The Friday Five: Sean Kenney

Sean Kenney is an award-winning LEGO artist and one of only 19 LEGO Certified Professionals in the world. In fact, Kenney worked with the iconic brick manufacturer to create the LEGO Certified Professionals program, which supports the work of LEGO artists to produce awe-inspiring works of art. Kenney tells Toy Tales how his childhood fondness for LEGO evolved into a career and gives insight into his internationally renowned exhibit, Nature Connects.

How did you get started with LEGO?

I’ve always loved to create. Even as a young child, drawing and designing were a big part of my life. I was a total “LEGO maniac” and LEGO was usually the only toy I ever asked for when my birthday came around each year. LEGO was always there as a way to create and express myself. I kept building LEGO models all through childhood and into my teenage and adult years. My models slowly became more involved and elaborate as I got older, and eventually, I started building LEGO models professionally. Now it’s my full-time career.

The Friday Five

You are the first LEGO Certified Professional in the world. How did that come about?

As an adult, I began to be commissioned to create LEGO sculptures asked to attend events. As a result, in 2005 I started working with The LEGO Group to design a program that could officially recognize and support people like me to reach even more people and spread the word about LEGO-coolness even further. From that, LEGO Certified Professionals was born, and I became the first. Now there are 19 of us around the world; we all know each other very well, keep on top of each other’s work, do projects together, and learn from each other by sharing our experiences.

The Friday Five

What is the inspiration behind your award-winning exhibit, ‘Nature Connects’?

Nature Connects is foremost an educational platform and secondarily a means of artistic expression. Just as LEGO pieces interconnect, everything in nature is interconnected in a delicate balance: insects and plants have important relationships; different species of animals have special relationships with each other; animals have connections with their families just like we do. And of course, people have a connection with nature, whether you’re trimming a bonsai tree or planting a garden, or anything else: you are a part of nature. It is important to me that each individual sculpture illustrate the “connections” found in nature, whether a predator-prey relationship, mankind’s relationship with nature, or the parent-child relationships seen in the wild.

The Friday Five

Take us through what it’s like to mount a show the size of Nature Connects.

Depending on the venue, the size of the exhibit can be quite large. Our most recent opening in Taipei filled three 40-foot sea containers as it traveled across the Pacific Ocean. We have to do a lot of planning and logistics, not only to create the sculptures but also to transport and install them. I have a team of artists and helpers who are a big part of creating this show. There are 12 of us here at my studio building and designing models, welding armatures, etc., as well as four folks who handle the show logistics and installations.

We do a lot of design work up front to figure out what the sculpture is going to look like, how it can physically stand up and withstand the elements and shipping. Together, we designed all the sculptures in the show, scrawling drawings on scraps of paper, gesturing wildly, wielding tape measures, holding metal bars with LEGO pieces glued to them and pretending to be gravity, and all kinds of other crazy things that you do when you’re planning such a large endeavor over many years.

We design every sculpture brick-by-brick, and afterward my team of very talented model builders and I use those designs and prototypes to create a glued duplicate of each. It’s a lot of hard work to build the sculptures as sturdy and efficiently as possible, working around metal that’s welded slightly imperfectly, dealing with things getting too heavy or large horizontal things that want to crack in half, interlocking bricks as tightly as possible, building support beams inside, and all kinds of other physical hurdles.

The Friday Five

What can we look forward to seeing from you over the next couple of years?

We’re always adding new sculptures to Nature Connects to mature and grow the body of work, so you can expect to see newer and better things in successive openings. The exhibit will be traveling to China, Korea, Scotland, and all around the United States in the coming years.

I’ve also just released my latest children’s book, Building Amazing Creations, which is now on sale and walks you through a wide body of work. In terms of of creative expression, I’ve been working on a lot of personal projects lately that are pushing the boundaries of what I thought was possible with the LEGO brick as an art medium. It’s super exciting, although every artist faces the challenge of balancing these kinds of personal projects, made simply for the sake of making them, with work-for-hire that helps fund them. But we’ve been doing a lot more of those recently, which is always really exciting.

The Friday Five

Visit seankenney.com to explore his spectacular portfolio and learn more about his work.

Five questions, one fascinating person (or team!) – look into the minds of movers and shakers in the nostalgia, game, play, or toy industry.