Tales of a BrickLink Vendor: The Starving Artist

Welcome back to the Manifesto’s irregular feature by the highly irregular BrickLink vendor Chris Byrne.  Please recall that Chris didn’t seek me out to pimp his online store, I asked him to write the following article and I hope it won’t be his last. What you’re about to read is as close to advertising as you’ll ever see on this blog of blogs. Chris was kind enough to include a discount for you guys, even though I told him it was a terrible idea and begged him not to.  So if you have any burning questions you’ve always wanted to ask a BrickLink vendor, have at it in the comments.

Use the phrase MANIFESTO at checkout to get 10% off your BrickLink order at www.bricksonthedollar.com

Without any further ado, take it away Chris!

I bet you thought I was dead. Nope, just worked to death. Last we spoke, I had opened my retail store Warminster Brick Shop and was pulling myself out of debt caused by an all-too-comfortable BrickLink path. Opening the store was just what I needed to turn everything around. I now have a steady stream of used parts from the store which are going into my BrickLink store, several ongoing consignors for my Fulfilled By Clutch program selling your parts in my BrickLink store, and I am living debt-free. There is one reckless path that I am still following though, and that is the subject of this post. My LEGO Artwork passion project which has not, and may never pay for itself. The AFOL Poster Subscription Service.

Every month since January of 2017 I have commissioned artists from around the world to produce an original piece of art that I can sell in poster form. The prompt is simple, “pick a LEGO set and re-imagine it in your own style.” I have released 25 posters from 19 different artists and there are many more to come. Unfortunately, my tallest hurdle in this project has been getting these posters in front of the right eyes. There are plenty of AFOLs, but how many of you would really buy a very nice piece of paper instead of just buying more bricks? But perhaps I am being to harsh. Who has wall space for 25 different 11″x17″ posters? I tend to produce goods and services that I myself would enjoy as a customer. While I would buy (almost) all of these posters for myself, I can’t expect every AFOL to love or even like most of them. If I am to settle for AFOLs buying their favorites, then I just need a wider range of buyers being aware of the releases.

Something interesting happened about a week ago. I was feeling proud of my latest poster release and I was feeling the crush of MailChimp’s monthly fees weighing on my lack of motivation to send out emails. I sent out an email to my list with a simple message: here’s my October 2018 poster and here’s a link to buy it. It was either the art itself, the direct, in-your-face way of presenting a call to action, or a combination of both. I sold a bunch. I’ll be doing that more often. I’m also signing that artist on to do a suite of posters in the next year.

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I started this project because I had always been fascinated by the artwork of the Surma Brothers. They were featured on The Brothers Brick & The New Elementary a few years ago and they later had a spread in Bricks Culture Magazine. Marcin and Przemek Surma of Poland have created over 100 pieces of art following the same prompt. In 2015 they went on a hiatus from their LEGO-themed art. I craved more. In starting my poster series, I managed to book Marcin to do my March 2017 poster for Sail N’ Fly Marina, cementing my place in the LEGO art selection…as far as a google search goes.

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To be honest, I really don’t know how to make this project turn a profit. I would definitely have quit by now if bringing new LEGO Art to the world on a monthly basis wasn’t so thrilling to me. What was there before I started having these created? The Surma Brothers, the art of Guido Kuip, and the Ice Planet 2002

artwork that I know you saw at least once by Blizzard artist Luke Mancini. If there are more artists who have been creating artwork like this with a LEGO theme, please let me know, but I found there to be a real lack of choices in late 2016. All of my posters are available individually or through a monthly subscription. I would also like to put out a coffee table book which would feature all of the artwork to date, the rough drafts, info on the artists, and depictions of the original LEGO sets. I have a feeling that the book will sell better than the posters and may quite possible be the thing that pays for the art, making the poster sales the supplemental income for the project.

So now you know why I do it. All there is left to do now is to check out the artwork that has been released so far and provide me feedback. What do you like, what do you hate, who would you like to see create my next poster? As always, all can be seen at bricksonthedollar.com or more specifically for this article, afolposter.com.

When next I write you, it will be about the LEGO T-shirt subscription that Kevin Hinkle and myself have been producing for 5 months now.

Chris Byrne

16 thoughts on “Tales of a BrickLink Vendor: The Starving Artist

  1. Limited wall space is indeed an issue, and I think most people would rather display a handful of posters that really speak to them either artistically or for nostalgic reasons than dedicate an entire wall to displaying the whole collection. I’m living abroad in a small apartment so I just bought a couple at BFVA last year that I really liked, and now that I’ve seen the new ones it looks like I may have to get more. That ghost one from this month and Kevin Hinkle’s Gold City Junction in particular catch my eye. The latter would go really well with the Galaxy Squad one I already have given the movie poster theme. I think you’re on the right track with the book idea (I’d definitely buy one) and I hope that can bring in the money to fund this passion project.

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  2. Related: I’d like to see more interaction with 2D visual artists in the hobby in general. There’s already quite a bit of crossover, and even non-FOL artists out there usually have some amount of affection or nostalgia for Lego. Space builders especially like to build based on concept art and I’d like to see the inverse of that with 2D artists making drawings based on MOCs. Maybe a collab/telephone game similar to that Symphony of Construction thing from a few years ago: https://www.flickr.com/groups/2337308@N20/discuss/72157636482869125

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    1. Funny you bring up Symphony of Construction. There’s actually a non-official version that’s winding up on Discord right now (although with the absence of the original creator, who gets to decide what’s official or not anyway?). Here’s the link (not sure how long it will work for, because Discord): https://discord.gg/rcKt2cm

      I’ve also been inspired by the hidden talent in 2-D art shown by so many of our fellow hobbyists during this thematic month of Inktober. A few people I’m following on Flickr are creating daily art and it is really inspiring. A fair deal of it is Lego-related, which just makes for some cool cross-genres.

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      1. Ugh, why can’t people just stick to flickr? :)) This makes me wonder how much fun stuff I’m missing for being a lazy slut.

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      2. Agree Vit… I have never even heard of Discord. What the hell is .gg? What happened to .com? I thought I was doing good just know now that # is related to twitter.

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      3. Any LEGO-themed inktober posts you’d like to share. Admittedly, I am only looking on Instagram these days. Plenty of inktober there, but the AFOLs, inkers or otherwise, stick to Flickr.

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    2. I have always thought it would be cool to see one of Nick Trotta’s starfighters or Pierre E Fieschi’s SHIPs crossover to other media. I usually envision them being used in a Sci-Fi movie or show. There are a lot of original LEGO designs that are better than a lot of the stuff that makes it to the screen. Of course, there is infinitly more original LEGO designs that are much worse… but the top guys are putting out designs that rival top concept artists designs. And the LEGO designers get to swoosh them instead of just look at them. 🙂

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  3. Chris, good to hear from you again. I personally don’t mind the sales-pitch sound of this article since it proves just how passionate you are about the hobby. If there’s one thing I like about the Manifesto, it’s that there’s a community appreciation for all corners of the hobby. And that includes the sales people, the ones who (let’s be honest) make it so we aren’t all slaves of TLG’s empire by now. But what you’re doing goes beyond simple store sales (and you got out of debt man, congratulations! That’s how you work the system!) I like hearing about these passion projects of yours. I don’t have enough money, closet space, or affinity for this hobby to subscribe to a monthly T-shirt, but I really like what I’m seeing with the posters. Will I be a customer? Not sure, but if this is an emerging concept, I definitely want to see more. What will you bring next? I can’t wait to find out. Be sure to stick around and drop subtle (or unashamed) advertisements in the comments every now and then. Or post another article, because I like hearing from you.

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    1. The next two months will both be Space-themed posters. Ben Turner is doing a Futuron one similar to his Black Monarch’s Ghost poster. That one I am really excited for. He may be my new favorite of all the artists I have gathered. (shhh… don’t tell the other artists) I can’t really push the other space-themed poster yet because I haven’t seen any rough drafts. I know there’s some stinkers that have come out through the poster service, but I’m still trying to cover as many themes and styles as I can to catch the most eyes.

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  4. Used to run a bl store as well; gave up about 2 years ago or so as I couldn’t compete with the cheap prices popping in Europe and used sets sales sort of died. But it was great fun, in the beginning especially, gave me the opportunity to hunt all the sets I wanted (both as a kid and the ones I discovered after dark ages) on auctions, build them and sell them for a profit.

    As for posters, I’ve no interest in them personally, but a coffee table book sounds like an interesting idea. I agree, it would most likely sell better. I haven’t really followed/wasn’t aware of this type of crossover, and it’s playing with my mind to see familiar lego bits in non lego environments. I like it.

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  5. Great to hear from you again Chris, I feel like we have some level of insider information with you.

    I have to say that I have loved the artwork but have yet to buy any. There’s a whimsy to them that is more honest to me as a Lego degenerate that is appealing more than simple nostalgia. They’re actually good! They remind me of all the absurd adverts from the 50s and 60s that were so sexist and deplorable by today’s standards. Found the Surma Brothers through Bricks Culture and have loved its quirkiness ever since. The idea of a coffee table book is appealing and I would be in line to buy one for sure, but I do have an interest in the actual prints. I have some wall space in the plans and don’t give two shits if it don’t match the fucking couch. I like whatever the fuck I like. And I like these.

    I’m with Hoffman 100% in that I want to see more 2D renditions of builds. The Mead, Foss, Berkey, McKie styles of the 70s rendered versions of actual builds would make me orgasmic with glee. I’d want more builders out there to give a go at this, I wouldn’t even mind taking up the gauntlet here and shake off a bit of dust in this endeavor. I used to do it back in the day just for shits and giggles and had fun re-visualizing what I just built.

    Cool stuff, and thank you so much for feeding our addiction at a discount. XD

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      1. I think the market is rather limited by definition being Lego themed anyways. Just as we all can smell Lego in the air we can spot any theme at a quick glance be it Blacktron, Black Falcon, Monorail, etc. by simple elements or blatant emblems hidden in the artwork itself. Simple nods to those strings of nostalgia render the build an instant interpretation of a theme rather than anything specific. Just as the Surmas throw in a set number in their art for specificity, any title or builder name hidden in the image will do the same. Even just showing studs and tubes opens wide the rabbit hole. I think your correct that the market of official set renditions accesses a wider audience, but I sure wouldn’t mind seeing original interpretations of original builds. I especially would love to see renditions of large scale collaborations like the WackLUG Technomage Battle done in a Vallejo style, many SHIPtember craft in a Berkey or Foss style, and even Keith’s Bucharest in a 60s advertisement with stars, palettes, and boomerangs throughout. Maybe a strapping Jack LaLanne or Perry Mason enticing visitors into a damn bus stop for no apparent reason other than it’s the thing to do and the place to be if you’re hip and smoking Chesterfields. The possibilities for this being such a brilliant and rich offshoot of AFOLdom is truly enticing. And it doesn’t require sorting ’til days end.

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