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.


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.


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

Omnibus: “Not a bird, not a plane, I’m just a mean old night owl”

The always plush Omnibus is leaving the station, constant reader and you’ve got a window seat for all the action.  There is a snow owl airbrushed on the side of the bus, refreshments have been provided and “Fly By Night” is blasting from the speakers.  So grab the last empty seat next to Rutherford and we’ll take a short tour of Owl country.  We will discover together what our warm and embracing community can do with the beloved nocturnal bird of prey, in its many inspiring forms.

Our first stop is in Canada, to view the rarely seen owl in flight.  One look at the the photo and you can tell you’re not in the company of the average paste-eating mankinder.  This is the work of renown Montreal LEGO artist Ekow Nimako.  You can read a pretty informative  interview with Ekow here, which profiles not only this “Silent Knight” commission from 2015 but also his earlier work and background. I dove into his catalogue of pictures and didn’t come out of the trance for about 20  minutes.  You can expect an article on more of Mr. Nimako’s work somewhere down the line, for there is indeed much to explore.  For now enjoy two of Ekow’s investigations of the common barn owl, which are anything but common, including a construction video of Silent Knight.



Let’s stay off the perch and in flight with good friend of the Manifesto, Jordan Schwartz and his “Owlet” from 2010.  At the time of posting, the use of non ABS LEGO products like cloth capes and Ewok glider-wings was very unorthodox and drew many exclamations of N.P.U. from  appreciative viewers.  The eyes and banana-beak are very striking and somehow the build still looks fresh 6 years and 10,000 hits later.


Now let’s switch gears entirely and examine some mechano-owls like this eye-catching “Cyber Owl” from the ever reliable and always original, Mihai Marius Mihu.  I love the builder but I hate the name, it’s just too difficult to say and impossible to type from memory.  In my head I call him “Miti Mata Mulu”, which isn’t too cool.  The build is very cool though, the trans-clear plates on the chest were a brilliant choice.


Continue reading “Omnibus: “Not a bird, not a plane, I’m just a mean old night owl””

Constructive Criticism: Why not?

What do you call a person who refuses to title their models or offer a description of any kind?  A true artiste?  A lazy minimalist?  A pretentious contrarian?  Or is it evidence of pseudonym standing in for a more famous builder who doesn’t want to be recognized?  Today on the Manifesto we will be discussing the collected works of Why not?, the mysterious MOCpages builder who steadfastly refuses to engage with his or her fellow hobbyists and is content to let the building do all the talking.

Let’s begin with Why not’s most recent build, a suitably creepy monster with a large wingspan.  I was drawn in by the tilted head and skeletal wings and I lingered to examine the beautifully constructed rib cage and three-toed feet.  Although I enjoyed perusing the image it left me wanting more.  Mostly I wanted a better photo to examine, but MOCpages is notorious for butchering images and I could not find a Flickr account under the same name.  The proportions of the demon seem just a little bit off, especially the legs which  have stunted, insubstantial thighs.  I know the subject is not human and I should probably be careful applying human anatomy to a demon but it just doesn’t look right.  I also wish the wings were a little more developed, a little more bony structure would really provide additional visual impact to the model.  Likewise I think if the arms had been posed more effectively it might benefit the work as a whole and make it look a little less static.


Why not’s back catalogue of models is strewn with very intriguing near-misses.  Take for example this  untitled cemetery scene from 2015, it’s a great concept with a unique perspective but too much of the image is dominated by the sloppy looking, studs-out walls of the grave.  My objections isn’t based on an anti-studs rant, I think studs have their place as a good contrast to the smoothness of man-made constructs like the stone cross, but I think all the studs detract from the power of the image.  Graves are not typically emblazoned with the LEGO logo everywhere and I think maybe some wedge-plates would have looked better or at least some smooth sections.  The all-black minifigs are a trademark of Why not, and they work great here to add mystery of the model, but the white sky behind them doesn’t do any favors for the presentation. I can’t help but wonder how the image would look with a gray or blue sky, either photographed outdoors or Photoshopped for that matter.


Some of Why not’s work recall the early “artistic” offerings from Chairman Zhang, with careful and deliberate use of color (or lack thereof) to make a statement.  Take for example this vignette featuring a naked minifig on a colorful island, surrounded by a monochromatic city-scape and colorless watchers.  I’m not sure what the builder is trying to say here and that’s either the artistic strength of the model or a frustrating weakness where the viewer has to supply all the meaning without enough visual clues.  If I had to guess I’d say the vignette depicts the isolated existence of the creative individual amidst the cold gray society that watches but doesn’t understand the artistic life….but your mileage may vary.  For me, the nano-skyscrapers are not interesting enough in design and the borders where the water meets the city are clumsy.  Even if the purpose of a model is to make a larger statement, it still needs visual interest beyond iconic symbols.


We conclude our examination of Why not, with a collection of his or her best pieces.  The more I delve into the unfortunately limited body of work by this mystery-builder, the more I appreciate it.  The subject matter is diverse and generally speaking I appreciate the minimalist presentation.  I’d rather have no written explanation than a tedious backstory any day.  Each one of these models has little details that bother me, like the low-res spider on the girl’s face and the thickness of the electric chair’s arms, but there is no denying the power of the images.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the persistent conspiracy theory on MOCpages that accuses the talented and somewhat infamous builder Deus Otiosus of being Why not. The evidence is scant and seems to rest mostly on the notion that Deus frequently comments on Why not’s models, offering an explanation for the action.  I do see some similarities in style between the two, mostly in the clever technique displayed like using wheels for restraints on the electric chair pictured above, but it’s just not enough to pin the pseudonym on Deus.  I reached out to “Big D” for a comment via Flickr and he unequivocally denied the charges.

Ultimately I don’t really care too much about the identity of “Why not?” Every builder is entitled to a pseudonym from time to time.  As long as he or she continues to build thought-provoking (if flawed) models for my consumption, I’m all in.


The Artist Formerly Known as Lemon_Boy

When you stick around this hobby long enough one of the rewards is watching talented young builders develop into even more talented adult builders. In my jealousy  I frequently daydream about killing people like Erik and eating their hearts to steal their power, because I’m old and slow and I need the juice!  Erik used to be known as Lemon_Boy back in 2007 when he started posting on Flickr and as such I have always associated this terrible song with him. No, no, I don’t dislike Erik, I think he’s great, but a person’s theme song (much like a nick-name) is completely beyond his or her control.

Flash forward 9 years and Lemon_Boy has transformed into Adult_Boy, but fortunately for us his skill with the brick has only increased over time.   Submitted for your approval is Erik’s latest LDD effort, entitled “Red is not a color, it is a crisis“.  True, the builder is a hipster, but I urge you not to hold that against him.  Look, the spaceship has paddles!  The curves and color blocking are eye-catching and the paddles really take the build to another level of originality.  I still can’t decide if I like the purple inset in the back, but I’m no master of the color wheel so I’ll leave that up to you.  The boilerplate gray wheel-engines are perhaps the only detail I take exception with, they seem like a tumor on the ass of an otherwise unorthodox design.  The engines the job done but I wish Eric had continued the design innovation throughout the model.  I can’t forget the tail-gunner position though, it’s probably my favorite detail.28269186161_9e0ac457fe_o.png

Erik is one of the handful of guys in the hobby like Mark Kelso and Fredoichi whose artistic talent only begins with LEGO and extends well past what many of us are capable of doing.  I should probably speak for myself here, but as a guy who is unable to do anything better than stick-figure scribbles I am constantly in awe of artists like Erik who can translate their vision through any number of mediums.  In fact, If I had the ability to create the kind of images you see below, I would probably give up the hobby for good.  One of the big reasons I’ve stuck with LEGO for so long is that I have zero artistic ability beyond the brick, and even that is questionable.  Erik’s style take me back to the 1980’s and fond memories of Heavy Metal magazine, which provided me with endless entertainment in as a youth and exposed me to cool artists like Moebius (Jean Giraud), Mirko Ilic, and Grant Morrison.

Like any veteran builder who is worth his salt, Erik had a successful fad a few years ago with his series of Awfulworld models.  I have to admit that I didn’t really grasp the popularity of these builds because I find the topic of children’s armies to be anything but “twee” and the style just seems too silly.  I understand it’s purely a matter of personal preference, there is certainly more than enough room for silly under the hobby’s tent.  You may like silly, it’s a perfectly fine choice.  I recommend you fly your twee flag with abandon, constant reader.

Erik wrote one of the best blog articles I’ve ever read for the Twee Affect in 2013 that completely breaks down the Awfulworld theme and takes you through the building process that includes inspiration, influence, technique, examples from other builders and more.  Rarely has a builder been able to articulate the process so well and I wish Erik would blog more often but he’s not a Lemon_Boy anymore, he’s an Adult_Boy and probably has less time for such endeavors.  Although it’s not very flattering I think part of the reason I don’t care for the series is some of the reaction it elicited from overzealous fellow builders who called the builds “adorable” and “Heartbreaking”.  Bitch please, there is nothing heartbreaking about it, unless you find things like Pokemon or steam punk to be heartbreaking.  Also, on a fundamental level I object to the term Twee-Punk which was often applied to the model below, even by the builder himself.  It makes no god-damned sense.  Punk (as in punk rock) can be defined defined as: “a style or movement characterized by the adoption of aggressively unconventional and often bizarre or shocking clothing, hairstyles, makeup, etc., and the defiance of social norms of behavior, usually associated with punk rock musicians and fans.”  There is nothing punk about Awfulworld, when you look at the model you don’t hear Black Flag playing in your head, you probably hear Arcade Fire or perhaps Yakety Sax!  Now let’s examine the definition of twee: “affectedly dainty or quaint“.  I wouldn’t describe the image below as dainty, I guess I can understand quaint but that’s not the first word that comes to mind.  I guess the flags make it affectedly dainty?  Mostly I want to rip the flags off of what is otherwise a rad little model.  The door gunner is a great detail and the scale is interesting.  As many people point out when commenting on Erik’s builds, he’s really good at incorporating studs into his models.  While I tend towards studless building I always appreciate it when a builder is able to incorporate studs in a natural way.


Erik seems to build more with LDD these days than with the beloved brick, but I think the ideas he’s pushing out these days are far more interesting.  I will end this examination of the artist formerly known as Lemon_Boy with a couple of my favorites .  So if you’ve got the time, take go tubin’ down Erik’s Flickrstream and enjoy more of what you’ve seen here in addition to some great Star Wars builds, SHIPs and a few mecha.  I hope that crappy U2 song is still with you, constant reader, for surely you deserve it.