Today we’re talking to Jeff Sanders (AKA Brick Bending), who recently transitioned out of a 15-year career in software to become a full-time LEGO artist. His incredible geometric LEGO designs bend (and often break) the rules of the classic children’s toy to create mesmerizing patterns and 3D shapes.
Check out the full interview below, and be sure to visit his website, Instagram, and YouTube channels to see his latest works of LEGO art. If you want to try your hand at making one of his pieces (without hunting down hundreds of tiny pieces), you can pick up a Brick Bending kit from We Love What You Build to get started right away!
Tell us about yourself. What do you make?
My name is Jeff Sanders and I am always striving to create the craziest/most beautiful geometric designs possible with LEGO bricks.
I specialize in finding new and unique ways to put together the ubiquitous construction toy, and by doing so I create wondrous and sometimes shocking creations.
It’s my passion.
What do you consider your best or favorite work?
I have many favorite pieces of artwork, but if I had to pick one it would be my mega build: ‘Ten Point Geometry in Brick’ for the 2019 Sharjah Islamic Art Festival in the UAE.
It was 75,000 pieces and easily the most massive and complex build I’ve ever done.
Tell us about your workshop or workspace
In recent years my workspace has been a spare bedroom in my home that is filled to the brim with bricks, builds, and design motifs. All of this spills out into the hallway outside of my space, and gradually tries to find its way all over my home.
(I have to regularly rein it back in, and store it.)
My wife and children have always been good sports about tolerating the amount of LEGO bricks that permeate their lives. But for many years I did all my builds at the dining room table.
What drew you to LEGO as a medium? Have you worked with other materials in the past?
I often say that I didn’t find the LEGO — the LEGO found me.
Before I started working with these infamous little plastic pieces I would never have considered myself a visual artist. I’ve been in a band. I’ve written plays and short stories. But traditional ‘art’ wasn’t my gift — or at least that’s what I told myself for as long as I can remember.
But that self-imposed limitation was only there because I had a very narrow definition of what art is.
I’ve always been drawn to patterns wherever I could find them. I love the patterns of rhythms. I love the patterns and cadence of the spoken and written word. And when I pursued math in graduate school one of my favorite classes was college geometry — the patterns of lines, circles, curves, and their symmetries was a joy for me.
So as an adult — after a 20+ year hiatus from playing with LEGO — while I was building with my own kids I encountered this really amazing thing that happens when you string together a lot of small bricks. That type of build has a lot of ‘wiggle’ to it, and as a builder that wiggle is typically bad and you construct your creations to avoid it.
I used that wiggle to create an amazingly smooth curve — so my kids and I pulled out every 1×2 brick we had in our collection and we created our first LEGO circle. That literally set off an explosion of ideas in my mind and I have been building whatever crazy and beautiful geometries I can discover ever since.
But it was only after hanging dozens of these beautiful, curved designs on my walls — and slowly realizing that I just really enjoyed looking at them — that I realized that what I was doing was making ‘art’. And hence, I must be an artist.
So basically I discovered my penchant for visual art by playing with my children’s toys. Isn’t that how it works for everyone? : )
How long have you been doing your craft? Who taught you or where did you learn?
I’ve been doing what I do for more than a decade, and I am completely self-taught. Nearly everything I create is a combination of imagination and experimentation.
LEGO bricks have very specific limitations — I can’t just build anything that I want — so much of what I do comes out of many hours of patient LEGO ‘doodling’.
What is the most challenging aspect of your craft?
Securing bricks without going broke! My #1 limitation is access to the bricks I want and need. I rarely have enough of the right parts to build what I really want to create, so much of what I create is either much smaller than I would like, or a happy compromise with the bricks I have available to me.
If I painted my life would be much, much simpler.
Any advice for others looking to make art with LEGO?
Live close to a LEGO store and frequent the pick-a-brick wall often!
As far as mistakes to avoid, I think that one of the real gifts of LEGO bricks is that mistakes are 99.999% undo-able.
Read also: Best Lego Architecture sets: All current sets ranked
I have met amazing geometric artists who do tens of thousands of hand drawn, interlacing lines drawn with pens and a straight edge.
Mistakes there are devastating.
But for me, mistakes are just stops on the way to discovery. Without them, I’d never find the truly amazing stuff.
Who inspires you? Any shoutouts to fellow makers?
There are literally hundreds of artists that I find utterly inspiring, but I’m clearly a sucker for the simple beauty of geometric forms. Two (of many) that I met at the SIAF were Liliana Gonzalez and Tomoko Ishida.
The two have very different styles of art, but who they are absolutely comes through in their work. I was really privileged to get to know them at the festival.
Anything else you’d like to share?
What I do is very unorthodox — both in the world of art, and in the world of LEGO.
But one thing I have learned is not to let the arbitrary definitions out there limit you. Find what brings you joy and chase after it with all you’ve got.
You might not get famous for it, or make a ton of money, but if you can manage to catch little bits of that joy every now and then it will be well worth it.
Where can people find your work?
I’m @brickbending just about everywhere, but you can find a lot of my work on Instagram.
My primary focus right now is Youtube where creating videos of my designs being constructed has been a recent revelation for me — a wonderful way to intimately share how and what I do.
And of course my website brickbending.com.
I’ve also recently collaborated with a wonderful company to create Brick Bending kits so you can build some of my designs yourself.
Check out more of Jeff’s work on his website, Instagram, and YouTube channels.