Thursday, March 24, 2011

lego portrait gallery

it all began with bogie.

like most kids, i used to love to play with legos. unlike most, though, i never stopped. 

i had been going through a tower phase when the idea of building a mosaic first occurred to me. i would spend hours sitting on the floor in the living room, surrounded by legos, building towers; elaborate fairy structures with pillars and arches, some over five feet high. then, while chatting with my roommate joel one day, i began to think about making a mosaic, and my legos immediately leapt to mind as a challenge; using only the six principle lego colors (red, white, blue, yellow, black, & green) would i be able to portray someone successfully?

i had recently picked up a second-hand humphrey bogart biography, and had been struck by the stark quality of the black & white photo of bogie on the back, so naturally this became my first subject. i began by graphing out a pencil sketch outline of the figure on a 4'x4' sheet of pressed board. then i started at the eyes, as with any portrayal, the eyes are usually where you succeed (or fail) to capture the essence of your subject. i didn't want to glue anything together, so i initially attached the bricks to the drawing with rubber cement. i had about a two foot square portion of the work completed when it suddenly slid off the board and crashed to the floor, shattering; it had grown too heavy to be supported by the rubber cement. in all, it was a real learning experience; i actually dropped the damn thing and broke it on three different occasions before i finally learned how to keep it stable (i use small nails to support the structure as i work on them now.)

anyway, i was so pleased with my bogie mosaic that i began another, and to me, the natural successor to bogart was harrison ford. i purchased more bricks, but i had used most of my reserve blacks and whites on bogie, so i had a lot of yellow and blue to burn through, as you can see.

i was very happy with this portrait. i feel i really captured his expression, and i had fun playing around with multiple levels of bricks on the hair and the collar, to give it a subtle, bas-relief, three-D effect. not long after i finished this portrait, a friend of mine gave me a call to wheedle me for a donation to a charity group he was working with, and i ended up volunteering my latest lego portrait. i understand it was auctioned off for $495; i imagine it is still hanging in some nice oak lawn condo even as i write this.

my next subject, i decided, would be einstein; considering the whimsey of the medium, einstein seemed like an obvious subject (and i'm not the only lego artist who has thought so; google it sometime.)

the biggest challenges with this portrait were the glasses (my god, those fucking glasses drove me insane- okay, insanER) and the hair, of course. how would i be able to convey the wildness of that mane with such a limited color palette? i was afraid it would just look like a white blob. so i raised more bricks from the surface, as i had done with the ford portrait, creating textures and shadows in the hair.(it's a shame i'm such a poor photographer.) despite the aggravation of building him, in all honesty, i believe einstein is my favorite.

the following spring, i entered bogie and einstein in the allied arts juried show and made my first lego portrait sale; einstein was purchased for $1200.

i was working at the red robin at this time, and decided to make a red robin cartoon for my next project. once it was finished, i brought it into work and showed my it to my manager. i told her she could buy it for her store if she wanted, or if not, i could take it home and take it apart . . . and no, i don't consider that blackmail, just good negotiations. i sold that mosaic to red robin for $1600, and my lego "bird" also lead me to another sale; a seattle businessman passing through kennewick saw it and hired me to create his company logo in legos for the foyer of his office. (i regret that that commission is one of my pieces that i never got a complete photo of before it slipped out of my hands.)

i knew by now it was time to build a portrait of a woman, but who? i had very specific parameters in mind; i wanted an accomplished woman whose face was universally recognized, but was NOT known principally for beauty. it only took me a day to decide on lucy.

with lucy, i wanted to try something different, so i gave the mosaic an irregular, free-form border and eliminated the frame. this is the only one of my portraits that is actually glued together; it is also supported by a sheet of pressed board glued to the back. although i'm very happy with how lucy herself turned out, i don't consider the frameless border entirely successful, and would love to dismantle the thing and reframe it. unfortunately, i gave lucy to my sis, and she has threatened to dismantle ME if i mess with her lucy portrait, so any restructuring will have to remain a fantasy.

i don't remember why i chose to portray lincoln next, but i remember the difficulty i had choosing which image to base my portrait on. i didn't want to use the "money" pics from the $5 bill and the penny, so i started searching for other pics....and my god, but that man posed for a fuckton of portraits!

i finally got my selection down to six different pics. i tacked all six pics to the wall in the dining room and sat down to contemplate them for a while, when my roomies, joel and rex came home. rex commented that it actually looked kind of cool, having the multiple lincoln pics on the wall...and i ran with it. i went back to the library and started photocopying every lincoln portrait i could find. then i brought them home, broke out the scissors and crayons, and the three of us spent the evening covering the wall in lincolns! the lincoln wall was up for many years; i've included a pic of it here:

(just for fun, see if you can find the picture of john wilkes booth amidst all the lincolns.)

after i finished lincoln, i took him and bogie to a little "art" boutique in snoqualmie, just outside seattle, where they hung for a couple of years.

they never sold, so i finally retrieved my lego portraits from the boutique and brought them home. then a friend gave me the idea that a tupac portrait might sell. i was hurting for money at the time and couldn't really afford the money to buy more bricks, so i took lincoln apart and used those bricks to build the portrait below. i wasn't entirely happy with the checkerboard effect i got by mixing in the blue and green legos in with the black on the lower area of the face, but i think his lips turned out spectacular! i offered tupac for sale on ebay but didn't get any takers, and after a year or so, i ended up disassembling him as well.

not long after that, my truck broke down in a major way, and i did not have the cash to get it repaired. an aunt of mine found out about my trouble and kindly sent me the money to get my truck fixed. i was so grateful, and she insisted that she didn't want to be repaid, so i decided to make her something instead. aunt marilyn loves betty boop, so i made her a lego mosaic of betty.

the biggest challenge with betty was those long eyelashes; even the narrowest lego brick is over a quarter inch. i resolved my dilemma by building her sideways!

when i next opened my lego boxes, i observed that the vast majority of my bricks at that time were red, white, and blue. i contemplated a portrait of nixon for a while, but who would buy it? then i considered one of dubya, but i ended up deciding against that one because a) it would mean staring closely at that face for a couple of weeks (shudder), and b) anyone who would buy it would NOT get that i was being ironical.

i ended up deciding to make a flag....oy gevalt. the flag almost killed me. ever try making a five-pointed star solely out of rectangles? well, multiply that by FIFTY! actually, multiply it by one hundred. i put the flag on ebay and sold it for $400, but when i told my folks about the sale, they were really disappointed, as they had wanted it for themselves! so what's a good daughter do? you guessed it-- i made another one. and no, they are not identical.

in 2007 or thereabouts (i'm terrible at remembering dates) i was telling the above story to my former roommate rex, when he said, "you should do stephen colbert in red, white and blue." brilliance! i began the next day.

this one was fun, but challenging. i had a terrible time with his damned frameless glasses! i redid them three times before i was finally satisfied with my results; the glasses are the only thing in the mosaic that aren't red, white, or blue (they are yellow.) and i made sure to include his wonky ear!

after i was done, i ended up giving this piece to rex for his birthday...but only on the proviso that if he didn't want it anymore, he had to return it to me. he went to hawaii a few years ago and left the mosaic with a friend of his for safekeeping, and that's the last i heard of it until recently. i am hoping to track it down and either return it to rex or keep it myself.

it was pictures of the colbert piece that led to tom cruise. an advertising agency in canada was planning a campaign for, which is like a canadian online version of entertainment tonight, as i understand it, and they commissioned me to make the portrait below.

here's the ad as it was released. i'm pleased to report that the advertising campaign my work was a part of actually won a canadian marketing award!

the story of captain jack is already thoroughly covered in this blog. ain't he a handsome fella?

here's the cougar logo i made for my alma mater. it's hanging in the front office just to the left of the main entrance to west building on the richland campus. personally, i would have preferred they hang it somewhere where people could TOUCH it...touching my mosaics is half the fun!

in february of 2013, i completed heath ledger as the joker. he's a creepy son of a bitch, but ya gotta love 'im! you can read about my process building this mosaic elsewhere on this blog.

in late april and early may of 2013, i completed this mosaic, titled, "Here's Johnny!" i blogged about the creation of this one as well, which you can read about here--

of course, in keeping with the theme of the previous two, the next mosaic i build will be anthony hopkins as hannibal lecter. i'll be sure to blog about it as soon as i start!


  1. Hi. I saw your red robin lego mosaic at dinner last night, and looked at the label to find your blog today. I was excited to see another lego fan in the tri-cities. Once at BrickCon I saw another participant from Richland, but I never met him. Anyway, I'm Katie and I write for the MosaicBricks blog and I am planning on writing an entry about your mosaics, if you don't mind. I've been taking a bit of a summer vacation, but I'll let you know when it's done.



    1. glad you like my work, katie. and thanks for the info from your blogsite-- i'd never even heard of Brickworld 2012. a lego mosaic show, huh? that could be fun!