127: Adam Ward – How to Make a Living Playing with Lego

Creativity, Full Time Hustler, Hobbyist, Money & Business, Podcast, Seasoned Professional, Weekend Warrior

Hey guys, welcome back to ONKEN RADIO (formerly NION radio), the podcast where we explore the body, mind, and soul of the creative entrepreneur. It’s my goal to help you take your creativity, business, and life to the next level. I’m so glad you’re joining me on this journey!

Today, I’ve got an inspiring episode all about creating what you’re passionate about and making a career out of your Creative Alchemy. 

Have you ever thought that it’s impossible to make a living from your creative medium? Maybe you’re tempted to give up your Creative Alchemy and try something new to make money. Well, before you do that, I want you to read about my guest’s journey. He made a full-time profession out of an insanely niche medium: LEGOs. He’s constructed a successful career out of following his passion for building LEGOs. That sounds crazy, right? If he can work full time with LEGOs, you can make a career from your Creative Alchemy. 

I’m incredibly excited to have the great LEGO artist Adam Ward on the show today. Adam and I discussed a range of topics relating to his career, engaging in the creative process, handling success, and practicing mindfulness. You’re going to learn a lot from Adam and be inspired by his story, so let’s dive in. 

Who Is Adam Ward? 

Adam Ward is a Los Angeles-based artist who uses LEGO pieces as his medium. He’s built iconic sculptures out of LEGO, worked on The LEGO Batman Movie, and has a YouTube series with the channel SoulPancake titled Brick x Brick, where he shows viewers how to construct a wide range of LEGO creations. 

Adam grew up as an only child in Minneapolis. During the winter season, the cold climate forced him to enjoy his time indoors, where he developed a love for LEGO. He regularly spent whole days building LEGOs and using them to tell stories.

He lost interest in LEGO during his teenage years, but he rediscovered his passion while in his mid-20s by sheer chance. Adam’s roommate had an Apple TV that kept overheating on top of a receiver, so Adam went to Target to purchase a shelf. Adam found himself browsing in the LEGO section, where he realized that he could build something out of LEGOs to prevent the TV from overheating. He went back to his apartment and excitedly constructed a functional shelf. 

Adam rediscovered his love for LEGOs and built other functional constructions for his apartment, like coasters, picture frames, and a phone docking station. Adam soon found himself pursuing a career in his childhood hobby. 

How Adam Built His Career with LEGOs

Adam didn’t originally intend to build a career from his rediscovered joy for LEGO, but he realized that he could help others with some of his LEGO creations. One such creation was a fob for his keys. He was in the habit of misplacing his keys, so he built a small key fob and a LEGO box. He would attach the LEGO key fob to the box whenever he returned home. He realized that he had solved a problem with LEGOs and that others could benefit from his creation. He began posting photos of the fob and other practical LEGO creations to help others. 

Adam decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to create a small business involving his practical LEGO creations. After gaining traction with the campaign, companies began getting in touch with Adam to collaborate on LEGO projects. This was a turning point for Adam:

“That was really the catalyst of turning this hobby into, at first, a paying hobby, and then a part-time job, and [then] a full-time job, and now a career.” – Adam Ward

The company Genentech reached out to Adam during his Kickstarter campaign to construct 650 picture frames for an event. During that project, Adam discovered that the most challenging part of fulfilling LEGO contracts was creating a design:

“The build is simple. It’s the design that’s really challenging. It’s the design where the picture frame that people actually receive is the 70th iteration of some design because the kickstand doesn’t work right, or the picture frame slot is too big.” – Adam Ward

After his project with Genentech, Adam was contracted by the company Zappos to build a 5×9 foot mural. The mural featured the company’s logo, but Adam had the idea to leave 10,000 of the LEGO bricks missing. The project looked complete, but during mural unveiling, 10,000 colorful bricks were brought out to the event’s attendees so that they could contribute to Adam’s artwork. The final product looked as if confetti was going off within the logo — definitely check it out!

“That was like one of the most rewarding experiences I had because all of these people were getting to interact with art, and art so often is, ‘Stay back, don’t touch, no flash photography. This is complete. Don’t even think about getting close to it.’ And it’s so fun to invite people to interact, to mess with it, to add bricks, [and] to put their own spin on it.” – Adam Ward

Adam went on to make installations for several other companies, including Tumblr, Microsoft, the Boys & Girls Club of America, and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. He also collaborated with the production company Rideback on The LEGO Batman Movie, and he even has a workspace inside Rideback headquarters.

Adam also started the show Brick x Brick with the YouTube channel SoulPancake. The show features Adam teaching viewers how to make various LEGO creations to bring out their creativity, presence, and gratitude. The late and great Bob Ross inspired him: 

“[I] had this idea in my mind about being the Bob Ross of LEGO. Like I loved Bob Ross as a kid. I’ve never been a painter, but I just loved watching his process. It was so calming. It was so inspiring.” – Adam Ward

Bob Ross inspired Adam to create a highly entertaining and inspiring show. He’s now released three seasons and even has a book coming out based on the show titled Brick X Brick: How to Build Amazing Things with 100-ish Bricks or Fewer

Even though Adam has already accomplished a great deal through his art and Brick x Brick, he still has many awesome ideas that he wants to accomplish. One such idea involves bringing people together through LEGOs: 

“I really want to do large scale collaborative builds where we get people from a ton of different countries or schools, [and] really unite people across a really wide distance or really wide socioeconomic background. … [I want to] bring people together through building.” – Adam Ward

Adam pursued his passion and was able to create incredibly original works of art as well as establish a stable intake of revenue by working with businesses. He built a career from the unique Creative Alchemy that he loved. 

What skills and childhood passions can you alchemize into a career? No matter how niche or unusual your creative medium may be, you can make a career out of it. Who would’ve thought that Adam could have such a successful career by building LEGO creations? It seemed unlikely, but he made it happen, and you can build a career from your Creative Alchemy too! 

Engaging in the Creative Process 

Adam’s creative process for making his LEGO constructions is absolutely fascinating. He bases his creations on actual things, but he takes different elements from various designs. For example, he creates LEGO vintage cameras for his wife, but he doesn’t completely imitate a particular vintage design — he takes elements from different vintage cameras to create the original piece. Adam creates LEGO constructions that he describes as “mixtapes” by taking elements from his favorite things. 

When engaging in the actual building process, Adam approaches his creations by focusing on intricate details and working outward: 

“If I start with the very smallest piece and I get it right, I know that as I move out, it’ll work because I’m dealing with bigger and bigger stuff. … It looks like I’m obsessing over what might even be kind of like an inconsequential element, but really that element starts to tell the story that the entire piece will finish. … Then sometimes it just avalanches. … [The rest of the construction] just pours out of me … as I’m building.” – Adam Ward

Even though Adam’s Creative Alchemy is incredibly niche, there are actually other LEGO artists making breathtaking works of art. The internet heavily impacted the exchange of ideas for LEGO creators, and they inspire and influence each others’ designs and creations: 

“One of the amazing things about the internet is everyone is able to see each other’s work. And some people are imitating, [and] some people are just borrowing. Some people are being inspired or maybe using one tiny technique, but the sharing of information in all media is at an all-time high, and it’s having an impact on the Lego builders as well.” – Adam Ward

The internet has changed every creative industry, and that even includes LEGOs. The exchange of ideas from different creative alchemists has inspired and promoted new designs and uses for the creative medium, and it also enabled people to get their creations instantaneously out to the world. Have you properly utilized the internet to improve and promote your Creative Alchemy? The web has invaluable resources for learning new ideas to develop your creative abilities further and share your work. 

Handling Success and Developing Mindfulness 

Adam and I also discussed developing mindfulness and handling success as a Creative Alchemist. Adam noted that artists shouldn’t have the mentality of thinking that they’ll be satisfied with a certain level of success. There’s never going to be a time when you think to yourself that you’ve “made it” as a successful photographer, musician, or LEGO artist — you need to continue developing as an artist and celebrate the small victories that occur in the process: 

“I have made it a point to celebrate the small victories and really acknowledge when something goes right. … As we do more things, our desire to do more things just goes up and up and up. And like our brain is a difference engine. So we get used to a certain level of success, [and] then it doesn’t feel like success anymore. It just feels normal. So I’ve really been focusing on acknowledging all of the steps along this journey.” – Adam Ward

Adam recognizes the importance of continuously growing as an artist. He continues learning about his craft and tries to stay out of his comfort zone when building. He’s always experimenting and learning from new styles, architectures, and textile patterns to improve his Creative Alchemy.

Practicing mindfulness is also essential for your creative pursuits. A routine that Adam practices to be more mindful is he spends the first 90 minutes of his day without his cell phone. He chooses to start his day the way he wants to rather than be affected by the outside world. Adam observed that our cortisol levels are actually at their highest in the morning, which indicates that we’re stressed. Adam combats this morning stress by saying ten things that he’s grateful for and engaging in a helpful breathing practice to feel calm. He breathes in for four seconds, then he holds it for seven seconds, and finally, he exhales for eight seconds. 

Developing mindfulness is an essential practice for bringing out your own Creative Alchemy. Adam’s routine for combating morning stress and staying mindful helps him stay positive and live in his creative genius. Do you have routines to engage in mindfulness? Does stress keep you from living in the moment and distract you from focusing on your art? Developing mindfulness routines like Adam is a great way to combat stress and bring out your creativity. 

Be a Creative Alchemist with Adam Ward

Alchemy is defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.

With that being said, I define Creative Alchemy as using the process of creativity to create a lens of which to perform alchemy. These principles not only apply to artists and creatives in their own creative processes but to anyone who wants to create an extraordinary life in color for themselves. I’ve found that 80% of creating is alchemizing the thoughts, emotions, and other inner blocks that keep you from putting the pen to the paper. Navigating to the act of creation takes alchemical processes, and Adam Ward does it with LEGOs.

I had such a great time interviewing Adam Ward. He brings so much creative inspiration into the world through LEGOs. We covered so much more that I wasn’t able to touch on in this post, including topics like LEGO heists, conventions, and other crazy facts about the LEGO brand, so I highly encourage you to go check out the full episode!

I asked Adam what “live inspiration” means to him, and I loved his answer: 

“Who knows what [we have] after this life, but we know for sure we have this life, and some people are really committed to making this life great. … Whether you think your life is amazing or terrible, you’re right. So it’s like, if we can ‘live inspiration,’ if we can stay excited, [and] if we can stay out of our comfort zone, stay in wonder, stay in creativity, [and] stay in creation, I feel like we’re setting ourselves up for really great success in having a wonderful life.” – Adam Ward

Staying in a positive and creative space is a great recipe for creating a beautiful life. Adam truly embodies “live inspiration.” He inspires others to bring out their Creative Alchemy, and he has fun while doing it!

Thank you so much for checking out today’s episode! If you enjoyed it as much as I did, make sure to share it on Instagram! Tag Adam, @peaceandbricks, and me, @nickonken, and share how this episode inspired you. Also, make sure to leave me a five-star review on Apple Podcasts so that I can share this with more people like you!

Remember, you can make a living from what you love to do. Adam was able to turn his passion for LEGO into a career, and you can turn your Creative Alchemy into a full-time profession as well! 

Until next time 

Nick Onken

Some things we learn in this podcast:

  • How Adam started working with Lego [4:00]
  • Adam reached out to Lego and was turned down [9:15]
  • How Adam used Kickstarter to launch his company [10:00]
  • The challenges of paving your own way to a career in art [16:40]
  • How Adam shifted his perspective on abundance and money [18:20]
  • How Peace and Bricks came about [19:50]
  • Transitioning to a career as a Lego artist  [25:35]
  • How Adam got involved with the Lego movies [29:20]
  • What Adam’s creative process looks like [34:15]
  • Some crazy facts about Lego [40:20]
  • Even pluralized, it’s Lego [41:10]
  • Learn more about Lego subculture [42:40]
  • Where he wants to go with his career [50:30]
  • One of Adam’s dream projects [52:00]
  • How he handles highs and lows [53:30]
  • What routines help Adam with his productivity [56:30]

Links mentioned:

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