Accepted entry for the “Article” category.
Author: Caleb Inman (VAkkron)
Word Count: 1,282
I often see Lego touted as both an art form and as an application of engineering principles, because of its immediate tactile response and precision. Fortunately for me and all those who choose to participate in the greater community, Lego is also a culture. One that offers community and inspires me to learn about other people, understand our differences, and celebrate a shared passion for creativity.
Well, you already knew that. You’ve all had that same realization. Heck, maybe you’ve even put it all in a job application essay like I have! Anyway, I want to tell you all a story tonight. So fill a glass at the eternally flowing countertop that is the Manifesto, sit back, and try not to puke at the WIPs.
I want to explain what I did when both the science and the art of Lego failed me. I had a great vision and a hopeful imagination, but not surprisingly, it was difficult to pull off. This is a story about the creation of my Isaac Newton storytelling bust which I created in 2016 for a competition. But I decided that I wasn’t content simply meeting the contest criteria, and Bricks Noir and Absurde were both inspiring me to push into the character-building genre. The competition was Radley’s annual mad scientist competition, and the assignment was to build a crazy scientist in their laboratory, either real or fictitious. I decided to make a bust of Isaac Newton, and from the first minute of my planning, I knew exactly how I wanted it to look.
I say that because I very rarely build with such complete vision. But for this model, I knew that I wanted to build a super-realistic version of the man’s face in full or close-to-full scale. I wanted his luscious wig to unfold with stories of his life built in miniature atop them. I even wanted to build a Lego orrery coming out of Sir Izzy’s scalp.
The problem was, I wasn’t very good at that. I started out with my science, by building a Technic frame, which limited my size to roughly a ¾ model. Fortunately, that helped my tan parts collection actually stretch across the entire model, which it would not have with a full-scale face. The wig was difficult and I wanted the fold-out miniatures to be saved for the big reveal, But I knew I was having trouble with the face when it looked far more like your grandma than Isaac Newton (reference picture). It was time to call in the big guns.
[First WIP Image] Photo Credit.
I’d only seen closed-group WIPs talked about on the side a few times, and had maybe been a part of one myself. But I decided to post a private photo of my senile, rat-haired freak to Flickr, because heaven knows I had no clue what to do next. And that is where the beginning of my story becomes relevant. Since this hobby has introduced me to so many engineers, artists, and everything-in-betweeners who know what they are doing, I asked them all for help. I’ve seen carefully-worded, politically-correct posts about “comments and criticism are welcome”, but I didn’t want any criticism. I wanted straight-up mockery, swearing and vocalized pain that my model inflicted on their eyes. To my great delight, that is exactly what I got.
If I showed you the group of homies who commented on my model, you’d probably recognize many of the names. That’s because the Manifesto is something amazing to me in a personal way: literally most of my good friends online are constant readers here. Hi friends! They breathed fire, they broke down my model step by step. Absurde brought the technical expertise. Keith brought the vision. Matt brought the artistic commentary, Wolff brought the cranberry pie, and we all had a delicious collaborative Thanksgiving dinner.
Now I’m going to serve you some of the best comments that turned this build around. I will include mostly the helpful stuff, so if you bear with me, you might learn something yourself (unless you were the person who said it). Until further notice, please refer to the above eyesore that is a WIP. This is what the comments applied to.
First off, Matt Rowntree chimed in early and gave some wonderful advice. So useful, in Advice
fact, that half of my other responses were echoes of his advice, or rather, the advice of one of his mentors.
I’ve actually taken this to heart since, and try to see through all replicas that I make with this sort of inspiration. Matt also kindly noted that my nose was too small, citing Izzy’s “massive proboscis of pugilistic proportions”, which sounds like it could be a disease description. If that is so, I probably suffer from the same thing. Keith commented with some professional hair advice.
Topsy also joined in the nose conversation, bringing some near-compliments to the table. Unfortunately, her advice on color wasn’t going to work, but I had to make some concessions. Luckily I took her and Keith’s advice regarding color tone and consistency, and this model made me realize the true power of color in a piece of art.
The undisputed master of the art form (imo at least, but hopefully that’s enough credit to his skill) Letranger Absurde graced my page with his presence and offered some frank and very specific suggestions. I am so glad I changed the nose and got rid of those two awful studs above the round 2×2 tile as well.
My good buddy Josiah pointed out that the focal point of the picture was off, something that I hadn’t even considered when building it. Again, that’s a piece of advice that has stuck with me for every model I’ve built since.
After all this welcome but challenging feedback, I took two weeks to improve the model. In this case, improve actually meant scraping off everything but the lips and chin, which had been the only unanimously liked part. The result is shown below, with the final version at the bottom. Fortunately this second iteration was such a hit that there was very little to change. Even I as the artist could just feel that this was almost spot-on, and I was expecting the minor critiques that I got. Some of that second-round feedback is posted below.
I think the best thing I heard was “recognizable”. I learned the valuable lesson that mimicry of real people with Lego is hard. But fortunately, with the specific advice from people who had very good perspective, I was able to look past my creator’s blind spot and see this through their eyes.
[Second WIP Image] Photo Credit.
I know SHIP-builders revel in the big reveal. I know castle builders love to show their latest technique or greeble-intensive rock wall. It is so easy to hold our visions to our chests and not let anyone else peek inside until we can vomit it out on an expectant audience. But my best work, which was truly borne of my hard work, came at the behest of others’ advice. I trusted those people with garbage. As it turned out, if I hadn’t shown the garbage to anyone, I wouldn’t have created the treasure. And in doing so, I learned that all the gents and lady who I counted on for frank and succinct advice really did want me to succeed and were willing to help me develop my best. It’s a valuable lesson, and again one that I’ve used in internship applications. So thank you to that whole jolly group who were my work-in-progress commentary. I wouldn’t even have tried to do it without you.