Saturday, 25 July 2015

Bricks as Art - Nathan Sawaya’s ‘The Art of The Brick’

Procrastination is a wonderful thing.  Those of us blessed with it can always find an excuse for putting something off.  That wobbly shelf?  The garage that needs tidying?  No problem!  We’ll do it “soon”.  Maybe even “tomorrow’.
Just not “right now”.

However, to paraphrase the old Yellow Pages advert, procrastination isn’t just there for the  bad things in life.  Sometimes it gets in the way of stuff that you do actually want to do.
Want to see that film on the big screen?  It finished last week.
Pick that book up at a discount?  The sale’s over.

So when ‘The Art of the Brick’, Nathan Sawaya’s globetrotting Lego exhibition arrived at the Old Truman Brewery in London last September, I thought “I’ll go and see that.  No rush though - I’ve got plenty of time.”

And then the closing date passed.  

Fortunately, serendipity lent a hand, and I found that the exhibition had been extended to April 12th.  No doubt due to ‘overwhelming public demand’.  

I promptly forgot all about it.

Until a week before closing.  The last weekend it was on.  And we were going away.

Clearly someone, somewhere wanted me to see it, and so very thoughtfully gave me a dose of food poisoning just before we were due to pack up and head for Wales.  But Saturday morning rolled round, I crawled out of bed feeling rather better than I had for 48 hours, and suddenly we were looking at a Sunday with no plans.

To the internet!

Tickets purchased, a slightly reluctant wife and I got up early the next morning and headed out.  Lugging a bag full of DSLR gear with me, we got on the train, and about an hour later, emerged from Liverpool Street station.  I’d gone for early tickets, so the streets were largely empty, and when we got to the Truman Brewery, that was largely empty too.  It turned out to be a pretty cool exhibition space and a major plus point for me was that you could take as many photos as you like (as long as you didn’t use flash).  Given that most places like this chase you off like a plague-carrying zombie with halitosis at the sight of a camera, this was a bit of a result. (1)

Fortunately, my better half, who’d agreed to come along, was actually quite interested to see the works, and so didn’t mind too much about our slow progress through the gallery as I snapped away. 

The first room contained a number of classical sculptures, some well known, like the Venus De Milo, Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ and Michelangelo’s ‘David’, others less so, such as ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’.  All were, at a guess, somewhere between 50% and 75% of actual size, though I’m afraid I may be way off the mark, my classical education not being all it could be.

Michelangelo's 'David'

The next room was, at first glance, a step back from the imposing statues we’d just left behind.  They were framed mosaics that replicated famous paintings, although closer inspection showed that there was more to them than met the initially-skeptical eye.

First up was ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch, something that most people will recognise: a slightly distorted figure on a bridge against an abstract - possibly fiery (2) - background. 
It was only as you drew closer that you realised that while the background was a ‘normal’ Lego-tiled mosaic background, the figure itself was three dimensional!

(The) Scream - 3D.  Not a cheesy horror film.

Next to it was a replica of one of my favourite paintings, ‘The Great Wave Off Kanagawa’ by Hokusai.  This too was three dimensional, but in a much more subtle fashion, only coming ‘out of the frame’ by a couple of bricks, but enough to give the waves real definition.

Detail from 'The Great Wave...'

Most of the other (five or six) ‘paintings’ in the room were flat, and varied in effectiveness.  “Girl With A Pearl Earring’ was unusual insomuch as it was a flat mosaic with the exception of the earring itself, which stood proud.  I spent a few minutes trying to work out whether it was a genuine Lego piece or not (it was a clear ‘bubble’ sort of thing).  I’m not sure, though more knowledgable people than I can probably give a definitive answer.

If pushed, I’d probably say that my favourite in the room was ‘San Giorgio Maggiore At Dusk’ by Monet.  Depicting the monastary-island of San Maggiore in Venice, the original is impressionist bordering on abstract, and Sawaya’s work does a fantastic job of replicating this.  Made up (as far as I can tell) of nothing but 1x1 tiles, maybe with a few 1x4’s in the sky, it must have taken a huge amount of planning, or an awful lot of trial and error.

San Giorgio Maggiore in all its impressionist glory

Next up was what I would describe as ‘display pieces’.  Not supposed to be anything in particular, they were oversized objects that wouldn’t look out of place in a hotel lobby, or in one of those achingly hip loft apartments whose owners have gone to extraordinary expense to make the place look empty.  A couple of chess pieces (‘Queen’ and ‘Pawn’) sat next to a three dimensional ‘twist’ of Lego / rope.  “Writer’ was a life-sized figure holding an oversized pencil, while “Polar Bear’ was, well you can probably figure out what that was.

Queen and Pawn

Some of the other pieces in the room impressed with their size, but didn’t seem to pique the interest in the same way.  An apple that was twice the size of my head was, to my mind, just a lot of red bricks.

In fact the one that caught my eye most was one of the smallest.  Simply titled ‘The Box’, it was inspired by a Roddy Doyle short story, and featured a figure, sitting on a bed, looking at a gift-wrapped box.  It was probably no more than a foot long and about 10 inches high.  It used just a few colours, was largely straight lines, and apart from the figure, used no complex building techniques at all.  It was probably the first in the exhibition where someone with a modest Lego collection could think “I could go home and make that!”   

Inspired by Roddy Doyle's 'The Box'

The following small gallery was a bit of a mixture, containing some musical-inspired pieces (a life-like and life-sized cello, plus ‘Sing’, an oversized musical note with a human head for the ‘blobby bit of the note’ (3) ).  The other sculptures were inspired by the solar system, with the smallest - a globe of the Earth, not much bigger than a football - being the most pleasing to look at.  Made up of 1x1 and 1x2 bricks in pleasing pastel shades, it’s the sort of thing I’d like in our house.

At this point we started to get to the ‘statement pieces’, and ‘Blue’ warranted a room all to itself.  It’s a figure, swimming.  Made entirely of blue bricks, it rests on a glass, or acrylic, sheet, representing the surface of the water.  Thus Sawaya has only created the part of the swimmer visible as they’re frozen, mid front-crawl.  Sadly the combination of the lighting, and my inexperience with a relatively new camera meant that when I got home and looked at my pictures, the piece was renamed ‘Purple’.

We then moved into the largest gallery space so far, and this is where Sawaya’s ‘Greatest Hits’ were displayed.

Much of his work is based around anonymous human figures, often combined with something abstract.  The first piece, for example, was around three feet high, and consisted of a figure with his arms raised.  The arms morphed into an arched ladder, coming down in  front of him, which he’d started to climb up.

“Building Red’, meanwhile, was a bust of a Lego man, putting himself back together from the pile of bricks that surrounded him.

All very deep and meaningful.

Three facemasks, each around four feet high were striking.  ‘Blue Facemask’ was a self portait, and ‘Red Facemask’ was a friend of Sawaya’s, while ‘Yellow Facemask’ had just sat on a drawing pin from the looks of things.


Three figures , titled ‘Red Torso’, ‘Yellow Torso’ and ‘Blue Torso’ dominated the centre of the room.  They were each life sized upper bodies, but with heads of a sphere, a pyramid and a cube respectively.


A few other pieces drew my attention, but in the corner of the room was the one that everybody had come to see.

Simply titled ‘Yellow’, it’s a life-sized torso of a man, made entirely of yellow bricks, pulling his chest open from where a slew of more yellow bricks cascades onto the table.  In any medium more realistic than Lego it would be somewhere between disturbing and stomach-churning, but being in little plastic bricks it has a certain elegance.


Moving on, we reached what might have been called the ‘Angst room’.  It was certainly filled with many figures, all of whom seemed to be suffering some sort of anguish, whether it was sitting with their head in their hands, or indeed looking at the pile of bricks on the floor that used to be their hands!  

Someone's not having a good day

There was a lot of stuff in this room.  Cracked heads, disintegrating bodies, clutching hands.

Maybe Nathan needs a holiday...

The next room was rather different.

In among a few other pieces and portraits were three life-sized figures, of a middle-aged woman, a girl in her late teens / early twenties and a crow.
They were on a plinth alongside a TV screen, and a film was being looped.  We sat down on one of the benches and watched ‘Daddy Warblocks’.

Directed by Chris Nash, with Lego sculptures by Sawaya, it’s about 10 minutes long, and either kitsch or very moving, depending on how heartless (or otherwise) you are.
With very little dialogue, we see a man saying goodbye to his wife as she heads out for a trip.  While she’s gone, he builds a bird from Lego and it comes to life.
As you do, he then builds ‘Penny’, his teenage daughter, and explains the world to her, and tells her about her mother, Rita, who’s away.  The film ends with him taking a photo of his daughter who is, of course, just Lego once more.  And standing alongside her is the statue of Rita, her ‘mother’.

I loved it.

Penny & Rita

We were nearing the end of the exhibition now.  A ‘British Room’ had been created for the London show, with some icons, such as a Phone Box, the Beatles and One Direction!
You could also have your photo taken in a chair, alongside one of Sawaya’s figures.

And normally, that would have been that.  However, as we’d gone late in the exhibition’s run, we were treated to some ‘bonus content’.  ‘In Pieces’ was a collaboration between Sawaya and photographer Dean West.  The explanation and ‘concept’ as we went in was, quite frankly, complete tosh :  “Identity as cultural creation” and whatnot.

In a nutshell, West had taken some photographs, and somewhere in the photo, a piece of the scenery had been replaced by a Lego substitute.  It was fun trying to spot what the ‘fake item(s) was / were before going off and finding the original.

Some were simple.  A man standing in a swimming baths had a Lego towel on the wall and a pair of Lego flipflops on the floor.  Others were more subtle.  A railway halt in the anonymous Mid-West had me scrutinising the picture for about five minutes before my wife pointed out the Lego railway tracks behind me.

One of the cleverest was a girl standing outside a 1950‘s style cinema.  She was wearing a little red dress which was being blown by the wind, and disintegrating as a result.  The entire dress, including the fragments, was made of Lego, and to reproduce it in the exhibition hall, hundreds of individual bricks were suspended on fine filament to replicate them being blown away.

The photo

The girl and dress in close up 

And the dress itself

And that was that.  My wallet didn’t make it through the gift shop unscathed, but on reflection, it got off quite lightly.

Looking back (several months now), I really enjoyed it.  Several people have commented that Sawaya’s work is quite simplistic, just using basic bricks, but I think it’s all the better for that.  Having the time and space to look around while it was quiet definitely contributed though - it would have been a different story in the height of the school holidays.

I believe ‘The Art Of The Brick’ is on tour still - if you get a chance to go, I’d recommend it. 

(All sculptures created by Nathan Sawaya - hopefully he doesn't mind me publishing a few pictures of his work.) 

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(1) I suspect that this is going to be a more commonly adopted attitude in future, as thanks to the fact that just about everyone (except me) these days has a smartphone with a fairly decent camera on it, everyone’s a photographer.  And you try and tell people they can’t come in without surrendering their phone, and there would be rioting in the streets.  

(2) Although it could equally be a striking sunset.

(3) I’m sure that has a proper name, but I don’t know what it is.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Small but perfectly formed. Review : Star Wars Microfighters

As well as Lego, I have an interest in all things Japanese. (1)  And for people with an interest in Japanese culture, the gateway can often be anime and manga. (2)

For those of us in the west, where comics bring to mind The Beano, and cartoons mean Tom & Jerry or The Flintstones, the Japanese style can seem quite strange.  Often figures seem quite deformed, with disproportionately large heads, noses so small to be almost non-existent and ridiculously large eyes.  

It’s just a style.

And within that style, is a sub-genre called ‘Chibi’.  This roughly translates as ‘small and cute’.  Often in a story there may be a scene where a character, who may already be quite cute, will suddenly appear in ‘chibi’ form.  They will have shrunk to maybe a third of their usual size, their head will now be considerably larger than the rest of their body, and their eyes will be enormous.

No, it doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’re not familiar with J-Culture, but trust me - it’s cute.

So what’s all this got to do with Lego?

Over the years, Star Wars has been a big seller for Lego.  Looking at the very excellent database at, there are over 400 sets listed in the SW theme.  Indeed, there have been seven different versions of the Millennium Falcon alone, ranging from a mini set in 2003 made up of a polybag-esque 87 parts, to possibly the most desired Lego set of all time, the 5195 part behemoth that is the Ultimate Collectors Series version released in 2007. (3)

The most recent addition to this exclusive list of Falcons is set number 75030.  This lives in a Star Wars subtheme known as Microfighters.  And these Microfighters are Lego’s equivalent of a chibi model.  Small enough to sit on the palm of your hand, yet with a full sized minifig pilot they are very cute indeed!

Last year, Lego released six models in the series.  They weren’t the first - there were five sets released, including a Landspeeder and a Slave-1 between 2012 and 2014.  They either slipped under my radar or arrived during my ‘dark ages’.

But the six new sets caught my eye.  Well, four of them did.  Two of them, the Clone Turbo Tank and the AAT are both from the prequel trilogy, and so hold rather less appeal for me than the four sets from the original trilogy. (4)

Those four are, to simplify things, two baddies and two goodies.  The baddies consist of the Star Destroyer and the Tie Fighter, while the goodies are the X-Wing Fighter and the aforementioned Millennium Falcon.  They all retail for about £8.99, but it’s not difficult to find them all closer to the £6.50 mark.

At between 92 and 100 pieces, none of these were going to take long to build, so one afternoon I sat down with all four boxes and started putting together my fleet!

All the sets come with a manual and two bags of parts.  I started of with the grey wedge that is the Star Destroyer, although at this scale, if the star is any bigger than about 2” across, it would struggle.

It is at this point that I have to confess that the previous page-and-a-bit was written about four months ago, and I’ve just caught up with it.  So while I’d like to be able to regale you with interesting tales from the build of these dinky little sets, I am unable to by virtue of the fact that I can’t remember much about it.

What I do remember is that they were all pretty cool (although the Star Destroyer is as interesting a grey wedge can be, i.e. not very), and sat out on display for some time.

Here’s a few pictures by way of apology.

And while we’re talking about Star Wars, I may have mentioned that courtesy of the eagle-eyedness of THFourteen from Eurogamer, we were both able to pick up the Red Five UCS X-Wing at a bargaintastic 33% discount last November during one of Argos’ occasional 3-for-2 offers.

When I got back into Lego, I’d kind of got it into my head that I was going to build smaller sets to begin with and work up to the larger ones (5), but with a few days clear over the Christmas break, that went out of the window, and I spent a most enjoyable couple of long evenings building the X-Wing.
Awesome set.  Probably one that - on reflection - I would have paid full price for. (6)

Write up of that particular set coming soon.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

(1) Not all things, that would be daft.  I’m not interested in Japanese plumbing.  Or Japanese hairdryers.  But quite a lot of stuff.

(2) Anime are cartoons, manga are comics.  Despite their childish connotations, both have a wide audience across all age groups in Japan.  It’s quite common to see a salaryman, or office worker, reading, say, a Golf manga on the train to work.  Or a housewife reading a lonely hearts-style manga magazine.

(3)  I remember seeing it at the time.  Why didn’t I buy it?  Why?

(4) Or ‘the holy trinity’ as it’s known in our house.

(5) Which is why my first set, the 8070 Technic Supercar, is still unopened, despite having had it for nearly two and a half years.

(6) I paid £113 which was a bargain.  List price was £169.99.  It’s worth that.  However, last weekend, I went to Nathan Sawaya’s exhibition ‘The Art Of The Brick’.  The exhibition itself was excellent, but the prices of the Lego sets in the gift shop were outrageous.  That same X-Wing?  £260!!!  I can only hope they haven’t sold any at that price. 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Names and faces

Last time out, I said I’d mention the Star Wars sets that I’d bought and built, and I will - the writing has started and the photos are (mostly) ready - but I’m aware that quite a lot happened in the nine months that I wasn’t blogging, and one or two were worth mentioning.

So.  What was going on in the compartment marked ‘Lego’ while I was failing to get any writing done?

Well I’ve picked some stuff up.  Nothing huge (1) - a Lego Movie set (Super Cycle Chase), an Architecture set (United Nations Building) and the ‘Ideas’ set, Ghostbusters Ecto-1.  For the most part though, it’s been polybags from newspaper giveaways.  Plus some Star Wars Microfighters, but I’ll come back to those next time.

But more importantly, I met a good number of the Brickset gang back in July, which was both fascinating and fun.

In late June / early July, we became aware that the latest Ideas set, Pete Reid’s Exo-Suit, was going to not only be available a week before the official launch date of August 1st, but the reason it was going to be available early was because Pete himself was going to be at the Lego Bluewater store, signing the boxes!

Now some grumpy old so and so’s might have previously gone on record saying they had no interest in purchasing one of these.  I can’t imagine who might have done such a thing.

/looks sheepish

But anyway, let’s gloss over that and move on...

Part of the reason I wanted to pick a set up is because one of our nephews was about to start the next stage of his degree (Phd?  Masters?  Something complicated.) and he was going to be contributing the electrical engineering to… an Exo-Skeleton!  For DARPA no less. (2)  So I thought I’d go along and pick up a signed copy for him.  And let’s face it, how often to you get the opportunity to meet a Lego designer, and have him sign your set.  I would have had to have been something of a grouch not to get one for myself.

So July 26th saw me up and out early getting the shopping done in order to get round to Bluewater before 12.00.  The journey was ok, and I was there by 11.00.  An hour early!  I’ll be first in the queue, right?  There probably won’t be a queue, right!  It’s just a small Lego set, and how many people collect Lego?

There was a queue.

And the queue was long.

There had been talk running on the Brickset forum about this event, and due to the fact that the two minifigs in the set were modelled on Classic Space minifigs, but were breaking new ground by being green, it had been suggested that people turn up wearing a green t-shirt.  I’d rummaged around and come to the conclusion that I didn’t own a green t-shirt, so had gone with a blue Technic shirt instead.

Well you have to make a bit of an effort. 

Plenty of others had managed to find green apparel though.

The Lego shop team were doing a great job of organising people, and encouraged us to go into the store, buy our (no more than two) Exo-Suit sets and then get in the queue for signing.  The queue was outside the store, and as Bluewater seems to have been created by a greenhouse designer, it was pretty warm!

Huw ‘Grand Fromage’ Millington, owner, creator and overseer-General of Brickset had said that if you came and found him and whispered the secret code-phrase. then you’d get a polybag, so as I came out of the store clutching my sets, I went and said hello, and wandered back to my spot at the end of the queue, clutching a 30280 Piece of Resistance poly from the Lego Movie.

Result!  Thanks, Huw!

In addition, the store had been doing a polybag giveaway, and so with my Exo-Suits, I’d also been given a 30265 Worriz’ Fire Bike.  I have to admit, I don’t really ‘do’ polybags.  I’ve never opened and built any, and yet looking back through my records I seem to have acquired more than sixty.  They do come in handy for Christmas presents, swaps and so on though, and they don’t take up much room.  And the vast majority have been free.

So I’m not complaining.

Now I knew that there was going to be a good turnout from the Brickset brigade, but the trouble with web forums is that, by and large, you don’t know what people look like.  And with most usernames, you can’t even tell which gender they are, let alone age or appearance.

So ‘shib’ for example, could have been anyone.  But he turned out to be the chap standing next to me, with his other half, who said she was a registered-but-not-very-frequent-contributor who went by the name of kioko21.  Really nice to meet them both, and we whiled away some time, talking about, understandably, Lego.

Modern times being what they are, most people are never too far away from the internet, and shib had been keeping an eye on the Brickset forum, when he mentioned that LostInTranslation was looking for me.  I’d been fortunate enough to win a prize in the annual Brickset shindig that is the FairyBricks raffle, and Lost… was going to hand over some of my goodies at the event, thus saving on some postage.
A few messages, descriptions posted and a bit of arm waving later, we found each other, and the loot was mine!

I’d taken a camera along with me, and by the time I’d left, managed to get some snaps of a few Bricksetters.  Some were a little more shy than others…

Still.  Very nice to meet them all.

Fast forwarding to October, and Mrs Boo had a significant birthday.  There was a zero at the end and I shall leave it there.  But it was worthy of celebration, and so she’d decided she’d like to go to New York for a week.  Much trawling of the internet later, the flights and hotel were booked and we were airborne.  We’d spent the previous few weeks making a list of things to see and places to go, and it just so happened that the weekend we were there was the grand opening of the new Lego store by the Flatiron building. (3)  These things are normally a three day affair, with day one having a T-shirt giveaway, day two having a model Lego store giveaway and day three being an exclusive set of three minifigs.
As it was, they were pushing the boat out and having a fourth day giveaway of a Statue of Liberty model.

I knew the T-shirt was going to be a child’s size, so didn’t really interest me, and I’d managed to acquire two of the Lego brand store models (4).  What I really wanted was the minifigs.  But that was the Sunday giveaway, and we flew home on the Saturday.


To cut a long story short, the store manager was awesome, and having picked up the Architecture sets of the White House and the Trevi Fountain, I walked out with both a T-Shirt and a set of Minifigs!

Manager dude! You rock!

Managed to pick up a few more things since then.  The Tumbler was too good to miss.  Thanks to an online friend and a 3 for 2 deal at Argos, I managed to get the UCS X-Wing Red 5 for 33% off, and I may have gone a bit collectoholic when the 2015 Technic range was released.

More of that later.  

Coming up next, Star Wars, large and small.

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(1)  Delays between me starting to write this and actually publishing it means that ‘Nothing huge’ is now incorrect.  Details later.

(2)  DARPA is the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the US government, and thanks to DARPAnet, played a signicant role in the creation of the Internet / World Wide Web. 

(3) Coincidence.  Honestly.

(4) One from the Watford Grand opening, one from the Brickset / Fairybricks raffle.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

And now for a brief interlude...

As may be evident from the title, this is a blog concerned with Lego.  However, “Other construction toys”, as the BBC might say, “are available”.  Casting my mind back to the days of my childhood, I vaguely remember having some Stickle Bricks, which were blocks that were more akin to velcro than a viable building material.  Whatever good intentions you started out with, it always ended up as just a large wodge of bricks stuck together. (1)

The other thing I had was Meccano.  I had a small basic set, and a larger ‘Mountain Engineer’s set’.  The cover of the dog-eared box showed a number of exciting things that could be made, from station wagons and buses to cable cars and funicular railways.

The Meccano Mountain Engineers set
(Image courtesy of

What I largely remember of Meccano though, is scraped knuckles, sore fingers and crawling around looking for tiny nuts and bolts which would lose themselves in the carpet, only turning up when they announced themselves by rattling around inside the hoover.  While you could make some detailed models, they always seemed to take ages and the build seemed like a bit of a chore.

So when, back in 2012, I got back into Lego, I didn’t look any further to see what else was on the market.  At the Christmas just gone though, I recieved a parcel from my sister-in-law and her husband, that rattled in an interesting fashion, and when I opened it, it turned out to be a model of the Empire State Building.  But it wasn’t the Lego Architecture series, but Nanoblocks, which was new to me.

The Nanoblocks box

Nanoblocks are construction sets that use similarly shaped bricks to the basic Lego building blocks, but, as the name suggests, are considerably smaller.  You can see a comparison between some Nanoblocks and their Lego equivalents, here.

Lego bricks & Nanoblocks bricks

Some research shows that Nanoblocks, from the Kawada Company in Tokyo, have been around since 2008, and include models of famous buildings, animals, musical instruments, and various licensed sets based on films and TV series.  The piece count varies from around 100 to over 2000 and my Empire State Building, according to the box, had ‘over 740 pieces’.

So having an evening free recently, I sat down, opened the box and had a look.  The contents consisted of a couple of bags of pieces and a base plate - so far, so familiar, and a single instruction sheet. This was different to the booklets that you usually get with a Lego set.

While other sets are undoubtedly more complex, this particular set simply starts at the bottom and builds up, one layer on top of another, in about 35 steps. (2)   I empted all the pieces into a couple of bowls, put the baseplate down in front of me and peered at the sheet.

The first thing you notice is how small the parts are.  While the 4x1 and 8x1 bricks are reasonably easy to grasp and position, the 1x1 blocks - of which there are many - are fiddly as anything.  I remember someone saying that you could do with tweezers to place them, and they weren’t far wrong.  A couple of hours of peering at the sheet and fiddling with the pieces (and retreiving a few escapees along the way), and I was about a dozen layers up.  The instructions took a bit of getting used to, as they show a birds eye view of the build, and the previous layer is shown as light blue (irrespective of what colour the blocks were), while the new blocks are either grey or a darker shade of blue.

Next evening I went back and finished it off.  The middle section, consisting of 24 layers in a repeating 4 layer pattern did, it has to be said, get a bit boring, but once you’re past that, you’re onto the home stretch which is completed fairly quickly.

You’re left with a model about 6” tall, and remarkably close to the original in looks.

The finished model

It was an interesting build overall.  I doubt whether I’m going to switch allegience from Lego to Nanoblocks - I’ll leave that to those with nimbler fingers than I - but as a ‘change of scenery’ it was a fun little side project.

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(1) Some googling suggests that while there are one or two valiant souls who’ve managed to create something impressive out of Stickle Bricks, most people are in the same boat as me.  

(2) It’s actually more than this, as the main section repeats, so there’s a small note telling you to repeat 4 steps another 6 times, resulting in the final tally being more like 60 steps.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Terms & Conditions. But mostly Terms.

It’s been a while!  Nine months since my last post!  To summarise - stuff happened and blog posting fell of the end of the list.  Hopefully normal service will now be resumed.
New year, new start and all that!
The End.

~ ~ ~

When I got into Lego a couple of years back and started picking up the lingo, AFOL, or Adult Fan Of Lego, was just one of many terms that went with the hobby, and I didn’t pay much attention to it.  However, over the past couple of years it’s started to bother me.

Occasionally on TV, and certainly around Christmas time, you often get documentaries about toys, hobbies and the like.  James May has cornered the market in presenting these sort of things.  Now and again you get someone like Jonathan Ross, and failing that, it’ll be a ‘Top 50 something-or-others’ type programme, with a voiceover by one of the rentapresenters who turn up on these things.  

Anyway.  One of the ‘toys’ that is often featured, is the train set.  I suspect that if you surveyed a selection of random people on the street, most of them would describe a train set as a children’s toy.  

Which it is.  

But as often as not, the programme will feature a number of chaps (they’re always chaps, and Pete Waterman (1) seems to be the go-to guy when model railways are involved) who have elaborate train sets.
And everyone involved is fascinated.  They want to know how much it cost, how big the layout is, how long it took to build and so on.  The presenter marvels at the work that’s gone into it, and there’s a lot of admiration and ‘I’d have one of these if only I had the space and money’ sort of stuff.

The thing that never comes up is : ‘Why are you, a grown man, playing with a child’s toy?’

It applies to other things too.  If some bloke has a cupboard full of mint condition Airfix kits from the last few decades, it’s ‘ooh’ed and ‘aah’ed at, and generally considered something to be aspired to.

But Lego?

You don’t have to look far, either at the off-the-shelf sets, or the Lego building community, to see that there are some staggeringly complex, detailed (2) models built using Lego, but still this… stigma... seems to exist, and the question, sometimes vocalised, sometimes just implied is, ‘Why are you, as an adult, still playing with a toy?’

Enthusiasts of Model trains are referred to, often as not, as Model train enthusiasts.  Now if you read ‘James is a Model train enthusiast.’, how old would you imagine him to be?  Fact is, you have no idea.  But if you read ‘James is an Adult Fan Of Lego.’, it’s immediately pointing out the fact that he’s, well, an adult.  I.e. ‘He’s playing with Lego, but we feel the need to point out that he’s not a child.  Because Lego is for children.  And he’s an adult.’

And ‘Fan’.  To me, the word ‘fan’ suggests a distance; a remoteness.  A fan admires something from afar.  A fan looks at something someone else is doing.  Sports fans aren’t on the team - they sit and watch the team.  A Lego fan doesn’t sound like someone who’s actively involved in the hobby, but just… hangs around.  

Quite frankly, the term ‘Adult Fan Of Lego’ has a creepy sort of connotation that I don’t much care for.

I wasn’t sure where it originated - whether it was a designation that Lego themselves started using to label a demographic that represents a small but significant proportion of their sales, or whether it was the ‘adults’ in question who labelled themselves.  Interestingly, I’ve seen some people suggest that the term ‘AFOL’ is used because of the stigma (imagined or otherwise) of playing with a child’s toy, and they wish to identify themselves as adults.   That seems a bit odd to me.

I did a bit of asking around, and the good folks of Brickset came up trumps.  Apparently the term was first used in an online conversation back in 1995 (3), when Jeff Thompson used the phrase ‘adult fan of Lego’.  The following day, Matthew J. Verdier pointed out that it sounded like an acronym - AFOL.  (4)

But whether I dislike it or not, I suspect it’s ingrained within the Lego community, and it’s not going to be changed.   When I was asking about this on Brickset, Dedgecko said to me, ‘Well could you come up with something better?’, and no I don’t think I could, simply because I wouldn’t want an alternative, I just don’t want a label at all.

But people love labels, hence there being AFOLs, TFOL’s, KFOL’s and AFFOL’s (5), plus I suspect, many more.

Still.  If that’s the only gripe I’ve been able to come up with after having been involved with the hobby for a little over two years, that’s pretty good.

Moan over.  Unfortunately over the past nine months I haven’t done a great deal of building (6), but I did manage a few small sets over the summer, plus one rather larger one over Christmas.

All of which came from a galaxy far, far away.

Reviews coming shortly. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) Record Producer.  Responsible, along with his collaborators Matt Aitken and Mike Stock, for much of the pop output of the 1980’s.

(2) And costly.  Large scale Lego building is an expensive hobby.

(3) Much more recent than I expected.  For some reason I’d assumed it dated back to the 1980’s.

(4) Many thanks to Brickdancer and bluemoose from the Brickset forum, who tracked down this original conversation.

(5) Being ‘Adult’, Teenage’, ‘Kid’, and ‘Adult Female’ Fans Of Lego respectively.

(6) Managed to keep the buying ticking over though.