – Photo from BrickArtist.com

The LEGO Bricks Build Success and Promotion

Branding is when you market a product using the creation of a name, symbol and/or design that identifies and differentiates your product and/or service from other products or services. Clearly Sawaya has accomplished this by literally using building blocks to success. Although Nathan Sawaya is not alone when it comes to creating art with LEGOs, what makes his artwork unique and sets him apart from other artists is the type of LEGOs he uses. Sawaya’s creations are unmatched in the world of LEGO art because he has limited his creations to LEGO bricks only. In doing this Sawaya is not just a LEGO artist, he is a LEGO Brick Artist, creating a brand for himself.

Sawaya has brought LEGOs to the forefront of the art world. His work will be and probably already has been seen by many people who may have never thought about buying LEGOs. Think of all of the people that have seen his creations worldwide. This has become a wonderful promotional marketing tool for LEGO. LEGO describes their bricks as their most important piece and the foundation of their brand. The LEGO brick that is available today was first made available in 1958. Through the artwork of Sawaya we see that 55 years later LEGO bricks are still relevant and a whole new generation is introduced to what can be created with just the use of LEGOs and imagination. If I were on the board of the LEGO, Sawaya would be one of my favorite people.

So what are the building blocks to success? I think passion, creativity and ambition are key characteristics to get you started.

Mr. Sawaya should imprint his Art of the Brick logo on our Building Block Individual Piece Stress Ball to promote his next gallery opening. I think that’s a great idea, don’t you?

How have you used an idea that would be considered by most to be a “Hobby” as a way to promote your business?

What steps did you take to build your Brand? Would you leave your career to follow your passion?

52 thoughts on “How Sawaya Found the Building Blocks to Success

  1. I struggled to come up with the right comment for this one and then realized what the challenge was. I don’t want to differentiate between my passion and my career. I try as much as possible to make my career my passion. It’s not that I don’t have other things that intrigue me or keep me occupied, but I spend so much time in my career that it has to be interesting to me. If what you do every day, almost all day, leaves you cold, then leave it cold.
    Debra Yearwood recently posted…Our PeopleMy Profile

  2. Truly inspirational story. Thanks for writing and sharing this post, Arleen!

    But when i read such stories, i always remember another story which i heard once… about a guy who loved riding his bike in the mountains. So he turned that hobby into a business and started leading groups of bikers into the mountains for what seemed a nice afternoon outdoors. Not long after that though, the guy realized that leading groups and dealing with people riding their bikes (his business) had absolutely nothing to do with just riding his bike in the mountains (his hobby and passion) – so he ruined his hobby and hated his business.

    I guess, the bottom line is that not always turning your hobby into a business is a good idea; or at least not for everyone 🙂 Those who succeed are lucky and/or happy, of course.
    Diana recently posted…Marketing Our Freelance Services on Social MediaMy Profile

  3. What a fantastic story. I would add courage to that list. Because it takes a double dose to leave a successful career to pursue a passion that many would think foolish. To redefine what think of as success takes one heck of a lot of soul searching. My passion is writing fiction. My hobby is blogging. The idea is I hope that people will like my style and buy my book. One building block………..
    Jacqueline Gum (Jacquie) recently posted…The Power of Failure… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

  4. Terrific story. I bet he’s a better artist than he was a lawyer because he is passionate about his art and no doubt didn’t bring that passion to the law. I envy people who have a passion — they are driven to do what they love.

    My grandson has known since he was 5 that he will become a filmmaker and he’s never deviated from that path. He amazes me with his talent and he is also a scholar of film. He’s a sophomore in college now and had a coveted internship at the Tribeca Film Festival this summer. He’s on his way and I love watching him from the sidelines.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…A LinkedIn Message That I Couldn’t ResistMy Profile

  5. What an amazing story! It’s always inspiring to hear about people who have “followed their bliss” and done well by it. Can you imagine what his mother must have told him when he left his job as a lawyer to play with Lego?! Those are the realities people have to deal with. I’m lucky to be able to combine my love for cars and writing to earn a living, but it’s hard work. I’ll never be a millionaire, but that’s okay.
    Krystyna Lagowski recently posted…Concerto in the key of CamaroMy Profile

  6. That yellow lego pic really does give you a jolt. I’ve seen some modern artwork that does nothing for me. But that picture did. I believe I’ve seen him at work before. I didn’t know he was a corporate lawyer. My hobby is backcountry camping and I actually have an idea to make it more pleasurable for me and other campers but I have not tried it. Hmmmm, I think I might look into it some more.
    Joanne recently posted…Staying at Corbin Cabin in Shenandoah National ParkMy Profile

  7. I have left my teaching career to follow my true passion, and I did so cold turkey, and would not recommend that approach to others unless they’ve done planning in advance. Turns out writing a book is not just about writing a book, especially in this day and age. Still though, I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for the world. Ironically enough, I’ve felt a lot of guilt about getting this chance due to my husband awesome new job. So even though my writing hobby is now my livelihood, it’s hard to give myself permission to focus on the positives. Must change that…
    Jeri recently posted…How to Publish on Kindle: Revising an eBookMy Profile

  8. Hey Arleen,

    Sawaya is a great example of a person who follows his dream 😀 It doesn’t matter how small or big our dreams are, we will be able to achieve them through consistent hard work and patience 😀

    There are great examples like him throughout the history. We need to learn from them – learn to follow our passion. Learn to convert our passion into a business.

    As for me, I started out as a hobby blogger. I had lots of time, and I needed something to occupy my time, and that’s how I started my first blog. I started with technology and science as my niches, but later switched to blogging 😀

    Right now, I am trying to build my brand, my profile before I launch my new blog 🙂 I am concentrating on commenting, social media and guest blogging.

    Anyways, great post Arleen 🙂 Thanks for sharing Sawaya’s story 😀

  9. Thanks for this good piece, Arleen. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Legos are one of the few toy-products that have truly stood the test of time. People instinctively love to build things, and Legos let them do it, no matter what their age is. The product has intrinsic value. I’m happy for the hero of your story. And I love that you’re writing about right livelihood . . . something everyone wants (and that I’m lucky enough to have, along with Kyrstyna, Debra, etc).

    Finally, thanks for your great comment at Diamond-Cut Life.
    Alison at Diamond-Cut Life recently posted…A Takeaway from “The Butler”My Profile

  10. Arleen,
    Thanks for sharing this. I hadn’t heard his story before. I have yet to pursue my true passion which is traveling. I’m getting closer though to launching a new blog that is travel focused. – Well, I haven’t actually started building it yet but I’m getting ready to work on it. (I’ve got a few projects that I’m clearing off my plate as I write this.) This post is definitely motivating!
    Sherryl Perry recently posted…Friday Finds: Social Media Branding, Color in Website Design and ImagesMy Profile

    • Sherryl-If traveling is your passion it is a great idea to pursue it. I think so many times we put what we really want on the back burner and then we get burned out and never accomplish the one thing that would really make us happy. Let me know when you launch your new site. I love to travel. and have done a lot in my lifetime. I am glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks to you I have a great group of bloggers and many new faces.
      Arleen recently posted…How Sawaya Found the Building Blocks to SuccessMy Profile

  11. What an inspirational story, Arleen! And thanks for sharing those pictures – I haven’t seen any of his artwork, so that was a revelation. Amazing stuff.

    I never had the courage to break free from my day job until retirement – I just got too enmeshed with it and financially dependent on it, and I also found it physically and emotionally draining, which meant I didn’t have much capacity to explore other avenues in my spare time.

    It’s only since giving up work that I’ve felt free to develop my writing hobby – so I love the point you make about the fact that it’s never too late to make a new start 🙂
    Susan Neal recently posted…2 Quick Ebook Tips: LinkedIn Share Buttons and Hyperlinks in PDF FootersMy Profile

  12. Hi Arleen,

    Outstanding! It takes me back when we were in the middle of Global economic crisis, creative and talented people made their way to success ditching their boring professions. Inspiring indeed dear 🙂

    What I always love about ’em is they just DO and show to the World that anything is possible 🙂 Not when they have money or not when he find a sponsor. But right now. Isn’t it?

    It doesn’t matter what they taught in schools, but I’m sure he has used some of ’em when he could make use of too. As an attorney, he might have used his knowledge for legal obstacles when he step into the business 🙂

    I think not every hobby can be turned into a business 🙂 But there is always a way out.

    You have a lovely weekend Arleen 🙂

    Cheers…
    Mayura recently posted…How to Ask Google to Reconsider Your WebsiteMy Profile

  13. Great story, Arleen. Good for Nathan.

    Like LEGO, I’m Scandinavian. Can’t help wondering why a success story like Nathan’s had to happen in New York City? Am sure you will find other LEGO artists around the world that are as talented. But outside the US, and above all in Scandinavia, the press would not pay attention to such a success story.

    The fact that the press in the States, still, pay attention to people fulfilling the The American Dream is very positive for your country. It actually helps Americans succeed. Would be excellent if your politicians could export that sentiment to the world and not just neo liberalism. It would be a contribution America could feel proud of and the world would be grateful for:-)

    • Catarina- It is wonderful that Nathan’s unique art creations are commissioned by companies, charities, individuals, museums and galleries all over the world.
      The Art of the Brick® museum shows tour North America, Asia and Australia. These are the first major museum exhibitions to focus exclusively on the use of the popular toy, LEGO® bricks, as an art medium and artist Nathan Sawaya has taken it to new heights.

      Sawaya Said. “The museum exhibition is accessible because it engages the child in all of us while simultaneously illuminating sophisticated and complex concepts. Everyone can relate to the medium since it is a toy that many children have at home. But my goal with this exhibition when it first debuted in 2007 was to elevate this simple plaything to a place it has never been before.”
      Arleen recently posted…How Sawaya Found the Building Blocks to SuccessMy Profile

  14. Hey Arleen,

    I think that’s truly amazing that he could take that passion and turn it into a thriving career.

    I’ve often heard to take your passion and turn it into a career. Some of the things I’ve heard people say they love to do I would think that’s just not easy to do. Who would have ever thought that building Legos could turn into that so I guess we can throw that old thought process right out the door right!

    What do I know right!

    Thank you for sharing this story with us and it’s truly one of triumph! Boys and their toys, it still relates. lol…

    ~Adrienne
    Adrienne recently posted…Anti Backlinker: The Ultimate Spam BusterMy Profile

  15. Hi Arleen

    I love this story. I think it is wonderful to see someone follow their heart and passion and do something like this.

    Those pictures are amazing and he is clearly so talented. I am sure it is so much more rewarding than corporate law. I did some law study in my business degree and I found it very boring. I am sure when you are working in the profession it can be rewarding though.

    I love it when people do such different things like this. He clearly has a great marketing sense.

    Thanks for sharing this here.

    Have a great week Arleen.

    Sue
    Sue Price recently posted…Moving Forward : Accepting Change – part 4My Profile

    • Sue- My major was accounting and I found that to be very boring as well. I like people so I decided to sell real estate which I did for 25 years before starting my own business. I wanted so much to have my own business so I have followed by passion. Each of us has a passion it is a matter of following dreams.
      Arleen recently posted…How Sawaya Found the Building Blocks to SuccessMy Profile

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