“O sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams”

One of the many highlights of attending the BrickSlopes convention in June was this model by Kyle Ransom.  When I hit the showroom floor after setting up my own stuff I had no expectations in terms of the models I was about to see.  With regional cons you never know what you’re going to get because the vast majority of participants are what I like to call low-key locals.  Often these good folks don’t have a robust online presence in the hobby, they are active in the local LUG and active builders but they don’t focus on forums and blogs and such.  They are however, essential to the success of small conventions in largely unsung volunteer roles and they are the ones that fill the tables.  When rabble like KeithLUG roll into town it’s a bonus (I think), but you can’t count on those yahoos as the foundation of your event.

Once I’ve registered for an event I routinely scan the “AFOL Attendees” list to see who is coming and have a guess at what they might be bringing.  For BrickSlopes I have to admit that I didn’t recognize most of the people on the roster but one name jumped out at me, for images like this, this and this.  You can imagine my disappointment at not being able to locate any evidence of Kyle’s work after touring the convention floor several times or failing that, to locate the builder himself.  In the meantime there was a model I was drawn to several times, to study from different angles and speculate in the absence of any information (there was no MOC card).  I even dragged rountRee over for a look or two, such was the pull it had on my attention.  Of course it turned out to be Kyle’s post-apocalyptic tower diorama entitled “Paradise Lost“.  I remember thinking that it looked underdeveloped and a little sloppy in places, but there was a creative spark at work that was notably absent from many of the models surrounding it.  The entire build suggested larger ideas and storylines and just a bigger LEGO landscape.  I was more than willing to look past the rough edges (or entirely absent back wall) and admire the talent behind it, but it was also frustrating in its unrealized potential.  The biggest issue was that it just sort of emerged from the table, there was no landscaping or context to help fill in the gaps.  I think it would have looked really cool sticking up out of a vast lake or sand-dunes, or rubble-strewn streets.


In case you’re too lazy to go to Kyle’s Flickrstream, you really should read what he has to say about the project, it’s one of the most candid observations of a model I’ve read in ages.  After reading it, I was reminded that every ambitious build that makes it to a convention has a unique story behind it.

“O sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams

That bring to my remembrance from what state I fell, how glorious once above thy sphere.”

Any words I may try to write in describing this build and the creative/spiritual/personal journey that accompanies it would be insufficient in my mind. But here is a little bit of backstory. This was my display for the Brickslopes 2016 convention. The idea itself had been in my mind for quite some time, but a trip to Memphis Tennessee awoke an urge to express my thoughts on poverty and those that live in it. Inspired by my own personal experiences and slums from around the world, I began building. Five sleepless days later, on the day of the convention, I was finished. I packed up and headed down. The two hour drive proved disastrous for the build, and upon unpacking at the convention center it was entirely destroyed. I spent the rest of the day rebuilding, haphazardly mind you, the display. Several times in this entire process I reached a point of despair. My desperate desire to present a build that represented what I wanted mixed with the frustration of its fragility led me on a roller coaster of a week.

Looking back, each part of this build added to a journey for me. Disappointed initially by the build for several reasons including how quickly it was built, lack of stability, and other things, as the convention went on I realized what a metaphor this was. I had set out to build a fallen society, one that was haphazardly built, with no society stability and with complete disregard of the impoverished. Because of how quickly it was built and the collapse and rebuild the day of, the build had become more accurate to my creative vision than I could have ever set out to create. Leading me to a new respect and dedication to the ‘process’ of building over the final product.”

Stress, sleepless nights, damage during transport, despair that you’re not translating your vision into the brick…it doesn’t matter what scale you’re working on, the convention experience is universal.  I think Kyle’s conclusion that the building process is more important than the final product is an interesting one, but I’m not sure I agree.  If I don’t have that payoff at the end I tend to view things as a failure (see Hub 14), but I wish I shared Kyle’s perspective, I think it’s a little more mature.

This is also a tale of two models and it highlights the differences between an internet posting and seeing it in person.  When Kyle posted the shots online I didn’t initially recognize the model and even after I did it seemed like two different places.  The posting is in black & white (with an artistic splash of color) and features exclusively close-up perspectives that don’t reflect the entire build.  In person the diorama seems more fragile, but also more ambitious.  Kyle made a brilliant choice to take advantage of a lit-up microscale skyscraper that was displayed right next to his tower and include it in the photo. The result is an extremely immersive, cinematic image…but the impression the model gives in person and the one it gives online are very different.  Way to exploit your surroundings Kyle!

I’m not going to sugar-coat it, this model still feels like a near-miss to me, but what a compelling near miss.  I’m pretty sure it won a trophy, so take all of this with a large grain of salt.



19 thoughts on ““O sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams”

  1. Interesting. We all have said at one point that we ‘build for ourselves’. Of course that’s a partial lie at best, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone finding fruit in the frustration as Kyle has in this case. It’s different if the story of pain led you to holding the belt over your head and beating your opponent’s manager with it, but to have it end with losing teeth to the well-swung Folding Chair of Fate in the end…makes for a unique story. And blog post.


    1. Well, I added it as a post-script, but if memory serves Kyle won a trophy of some kind. He also gave a presentation at the even which I unfortunately didn’t attend but was well regarded. So I guess he was able to raise that belt, but I don’ t think it was all that satisfying. I’m sure Kyle will wander in eventually and sort me out but that’s my take.

      “well-swung folding chair of fate”…you should be blogging and not me, I bow to you good sir, you are the Elmore Leonard of Lego nerds.


    1. What other kind is there? That story was about to get interesting. Seriously, what was the event, what did you bring and how did it go? Do you have a write-up somewhere?


  2. Yea, his presentation was killer. He was able to identity overlaps between his own thoughts and those of other presenters very fluidly. His delivery was very candid and completely relaxed. In particular, I recall his cataloguing of the phases of a build, and how it corresponded with the notions proffered by Tommy. Inspiration, slight misgiving, despair, and at last the euphoria of completion. He told us that when he got to the fest, and opened the box, it was basically a box of bircks… almost none of the tower made the transit in tact.

    Man though, that tower was a thing to behold though! The unregulated and dangerous nature of life in this tower was palpable. My favorite single feature of the build, was his use of a Shell gas sign as an improvised wall patch. So perfectly credible. That, and maybe the columns of brick that were crooked by one stud. Looking at the structure even for a moment, took one far far away from the air conditions comfort of the fest floor. I could not look at it without slumping slightly. Really a powerful build.

    I do agree however, that for all it’s power, it was really a shame that Kyle could not have put some kind of footprint around it. A towering monument of decay and desperation is cool… but a towering monument of decay and desperation… looming up over a shanty town of corrugated huts and meandering streams of open sewage! Now that’s a reason to get up and dance!

    Kyle, this was one of the best things at the fest man. The point here is not what a bummer it was that you didn’t do more. The point is that as far as I am concerned, you will achieve even higher levels of emotional impact, when you have more time to invest. This MOC was a hammer blow to the heart, but you were obviously not even done with it! There was more to be built, I’m sure.

    Well done.



  3. That last paragraph is a great piece of CC. How could a builder not be inspired to take CC to heart and work with it when it’s framed under the context ‘we just want to moe’? Good stuff, Micheael. The community needs more of that IMO… one knuckle coated in brass, the other dusted in sugar.


      1. Too kind! Of course, if it wasn’t replete with typos, it would have been better…. ‘we just want to see more’…..butchering Michael’s name (apologies). I wish I could blame my phone. But I can’t.


  4. Kyle’s build was a convention goer’s testament, a masterpiece in all seriousness. Standing next to that “glass and steel” placebo of perfection, this thing made you want to look away. But you couldn’t. It kept calling you back if for only the OCD in all of us to straighten out the pilasters, add context, complete the back, infuse life. Decay is a tricky thing to build in actuality, most of the time it feels contrived. Here it was honest on EVERY level. That desperation of the subject and the desperation of the builder are painfully evident. Total case study. And totally empathetic.

    I know that I stress ad nauseum about the process and the Art, but there is always a product in our case as builders. The FINAL product is NOT the actual build at this moment; however, the final product of the current process and vision is. We as artists are never finished, in fact every build that anyone can recall has always received the harshest criticisms from ourselves. Could have built this better, should have engineered that more thoroughly, would have built the back of the tower if I had more time. It’s not lost potential, just missed opportunities. Kyle’s tower was exactly that; however, once in a great while, those tend to collide to create something greater than the sum of its parts or better still more realized than the artist ever intended.

    And it makes us want more.


  5. First things first, thank you Keith for this incredibly thoughtful article, I am honored. I am so glad you stated at the end that if feels like a near miss. Because I very much feel the same way. But that true critique excites me in knowing that I can do so much better. What I love about the Manifesto is that we talk about improving critique and building and the community as a whole, but you guys don’t just talk the talk, you walk the walk.

    I can honestly say that I was able to raise that belt, and it felt good. But the victory wasn’t in the trophy, the victory came when I realized I didn’t care if I got a trophy or not.Over the course of the convention I realized that so much of art is in the making of it. That a true artist, if that is what I ever hope to be, is dedicated to the process. That is not to say that the final product does not matter. But being dedicated to the process creates something sincere. If the final product ends up sub-par to our expectations (as this build did for me) it only serves as a motivation and stepping stone to greater projects in the future. I love all of your comments immensely, because my own thoughts align so perfectly with them. There is so much unfinished here, it needs a landscape, slums around it, life, more desperation, a back. And it has helped me realize as Rowntree so eloquently stated, that art is never finished. There is always more to change or add. That being said each time I pick up the bricks I can move a little bit farther on the track of sincerity and completion within my builds.

    As for my presentation, it was an experience as unique and teaching as the build was. It was written the day of, but somehow captured in a rudimentary way my feelings on building that had been changed the days just before. Thank you Michael, that is incredibly high praise from a presenter like yourself. If only sitting through class was as enjoyable as listening to you lecture.

    All this commentary has got me itching to build…


      1. Damn. All these years I thought you were screaming “artax!”. Because I know how much you were shaken by that scene in The Neverending Story. I know the film is a favorite of yours.



    1. You’re more than welcome Kyle, I’m excited to see what direction you go in next. That whole narrative you laid down on the photos was great, it was really interesting to see it in person and then learn the story behind its construction. I don’t often get that opportunity, especially with a builder as articulate as you are.

      Again though I have to encourage you and everyone reading not to feed Rutherford’s ego, it’s like feeding a gremlin after midnight and if you guys keep doing it he’ll eventually grow too big for this small town blog and create a breakaway republic of his own. He’s an idiot, really, I’ve known him since high school and I can provide countless examples. Were it not for his wife, he’d be dead or in prison.


      1. I know it’s not what you meant… but when you say: Were it not for his wife, he’d be dead or in prison. It creates this creepy image of my wife begging you not to kill me. We both know the real deal, its you who begs her not to kill me! Because if she kills me Keith… you will be all alone with no friends… slipping slowly down in a black muddy swamp sort of deal…

        Plus, I’m not an idiot your a stupid Artax idiot!


    2. Sadly I didn’t see this in its full grandeur. Only what was posted online in its slick edited closeups. From that lens, it’s textured depth and detail is so Kyle. And definitely another bar raised.

      Though that would be another thought to chew on
      .. building for conventions vs building to post online.

      “All this commentary has got me itching to build…”
      Brick con ;(

      Keith- hub 14 was a failure?
      Your own fault. You had an unbeaten steak until you let Canadians contribute….


      1. To be fair, Hub-14 was a success socially, it drew in an awesome group of people and a good time was had by all. I was speaking of it purely as a construct, as a model, where it fails on almost every level. The fault can be placed entirely with Rutherford and I. You guys brought awesome ornaments, but our Christmas tree was mediocre at best. It was half-baked, unconnected and under-developed. Every time I look at it I cringe, and you may notice I don’t have any evidence of it in my photostream. I can’t separate the build from the hassle of getting it there and getting it home, there were many disappointments along the way. It would probably make for a good blog article, but it would be impossible to tell the tale of Hub14 without disparaging some famous Lego nerds.


  6. Agreed.

    Hub-14 was a social GO and an esthetic NO GO. Keith nailed it with the “good ornaments bad tree” metaphor. A good crowd at the table (behind the MOC). Lots of Guns, Gangsta Bling, Horse heads… and an intoxicating collection of highlight quotes (You are looking at his pants again aren’t you?).

    I even liked the stuff you and I brought. All the tan buildings and green water.

    But we were on the hook for the setting, and our setting was poorly integrated. Your stuff, next to my stuff with no real visual linkages to speak of. Color is not enough. The terrain was flat as flat can be. Given more focus, we could have worked visual linkage and terrain much harder.

    Still… Other agendas were on the table, and they got taken care of. Not the least of which was fest fun. It was definitely worth the effort! MORE was not only possible, but within our grasp even. It came down to a question of focus.

    And of course, your building was primitive and made my elegant stuff look yucky.


  7. Thanks for sharing this one Keith. Another one that went under my radar. A flawed build, for sure, but the photo presentation saves it and the story behind it hits home.

    The process vs. result question is tied to the technical vs. aesthetic aspects of building for me. On the one hand, there are the “ah-hah!” moments that come in the building process when I finally figure out how to fit a piece in just the position I want. The long spells of frustration make those moments all the sweeter. But once I’ve overcome those technical hurdles and all that’s left are the details, that’s when I feel I have the most control aesthetically. That’s the point where I can quietly bask in what I’ve accomplished, which may not be as much of a rush as the previous epiphanies, but perhaps longer-lived.


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