Boy Genius! Sean Kenney, Full Time LEGO artist

My boys love Sean Kenney's book, Cool Cars and Trucks, so when I started writing about LEGO for The Frog & Snail I really wanted to interview him. After all, he makes a living building LEGO! My boys think that's the coolest thing ever, and I have to say -- I agree with them.

Sean was cool enough to answer a few questions for us. Thanks so much, Sean!

We love that you've created a career for yourself doing what you love. How did you come up with the idea to become a LEGO artist? You were sitting at your desk and then...

Before I became a LEGO professional, I worked as a cartoonist, a graphic artist, and a web site designer.  I spent 10 years designing web site interfaces and web user experiences, and I wore a suit every day to work.

But the whole time, my "inner child" was itching to get out and play!   Every night after work I would go home and play with my LEGO toys... sometimes while I was still in my suit!

One day I was sitting in my office in a cold-looking, quiet, boring, 40-story glass skyscraper on Park Avenue in New York.  I was sitting at my desk but I wasn't working; I was daydreaming about beautiful architecture and bright LEGO colors and thinking about what I would build with LEGO bricks when I got home.  It was about then that I realized that was exactly what I needed to do...  I should follow my dreams.  So I stood up, took off my tie, and walked straight out -- just like that, in the middle of the day.  And I never looked back.

Wow. You have 1.5 million LEGO bricks. How do you keep them organized? (It looks like you color-coordinate them -- what else do you do?)

I have between 1 and 2 million LEGO pieces... so I have an incredibly huge system in place to store and organize them all.  (...Industrial storage cabinets, warehouse shelves, you name it!)   But if you're interested in sorting your collection, there are a few easy ways you can do so...

Firstly, keep in mind that sorting your LEGO collection can take a long time and requires constant work to keep it organized.  That can take a lot of the fun out of playtime.  More importantly, having a sorted LEGO collection completely changes the LEGO play experience... what is normally an organic, exploratory process ("lets see, how can I make a car?") changes into a design-based process ("I've decided to use piece X, so let me go find it").

I vividly recall a time when I was 8 or 9 years old and my very-well meaning father purchased some parts organizers for my sprawling LEGO collection.  I tried using them, but it just never seemed any fun at the time.  Perhaps kids just need to have a mess at hand sometimes. :)

So if you're just looking to tame a large sprawling collection, it's often easiest to simply separate the large, medium, and small pieces into three separate bins.  This way you never loose all the little cool parts at the bottom of your LEGO bin, but you still keep the spontaneity of LEGO play.

But if you're looking to really hunker down and organize... any "parts organizer" is a great start.  These are the sets of clear plastic slide-out drawers that are normally used to store nuts & bolts in your garage or basement.   These are available in places like Target or Wal-mart.  Another favorite of mine are portable storage containers normally used for craft organization. These are generally clear rectangular bins with a snap-top lid and several compartments.  The Container Store has a lot of good options.

Also, I would avoid the temptation to sort simply by color.  ("Red here, blue there".)  While this might seem easy to organize, it makes finding specific pieces very hard.  It's a better idea to put similar shapes of varied colors together.  (For example, all your basic bricks in one place, slopes in another place, windows and doors in another... etc.)

What was your first original LEGO creation, and how old were you?

I have had LEGO toys around as long as I can remember...  I found photos of myself stacking together pieces when I was 2 years old.  As a young boy, I loved building towns, and I would take apart all my LEGO City sets and combine the parts into apartment high-rises, office buildings, car repair garages, and lots of cars and trucks and trains.  I built a lot of spaceships and robots as I got older, but then as an adult I returned to building cities...  my first big creations as an adult were two models of New York City, http://www.seankenney.com/portfolio/first_city/ and http://www.seankenney.com/portfolio/greenwich_village/ that had a subway train under the city streets, 6-foot tall skyscrapers, department stores, restaurants, taxis, traffic, street vendors, and lots more!  It's still one of my favorites, and I still have it... in fact, it will be making a special appearance in my next book, "Cool City" (Henry Holt, September 2011) so stay tuned!



Is there something you can't build out of LEGO? (Think hard!)

I can't build whatever you're imagining!  So be creative and show me what you can make!

Check out Sean's website for more and his YouTube channel for cool video how-tos.