SHIPrites Vol 2: Not the Easiest Approach

The Manifesto is proud to present the second installment of a month-long series by friend of the blog and creator of SHIPtember, Simon Liu.


Hey everyone,

Welcome to another installment of SHIPrites.  Thank you all for the comments from our first volume, either on the blog, Flickr, text, messenger, or my preferred method of tin cans connected by string.  It was great to be able to share some of my thoughts and my view of SHIPtember. But it’s just that: MY view.

This isn’t your standard contest, it’s not your standard themed build-month. This is SHIPtember.  I may have come up with the original concept, but as we discussed last week the concept is all about evolving and iterating. This extends to SHIPtember itself.

Remember the first year, how some students couldn’t do SHIPtember because they went off to school and were physically separated from their collections?  Next iteration: start in August!  It’s not ideal, but it works. I never think of the endeavor as ‘my’ SHIPtember, it’s ‘our‘ SHIPtember and everyone should try to do it the best they can (still has to be space SHIPs). That can mean very different things to different people.

There are basically three guiding principles I thought would be important. I’m not going to call them laws, as they can be flexible. Plus there already is a hallowed set of Three Laws (RIP Mr Asimov).

1) Build a SHIP

2) Do it within the confines of September

3) Post WIPs.

Fairly simple guidelines.

It’s like when I wash my car. It’s not super fancy, but it’s nice, and it photographs well:


I won’t get into how this is a horrible LEGO car, or how the Bose speakers were almost too big to accommodate a hockey bag. But it’s black, and black cars are gorgeous… when clean. So when it’s dirty I have several options, much like the participants in SHIPtember.

I could do the bare minimum and drive it in the rain – that gets it mostly clean, right? That’d meet the minimum requirements of getting it cleaner  much like building a basic 100-stud long spaceship. Or I could take it to the car wash – it does a pretty good job and I can get the upgraded ultra wash – that’s the next step, say starting and finishing within the confines of September.  And of course most people would choose the third option, to hand wash it and wax on and off till it’s a martial arts shiny glory. Which is like accomplishing all three principles.

Of course any of these approaches will accomplish the primary goal, and depending on the individual builder, they may or may not be able to perform all the elements of SHIPtember.  Some (like Keith) might argue why even bother with the exercise if you can’t follow the so-called rules and perform these three simple steps?

For some people it’s more fun to ‘savor the surprise‘ and some would much rather have fun building their perfect SHIP instead of rushing in a month to build something less optimal. Sioka has been working on this 2015 SHIPtember entry…


…since 2015’s SHIPtember.  You can see some of his progress in here, that’s dedication to doing what he thinks is the right.

Again, you control the action in SHIPtember.  You might not even realize it how much you’re controlling it, based not only on the way you approach the so-called rules, but your SHIP itself.  Because much like Asimov’s Three Laws, there is the unspoken SHIPtember Zeroth Guideline:

0) SHIPtember is as hard as you make it.

SHIPtember gives you a lot of choices and options, and some are more obvious than others.  The 100 stud mark is extremely arbitrary, but most builders can accomplish this threshold fairly easily. In fact there are many people who have comlpeted a SHIP in a single day, and I say more the power to them if they’re having fun.

But in my mind, SHIPtember is about the journey to get to the best SHIP you can build in a month-long time frame. That’s how I make it hard for myself, I keep going until I basically run out of time. Other people do it differently – it’s fascinating to see even if people don’t realize it.

Some people will do it without bricklinking orders, others will work in difficult to use colours and still others will use the largest possible pieces to cover the most areas. I think some people ‘get‘ that they’re making things difficult for themselves and how overcoming that difficulty is part of the SHIPtember spirit. You’ll often see comments that people are ‘trying new things’ or picking shapes and styles they’ve never tried. SHIPtember seems to have evolution and iteration embedded within it’s ethos – not just for the SHIP that is being built, but the builders themselves.

As I look at the sad state of my SHIP this year, the one extra difficulty level I added for myself this year was going to Minifig Scale. I’m not going into the argument of which is better – there are some amazing examples of both. But for me, I can say Minifig scale is HARDER. It requires more parts and different structure than it’s microscale counterpart that typically doesn’t require an interior. Simply choosing the scale of a SHIP dictates the difficulty you may encounter, and this year there was a push for Minifig – both because it shifts the stream back into what most would consider the classical ‘SHIP’s of old, but also a push to make it harder for people 🙂

-sadly, myself included.

Then there are some super star SHIPbuilders who take it to the next level and basically own these constraints on building.  Last year, Adam Dodge challenged himself to score a SHIPhat-trick: build three amazing SHIPs, in three different scales.


In the course of SHIPtember Adam built Micro, Minifig and Technic Fig scale SHIPs – all of which were super swooshable – another difficulty multiplier.

And as I write this out at 2am, I think adding SHIPrites may have also been a poor choice to increase the so-called difficulty of my SHIPtember. It would have been much easier to publish the articles I had pre-written instead of throwing them away for a more organic Manifesto series written in the heat of the moment. But it’ll just be another wrinkle that makes this particular SHIPtember journey memorable…

Last week we talked a lot about the journey, which reminded me of the many trips I’ve taken to Brickworld Chicago, Brickfair VA and BrickCon. And while the purpose was to get to the convention, the journey itself can be fantastic.  I’ve taken my poor little Altima to many of these gatherings, loading her up like I was running for the hills:


And like SHIPtember, it’s way more fun with people – having done the drive before solo it’s not nearly as fun as having a few people in the car. Much like the commentators in SHIPtember, having those extra bodies makes all the difference – quite a few of my most ambitious and craziest build plans were concocted during one of these drives and made the journey special.

So are you simply going to fly to your destination?  Take a train?  Drive?  Are you going to take the interstate and stop only for food and gas?  Or will you take the back roads and stop at every interesting sight you come across?

As we enter our second full week of SHIPtember, I again implore you constant readers and SHIPwrights to think about making your SHIPtember the best SHIP it can be and choose not the easiest approach, but the hardest and most rewarding.

Not only does the Journey matter, but the path you travel and the company you keep matters.

If there is some aspect of SHIPtember you’d like me to cover in the next volume, please make yourself heard in the comments, this stream of consciousness treatment is more difficult than it looks.

10 thoughts on “SHIPrites Vol 2: Not the Easiest Approach

  1. I wonder if you knew what you were creating and the life it would take on. SHIPtember hasn’t ever really been about the SHIP. But it is. I don’t feel that Febrovery or Novvember have remotely the same impact on the community, they’re fantastic fun but there is so much more going on here that cannot be easily passed off as just a “fun little build.” A SHIP is a campaign, you’ve got to fully commit and take no prisoners. Is it a level of camaraderie forged in the battle? Did you have any idea that such a beast of a task would garner such a reverent and relevant following? The appeal of building a SHIP is a fundamental goal to all Spacers, were you consciously tapping into that or was there more of a whimsy involved with the initial contest just to see who would bite? These articles are so valuable and insightful of the contest and its attributes, but what was it that made that special snowflake Simon know this was going to be a contest to put all others to shame? And if the broken record could skip yet again, what is next? Do you see SHIPtember expanding, embracing new rules, going to 200 studs, space trains?

    All these questions are arbitrary and more personal, but even after the fact, I think it would help anyone considering running a contest of their own be it simple like SHIPtember as outlined above or complex like Decisive Action 1 and 2. You have always been sincere and honest in the community, did you see this as an opportunity to be teacher and student at the same time, encouraging and learning? Did you feel there was a lack of that in the community? Did you find that your established status to be helpful or hurtful? There are always levels of acceptance and rejection to personalities especially prominent ones, but this contest is clearly larger than patronizing a celebrity or relaxing in the shade of your snowflaky goodness. Has SHIPtember lived up to your expectations?

    Thank you for the articles as well as Keith’s own decline into orange madness. I will definitely enter next year, if I can get my own SHIP off the ground.


    1. I actually wrote out a lengthy response, but I may save it for another article in a week or two…

      But to answer your question – in general I didn’t expect this at all, it’s one of those things that I think I just happened to hit a nerve and it grew by itself, I don’t think it really matters if I started it or someone else, it would have happened eventually. How it evolved, or the embraced change may be more attributed to me, or the whole WIP thing for sure, but there would have someone come along and do it. Or maybe they would have done it better, and I’ve ruined it for all!

      Thanks for the comments! glad you’re enjoying them and hopefully leads to some good things by people, or people just laugh at my attempts.


  2. Ive actually just started the prep work of a SHIP. Hopefully Ill have it ready for Sept. 2017, so it wont be a true contender in the event. Unfortunately Im too slow of a builder and too big of a dreamer.


    1. Dream big man. And don’t be afraid to dive in. I remember vividly talking to Derfel and David the first times they built space and loved it.

      In fact the latter built more space than anything else last year.

      A good builder is a good builder, you’ll do fine and probably figure out a few run things we never thought off.

      And there’s always SHIPtober. :p


  3. At the rate I build starfighters, a SHIP would probably take me a decade. I’m not the type of person who could ever do something like this or Iron Builder.


    1. Have you considered doing a star fighter as an open wip and letting us inside your design process?

      I’d love to see how you actually figure out all your amazing builds.

      Speed isn’t everything. I’d rather be able to build one good thing like you, instead 10 of my builds. If I could get my builds to the same polish, I probably wouldn’t build so much.
      I’d focus on bases 😉


      1. I’ve actually thought about it recently after all this talk about continuous input and critique. WIP shots would certainly liven up my dusty, cobweb-ridden photostream until I get a new photography set-up (moving to another country and leaving most of your shit behind sucks).

        I could also do some Trotta-esque breakdown videos for completed stuff, minus the quality and professionalism of course. Or maybe just look at a few different things and go over my general process if there’s interest in that.

        I think a lot of builders fall into one of those two camps. The meticulous ones certainly put out super polished stuff, but I feel like the more prolific builders like yourself get more chances to experiment in different genres and end up being generally better-rounded in that way.


  4. I would totally love to see your process.
    It’s how we learn.
    Even watching as a 3rd party silent observer there is quite a bit of merit.

    Like my entire SHIP this year is based on someone technique I happen to see. I’m sure I would have done something or different radius, but that little glimpsed help spur me into a completely different direction, and as a result, I modified his designs, and I know someone else that already picked it up and is experimenting with building giant boaster rockets with the curves.

    I disagree with the ‘better rounded’ argument. I think a lot of builders do generally fall into the ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ – categories, but that doesn’t equate to well roundedness.

    One of the most interesting things I’ve had happen was at a free build at a convention – we dumped out a bunch of bricks and just basically decided to build for an unspecified amount of time. There were four A list bonefide LEGO super stars – all x-iron builders and extremely well rounded builders.
    A pair of them slowly selected parts, and collecting bits and pieces and such. The other two were basically racing to take all the good parts for their build.

    It was really interesting to see even though they had all extremely deep building resumes and talents, there was a huge difference in build style – slow vs fast – and the slow builders had much more impressive builds than the fast – but I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re better rounded builders – but better rounded builds when you take your time and plan.


  5. The hard road is overrated…too many speed traps, pot-holes and dangerous hitchhikers ready to slit your throat if you stop and offer a ride. I think an important notion is that you shouldn’t be afraid to fail. Matango will likely fail, and has already failed if the goal was a faithful representation of the concept art, but that’s ok, it’s better to fail to build something challenging than finish on time with something safe and easy. For me this year, the hard road isn’t so much fun, and that’s a shame, but I think it’s directly related to running the blog at the same time. You really have to commit to SHIPtember to make it happen, and I don’t think I gave it enough consideration before I jumped in. Your enthusiasm is contagious though, Si, and SHIPtember personifies a lot of the values Rutherford and I like to gas on about. Next year I’m gonna take it a little more “seriously” from the get-go. Another strong article, dude, this series is everything I hoped it would be.

    Looking forward to the next installment. As for topics, I’d still like to know which SHIPs you’re following with the most interest and of course, I’m a numbers guys so you could always throw out some stats and brag a little.


    1. Yes.
      Learning from failures is the greatest teacher, that and Mrs. Patel, she was awesome.

      I’m in the same boat as you sir, I KNOW I’m a fast builder and even I’m cracking at the seams this year, and it’s a combination of additional forces as well as taking the hard road. But I’ll never know what we’ll be able to accomplish until we get to that breaking point.

      I’ve always joked about ‘quiting’ the SHIPtember duties so I can actually try to do it hardcore some time…

      maybe next year I”ll just take a block of vacation time and make it really happen.

      Numbers are coming my friend, just need to outsource some math to bean counters!


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