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Learning brick tricks from a professional artist

Spring break was a breath of fresh air! If you’re a student or educational employee, hopefully your break went well in spite of COVID-19. If you’re an adult outside of teaching, I hope you got to use a vacation week and enjoy the fresh air. 

With my birthday happening during my classes this year, I prematurely celebrated last Thursday at home. I ended up visiting the Grand Rapids Public Museum and went around town afterwards. My motive for heading back to this wonderful place was an ongoing exhibit put on by professional artist Sean Kenney. As a sculptor, Kenney uses his medium to its potential by creating truly unique pieces. He mixes engineering and artistry to construct massive sculptures worthy of display in the finest museums around the world. What gives Kenney his uniqueness besides his talent is his medium of Lego bricks. 

Yes, the same Lego bricks you might buy for your younger niece or nephew can be used for art. However, the exhibit was designed to bring up conversations about our relationships with the environment. The sculptures are meant to engage the mind with nostalgic childhood, tragic extinctions, and the wonders of life, both human and animal. Rather than focusing on the deep, sentimental relationships the exhibit is meant to evoke, I’ll focus instead on the interesting part — techniques I’ll use for my own Lego sculptures. Perhaps other Lego fans will also find these interesting as well.

  • Eagle Eyes

When one sees this eagle sculpture, the stoic yellow eyes glare back at the viewer. Its ruffled feathers lay at its side, resting after a long flight. I looked closely at these eyes since they were so unique. It turns out the eyes were made with a magnifying glass piece framed atop a yellow dish piece! The dish piece is attached from the side, with the magnifying glass laid atop it. When placed in an archway, it looks exactly like an eagle eye.

  • Ants Climbing All Over

The pangolin sculpture is set atop a massive anthill. Roller skate pieces are used to represent the ants scurrying across the ground; they truly look like life-sized ants when viewing from afar. 

  • Mountain Goat Fur

The mountain goats are shown perched atop a mountainside. When one looks closer at the rugged texture, it becomes obvious upside-down statuettes of figures are used for the tufts of fur! What helped pull off an illusive fur coat was the staggered nature these statuettes were mounted. If they all hung from one line, then the texture wouldn’t look as furry as it does.

  • Farmer and Wheat

In a micro-scale city model, there was a small farm that had two awesome techniques. For the farmer standing in his garden, he uses a side clip piece and a fork for regular minifigures to show him holding a pitchfork. It’s genius at this scale because the clip piece blends in with the square body. Next to the farmer is a field in the process of being trimmed. There’s a mix of pieces with tooth-like parts pointed upward and plates stacked sideways, showing wheat stalks grown and harvested. 

  • Dewdrops from a Tiara

On the monkey sculpture stepping into the attraction, there’s a few trans-blue tiaras positioned on the leaves. These are meant to represent raindrops colliding and splashing outwards in a fan. What makes this work so well is how detailed the tiara already is. 

    There’s a common theme of part usage, where one Lego element is used for a different texture. I can appreciate when a part is creatively placed in a new way. Lego sets themselves will use different parts in new ways, most notably in Modular Building sets. There, sausage pieces become railings, snowshoes become fan blades, and Minecraft wolf heads become stonework! These part usages are what make Lego worth building with; the possibilities with Lego pieces are simply endless!

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