Friday, May 30, 2008

The first mosaic

All great artists attempt self portraits at one time or another. I bet you're asking yourself if the picture to the left is Santa Claus. Or maybe the original Nintendo hockey guy? You'd be wrong on both accounts- both would create a mosaic of superior quality, despite the obvious handicap of being fictional characters.

What you see before you is the first mosaic I have made. I think it captures my auburn hair and aversion to sunlight quite nicely. It's on a green 32x32 plate (the measurement being in studs). I would blame the final product on a lack of colors, but the truth is I have no idea what I'm doing.

The concept of creating a three-dimensional picture of a two-dimensional sculpture is a difficult one to grasp and this gives me a lot more appreciation for just how hard it is to create a mosaic using just LEGO bricks.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's bricks

I am not one who covets, with the notable exceptions of my own skeeball machine and miniature golf course. But I'm starting to see how one could begin to covet. Who doesn't want a LEGO stegosaurus?

The interesting thing I've begun to notice is that what I'm attracted to building and buying is what I was fascinated by as a child. It's dinosaurs, robots, old-timey planes or contraptions (think Rube Goldberg), cars, and the Chicago sports teams I have cheered for all of my life.

In some respects this makes sense, I've still moved by what I stirred my imagination as a kid. And my mind likely defaulted to the first idea it had when I began to build which is going to be robots or monkeys a least a quarter of the time. Do you find yourself going back in time when you pick up LEGO bricks?

Photo Credit: timailius

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Music to build by...

It's about time LEGO had a theme song for building. Brick House by The Commodores would be a no-brainer. I love listening to music while I build, it's the same technique that I use in writing- there's a collection of about 80 songs that I've heard so often they essentially fade into background noise. Girl rock (Kate Nash, Avril Lavigne), Peppy boy rock (All-American Rejects and OK Go), and classical soundtracks (The Natural, Braveheart) are all surprisingly inspired choices.

Now that my poor musical tastes have been laid bare, perhaps you'll take sympathy and offer up some new choices to accompany building. I've already rejected "Build Me Up Buttercup" (the danger is too high- that song never leaves your brain), "Build" by the Housemartins (a little too sweet) and "Build God, Then We'll Talk," by Panic at the Disco (too Emo-angsty).

What's in your boombox?

Photo Credit:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

5 things I've learned about building with LEGO

Everyone is going to make mistakes while building, in fact, that's half the fun of constructing something with LEGO bricks. When you reach a point where you have to turn back or find a new solution, that's often when you discover that you're more creative than you ever imagined. That said, there are several things I have learned through trial and error that I would have been fine if someone had told me beforehand. Here they are, in no particular order....

1. Always have two of the parts you need when building something with a left and right side.

2. Leave your nails a little on the longer side, you're going to need them to pry apart bricks and plates; but not so long that you're headed for the Guinness Book of World Records.

3. Build what you're fascinated by in real life- you're more likely to pay attention to details and have a better eye for spacing.

4. It is always okay to begin building without an idea of what you're looking to build.

5. You can never have enough LEGO bricks. You'll always need more. This must be how vampires feel, if they had a thirst for plastic bricks and didn't eat people.

What other building tips do you wish someone had told you?

Photo credit: dunechaser

Friday, May 23, 2008

The plane! The LEGO plane!

A friend of mine suggested that I should build a plane and with the rising cost of oil and uncertain future of the major airlines, this doesn't seem like the most impractical suggestion I have heard. However, considering this plane was going to be made of LEGO bricks, and constructed by Jonny the wonder builder- perhaps it would be best to consider it a representation of what might be, rather than attempt actual flight.

My build time is improving as the plane you see before you took about an hour and 15 minutes from model conception to construction. There were only a few major stopping points and one exasperating search for a steering wheel in an enormous pile of unsorted bricks. I was pleased to discover that pre-built corners exists, pieces that allow you to shape your structure around them, providing stability and instant spatial recognition.

The model is meant to be a biplane, a primary colored version of the craft featured in so many Indiana Jones escapes...The body of the plane is only four studs (the nubs that sit atop the bricks) wide. A visual trick that I'm proud of was snapping the legs off my LEGO minifig (mini figure) pilot to make it seem as though he was seated in the cockpit. I hid this with a well-placed ladder and am counting on my audience's trust that no kind-hearted man would willingly remove the bottom half of a LEGO man.

I'm slowly learning that the real challenge in building with LEGO lies in the details. The difference between an acceptable model and one that really seems special is the ability to find the right parts to represent pieces. But in the interim, the model for Bender airlines is up and ready for takeoff. We've got no baggage check fees or FAA oversight. So, who wants the first ticket?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's a LEGO world and we live in it

A time-worn cliche suggests that when you are in love, the whole world loves along with you. Who knew when you were in LEGO, you could suddenly see LEGO everywhere?

LEGO is online, in museums, in video games, in music, and in my living room. And I love it. In the past day, my friends have forwarded me the LEGO V8 engine in action, and the Giant LEGO boulder re-enactment of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (I don't want to ruin it for you, but like all good things it was bound to end with a minivan's alarm sounding).

I guess in this, the 50th anniversary of the LEGO brick, we are officially a culture in love with LEGO.

Photo Credit: emma*k

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What would you use this LEGO piece to build?

I used to think that LEGO bricks came in two basic shapes- the flat ones and the rectangles. Sure, there were exceptions: wheels and windshields, but these were parts that had specific purposes. Over countless hours on the Internet and one large bucket later, I realize that there are a tremendous variety of LEGO parts; but more importantly, each piece has the potential to be used in a number of different projects.

At right, you see a piece that I believe initially came off a space set. When I look at it, I see the top of a parasol, a radar dish, a bullseye, Spiderman's web, a Captain's wheel, the base for patio furniture, top of a trashcan, R2-D2's head (some would argue the same as the top of a trashcan), and a robotic eye. That's just in a few minutes of brainstorming.

Incredibly my hand in that picture looks almost as big as the hands used in iPhone ads, which I believe belong to a giant. But I'm curious, what else do you think this piece could become?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

100 years of brickitude

Few joys in life can stack up to a Cubs game on television and a coffee table covered in LEGO bricks. For those of you who find baseball dastardly slow, just grab a box of LEGO bricks and get building. The next thing you know it will be at least the third inning and you'll have built yourself a castle.

The attached picture is a logo, I'll see if you can figure out what is says on your own. It features space ship chairs, doors, and what look to me like tiny oil derricks. If you need a hint, consider the first sentence of this post (it's not a coffee table, although LEGO furniture is an intriguing concept). If you can't decipher the complex sculpture, it's probably because it looks like a camel.

Please know this idea was, in large part, inspired by Sean Kenney's Google sign, which is on another level of awesome.

Monday, May 19, 2008

LEGO building is the new doodling

Building with LEGO bricks takes the place of doodling quite nicely. When a phone conversation drones on or I'm listening to the recording of an interview (by which I mean watching a video on YouTube), I find myself snapping together bricks in an unconscious parallel of trying to work a Rubik's Cube. I have yet to make significant progress on either to date.

So far, my mind prefers to make animals- block reincarnations of animal crackers. Above you see my version of a camel. It's a two humper, which any self respecting camel aspires to be. When you see this camel, you're probably thinking...well, sure, I can see that it's a camel- after all it has yellow-toned feet. The secret that you don't yet know is that all my of animals look like camels. I am like a LEGO version of the Island of Dr. Moreau wherein I have brick engineered a pig-camel, dog-camel, and a camel with wheels.

The bottom line is, I like balloon animals hacks everywhere, can only make one animal so far and I'm just praying for the day that I meet a kid who really wants a LEGO camel to be built for him. Until that unlikely moment, I'll continue my experimentation, returning a majority of my creations to the Sterilite tub from which their unholy construction began.

Friday, May 16, 2008

If James Ellroy played with LEGO

Writers tend to pick up traits from what they're reading. Ever live in a place and have vestigial accent traces on certain words? I still say ooot and aboot for "out" and "about" after spending two summers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, nearly a decade ago to the delight of my friends and spouse. Now, try and imagine those verbal tics happening to your writing. Sometimes the only way to get it out of your system is to acknowledge that it's occurring and embrace a style for a short period of time. So, in order to get back my long-winded syntax and inappropriate use of semi-colons, I present to you a quick interpretation of what James Ellroy (author of L.A. Confidential & The Black Dahlia) might write if he was attempting to build with LEGO bricks.

LEGO snares you in a web and then weaves a wicked tale. One brick. The difference between complete and a loss. I built for hours. I built nothing. The mail lady knocked. She was busy. She took no flack. She didn't live here.

The clock ticked. Bricks splashed the floor. I shot a man.

Photo Credit: Bheathr

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A world with walls

I'm building walls today. Some are solid masses of plastic bricks. Others are meant to resemble archways or provide support above windows and door frames. Let's just say I'm glad I wasn't the contractor on my own home.

It is a repetitive day of building, but one that I think is necessary in my training. I hope it will help me avoid the dreaded mid-project do over. The point where you realize that your structure is not going to look like you planned and is probably not strong enough to handle being moved. It is a point that I have become achingly familiar with...

Even if you can't wall in someone's imagination, it turns out that in order to be a solid LEGO Town builder, you have to have a basic grasp of wall construction.

Photo Credit: GadgetGirl70.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dog bites brick

The dog was quiet in the other room, which meant she was likely chewing on the couch. I choose to believe that animals, like people, are inherently good, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I chose poorly.

Charlie lay with her front half beneath the coffee table, an oversized black ottoman. It is where she goes when she wants to chew something without one of her owners callously interrupting her. Socks and pens disappear into her living room cavern with disturbing regularity. When I entered the room, I heard the telltale sound of her working something around inside her mouth. A quick crunch, followed by a soft clicking noise that is reminiscent of how one might calm a nervous horse.

I got down on my knees and peeked under the coffee table and met a pair of baleful eyes. Charlie immediately stopped chewing and furrowed the folds above those eyes- a worried look which she understands tends to soften the anger of the Man or Woman responsible for feeding her. "Off," I muttered- the only command that reliably protects my fingers and into the mouth of the beast I reached.

I didn't feel anything at first except the unpleasant warmth of a dog's mouth. A second sweep found a mangled piece of plastic on the right side of her tongue. Charlie had compacted a 1x2 brick into a twisted approximation of a 1x1 brick. I looked at the ruined LEGO piece in my hand and understood it would not be the last plastic brick to fall victim of the jaws of my dog. I hope she doesn't find many more pieces; however, because it appears that her creation was not that far from what I've been building recently.

Monday, May 12, 2008

From man to LEGO man

Every hobby has a tipping point. The dangerous moment when it goes from casual time suck to mind-numbing obsession. I worry at times about evolving from a man into LEGO man (sadly, nowhere near as cool as Iron Man, Batman, or even the man I used to be). I can see the danger signs when I'm at a party. At first the questions come rapidly about building with LEGO bricks as an adult. Is it still fun? What have you built? How many pieces do you have? But then the questions slow to a trickle and before I realize it, I've been holding court on the major LEGO issues of the day and people are looking for ways to escape the conversation. I am a black hole of fun.

In talking with a few members of the Adult Fan of LEGO community I realize that many men gripped with the desire to build have something in common- a partner that understands that LEGO is a competing love interest. The good news is that I'm meeting more Adult Fans of LEGO, and so far I've been able to keep up my end of the conversation.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The taxonomy of LEGO

Organizing LEGO bricks and plates is a challenge. You've got a lot of options. You can sort by color, size, shape, or some complex combination of filing that only you can access and understand.

I settle for matching color and trying to sort from smallest to biggest. Before the containers are half-full, I am already beginning to think on how I may improve on the next iteration. LEGO organization says a lot about your style of building. The key is to figure out how to make your pieces accessible even as you build your collection.

At it's base level, the sorting and storing of LEGO bricks is a status symbol. If you've got enough LEGO bricks that you need an entire room for storage, then you're a bona fide fan. But it always starts small. A tub here, or a portable series of plastic containers- it's just a corner of the living room, honest. But then there's a sale or a store liquidation and suddenly the guest bedroom has a few rubbermaid containers under the bed. For now, I'm still trying to work through the first tub and figure out just what pieces I have to use.

After two hours, my neck is stiff and I've got a slight headache. The Sterilite tub of LEGO pieces is still more than half full. My hands and finger joints feel tight and I suddenly feel old at 30. But I'm smiling because I realize we're going to need a lot more storage containers.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Bricks in a tub

A musty scent burps up from the Sterilite container as I pry loose the lid- it's not unpleasant, more of a cousin to the dry skin odor that creeps into your grandparent's home. A tub filled with old LEGO bricks is part treasure hunt, part time capsule, and part junk removal. I figure that top hasn't been opened in at least a decade, so I'm curious to find out what's inside.

"Aah..." screams my wife Kate in mock horror as she holds up a disembodied head from a minifig (LEGO man/figurine).

"Aah..." I cringe as she waves the severed head.

"Here. I'll just put him on a body. Give him a helmet for protection."

"Right," I look at the torso to which she's attaching the yellow head," But he still doesn't have any arms."

"Right," says my wife before the conversation dissolves into laughter.

We sift through the box, beginning to sort through thousands of LEGO pieces. In and among the bricks are interlopers- plastic pieces that resemble LEGO, but are of inferior quality.

"You could always tell which ones were fake," says Kate, "They never snapped together right and they would never come loose from a real brick."

We begin to set the fake pieces aside before I come across an old Nintendo gameboy plastic case. Inside are three LEGO minifigs, trapped behind plastic, perhaps in an homage to the space prism prison of Superman 2. If General Zod couldn't escape, what hope do these poor souls have?

[We believe the rubber shark pictured above is responsible for the decapitation of at least one LEGO man. If you see a tiny rubber shark near your desk, kindly store your LEGO men somewhere safe and consider wearing gloves for the rest of the day].

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Flirting with disaster

I have been putting off building for at least a week because I've been uncertain about what exactly I want to construct. Also, I'm a bit worried that everything I make will have my wife asking, "That's nice, dear. What is it?" The LEGO equivalent of a proud grade schooler returning home with a page full of primary-colored scribbles.

Diving into my brother-in-law's old tub of LEGO bricks, I saw a lot of wheels and settled on attempting a delivery truck. I figured the boxy right angles would be easy as right now I don't have the largest variety of parts available to me. [Above you see a side view of the truck, below is a frontal view].

Putting the wheels together was a snap; but after that I have to confess to being a bit lost. My dog Charlie slept fitfully on the couch next to me as I muttered almost continuously under my breath. I wasn't even aware that I was talking until she gave a brief howl and sneeze before turning over to show me her backside.

My brother-in-law's bricks are close to two decades old and they stick together. My finger nails aren't long enough to split apart pieces when I change my mind and it's embarrassing to think that I don't possess the necessary finger strength to separate two plates (the flat LEGO pieces). I've resorted to using my teeth- a method that appears to have been tried by one of my brother-in-laws based on the teeth marks at the corner of several bricks. I officially possess as much ingenuity as an eight-year-old.

Even though the truck is only 4 inches long, I found myself continually tearing it apart to try and make it stronger and simpler; hence the muttering. I went for the open air door, reminiscent of a UPS truck, and apparently my LEGO driver will have to settle for some sort of telepathic method of steering and braking. In just under three hours, it was finished. I placed it on my desk in order to take the slightly blurry photos you see above and disaster struck. My left hand reached for the digital camera and my right hand inadvertently shot out, knocking my LEGO creation (or my own creation) onto the floor. Incredibly, the truck broke into three even pieces, just as I had constructed it. But I learned an important lesson when documenting what you've built. Always photograph something before you move it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

In the beginning

My LEGO career peaked at the age of 12. One version of the Sears Tower and I hung up my bricks. I fell in love with reading and video games and a Disney cartoon line-up that features Ducktales and TaleSpin. I'm not proud of the years that followed. I donned too many Benetton sweatshirts and had glasses that Harry Caray wouldn't have worn. But we're not here to talk about the past.

We're here to talk about right now and my chance to come out of the Dark Ages- that time in any person's life that LEGO has disappeared for whatever reason. For my 30th birthday, my in-laws bought me the first new LEGO set I've had in 18 years and I couldn't have been more excited. Over the course of the next 12 months, I'm going to reconnect with my love of building with LEGO and attempt to meet some of the people that make up the Adult Fan of LEGO community. I want to know the secrets of building and what is considering cheating.

It is an interesting thing to try and explain that you will be playing with LEGO bricks for your job. I have discovered that men want to be me and women...well, women range from being mildly entertained to quickly disinterested. My wife seems fine with this result. I worry that men may soon lose interest as well, as I'm eager to share the terminology and facts that I amassing with alarming rapidity.

To paraphrase Dolph Lundgren in "I Come in Peace,"- I go in pieces, LEGO pieces.