As this month’s interview came to us via an email exchange, I thought it might be valuable to have the full transcript available here. If this turns out to be a popular feature, I’ll look into having transcripts available for subsequent podcasts. Thanks again to Jordan R Schwartz for a great first episode!
Your work spans such a diverse range of subject matter that it’s difficult to pigeon-hole you as a certain type of MOC artist. Short of defining yourself or your style, do you have a personal preference for a genre or something that you enjoy building most?
Ah, this is a tough question! When it comes to pretty much anything, I never pick favorites simply because I don’t have favorites. Everything has its own merits, and the same is especially true for the different subject matter I dabble with in LEGO. I suppose the two types of models I seem to build more of are old automobiles (usually pre-WWII vehicles) and model of characters (say, Bowser or Rocket Raccoon.) So if I had to pick a preference, I guess those two are it!
When considering a new build, where do you go for inspiration? Do you look at other LEGO creations, or do you look to the real world?
When I first started posting online back in 2006, I definitely used to look at other LEGO models for inspiration. As time went on and I became more confident in my model building, I began looking to the real world. Now that’s where I look exclusively. My inspiration comes from all over the place. Films might be my number one source of inspiration, because I am a crazy obsessed moviegoer (most of my favorite films are pre-WWII, much like the automobiles I enjoy building.) I also frequently reference my favorite photos on flickr, because I tend to favorite a lot of random things that I forget about, and every now and again something will pop up there that piques my interest!
Once inspiration strikes, how do you approach a new MOC? Are you a meticulous planner or do you stare at a pile of blocks and let them dictate what you create?
Pile of blocks! I never plan anything; I usually start at the most difficult or most defining part of the subject I’m building to get that out of the way, and then work on the rest of the model. That way, as I’m working on the rest of the model, I can constantly be tweaking that first most defining part to make sure it’s perfect by the end of the building process. For example, if I’m building a car, I usually start with the hood, grill and headlights, and then work my way back.
In many ways it would seem that you have conquered the LEGO world, attaining the holy grail of actually getting paid to talk, write, and build with LEGO. What is left? Will LEGO ever take a back seat to another pastime?
Ah, there’s always more to do and more to accomplish though! I will say, in my early days in the LEGO community, I was so intensely interested in, as you’ve said, “conquering the LEGO world,” and getting paid to work with LEGO (which I ended up doing on two counts: first when I worked as a designer for TLG, and second when I wrote my book, The Art of LEGO Design.) But now that I’ve done these things, I feel so much more relaxed about the whole AFOL thing because I don’t feel any sense of competition or stress. I’ve done what I wanted to do, I’m really happy about it, and now I can simply enjoy LEGO for what it is: a toy. Now more than ever, I feel like I’m “playing” with LEGO, not creating important masterpieces or anything like that. It’s a bit ironic actually!
Is “LEGO designer” a title that never leaves you? Like the President of the United States, you will always be referred to as Mr. President, even when you are out of office?
-Well, right now as a 22 year old college student, the few people “in the real world” who actually know my affiliation with LEGO know me as “that LEGO guy.” So right now the title doesn’t seem to be leaving me! Time will tell, though; I want to do a lot of different things with my life, and to be completely honest, in the end, I want “LEGO” to be one of many interesting blips on my timeline, not the only one, not the most important one nor the most defining one.
In your book, The Art of LEGO Design, you wrote something that really resonated with me. I’m paraphrasing, but essentially you encouraged the builder to look at the brick as a floating object, with no universal up or down, or orientation of any kind. You even encourage builders to look at the individual components of minifigures and their accessories as simply shapes to be manipulated and connected. This has really opened up new horizons for me, and I’m wondering if you could share one of your more novel uses of bricks and how you arrived at that configuration.
I’m really happy you found this helpful! These paradigms seem to be obvious and ingrained in the seriously hardcore builders, but they have rarely (if ever) been recorded, so I’m happy I got to dedicate a little bit of space in my book to talking about them. I suppose a lot of my solutions to building problems can be…tricky, let’s say. The first one that popped into my head is my use of stickers. Official stickers that come in sets are perfectly fair game. A lot of people call me out on it or poke fun, but why not use stickers in building? Do these same people not use string or textile elements because they’re not plastic? In rare instances, stickers can work to cover up gaps in models that elements simply cannot fit into. I used black stickers to hide some gaps in the hood of a late 1930’s automobile, and because of that solution, I’d call that car model by far my most realistic!
In this episode of the podcast, I’m focusing on structural integrity as an important element in design. I see it as the science/engineering behind the art. Do you strive for sturdiness in your builds, or do aesthetics matter most? Have you ever had to compromise one for the other?
Aesthetics always take precedence for me, to be honest. However, over the years I’ve gotten a lot better at building stable models, especially after working for LEGO, since my sets had to be sturdy! In my models, it’s always a balance between structural integrity and aesthetics; no model is neither perfectly stable nor perfectly accurate looking, but as long as there’s a balance, I’m happy!
Before we let you go, what are you building right now?
Believe it or not, school has been eating up most of my time, so there are no works in progress on my desk currently! I will say there are a lot of things on my mind I really want to build, if I get the time; I think the coolest would be a large-scale bust of H.R. Giger’s ALIEN using the new windscreen from the new UCS Slave I set coming out as the top of his head…I don’t know if I’ll ever get to it, but we’ll see!