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Lego at Derby’s Museum of Making

A Return to Cool Things

One of the nicest things that happened at the end of last year was being invited to run a LEGO talk and workshop at the wonderful Museum of Making in Derby. The aim was to accompany the LEGO Lakes exhibit and just do a bunch of nice brick-related things. Additionally, I’d have the chance to display my LEGO in a real art gallery too! My dad helped me take the stack of Really Useful Boxes over, and I popped back a week later to install the pieces properly. All we were waiting for was the gallery opening… and then came Storm Babet… washing out not just Derby but also significantly flooding the museum, which is literally by the river’s edge. Doom! But we’re back and now my LEGO is on show next to the massive scale model of part of the Lake District. Just awaiting a rescheduled workshop date, which is likely to be Friday 5 April. I hope so, because I’ve bought a lot of LEGO for folks to build with and take away with them. The more that goes, the less I have to sort…

Jon Tordoff has done a lovely piece of work with ordnance survey maps and the precise dimensions of a 1 x 1 LEGO plate to reconstruct the contour lanes of the valleys and lakes. It’s great to see in person, and I’ve enjoyed talking about LEGO with him too. My approach, and the builds I have on show are perhaps the direct opposite of his work – his is vast and to scale, mine are compact and heavily textured. I also play with a lot of gold, which is less common in the Lake District landscape. Anyway, the exhibits pair up really nicely, and it was a lot of fun to attend the museum’s reopening ceremony and have people say lovely things to me about my builds. Which, I suppose, are now art…? Hurray, I am a brick artist now and LEGO told me so on Instagram, which was very validating too. I’ve also been able to show my nieces around the museum, further validating the activities of mad uncle Nick.

It’s an amazing museum, chock-full of inspiration from Derby’s industrial heritage, including a huge amount of railway ephemera, a huge model trainset (which my dad used to go and see when he was a lad, decades ago), just tonnes of stuff which is fascinating to poke around at and learn about. Highly recommended.

Also they have LEGO. My LEGO… I have missed them, and their empty cabinets have become dangerously refilled. The LEGO Lakes exhibition runs until 21 April, and then I can have my babies back…

Temples of Worship for Alien Gods

I’ve written up some fancy descriptive text for the builds which gives a little context and insight (especially for those looking for more LEGO inspiration):

These pieces are explorations of colour, symmetry and texture, usually inspired by a handful of elements or striking colours. There is never a plan, the bricks lead the way until the structures are completed.

Ivory & Ebony Towers

Both of these began by playing with new gold LEGO elements – the twirly plant pieces – inspired by the ancient, undying alien gods of the Lovecraft Mythos. There was a real joy in finding unlikely connections between the gold elements available. Once they existed with their non-Euclidean geometry, they naturally needed to be housed and worshipped. I rarely use black or white LEGO, so it was a fun exercise to see what symmetrical shapes could be built, taking pleasure in using unusual pieces such as the LEGO Sports “Subbuteo-style” pieces in the midsections, the creepily fleshy Bionicle plant shapes, and weaving branches together into spindly, unlikely towers buttressed with spine shapes.

Drowned Shrine of the Piranha Gods

When LEGO released their Dots range they introduced quarter tiles in gorgeous coral pink, a colour I adored in LEGO Friends. This grew from a flat mosaic into shadowy construction to support the curves and whorls in coral pink and teal. The colours on black just pop beautifully, despite the structure being rather fragile. If you look closely you can find various coral pink sea creatures and even an upside-down rubber ring. The outer foliage all in rich yellow is made up of leaves, stars, minifigure heads and hairbrushes…

Chapel of Silence

I’ve accidentally destroyed this one more times than I can count – it began as two separate structures which now form the front and back of the chapel. Unfortunately, they’re different widths and that really inspired everything that followed to accommodate the shapes. I like making LEGO foliage look less stiff and started using minifgure rifles to create more natural branch angles.

Abyssal Gold Temple

New shapes and colours are always exciting, and I ended up with a lot of gold LEGO (again) – this started with the central mandala and attempting to make a circle. The gold coils always feel as if they’re moving slowly, ever creeping out of sight. Apart from the mandala, this is a fairly straightforward construction, expanding outwards with complementary colours and shapes. until I reached the pink-flowered trees of course… The new five-pointed grass stems suggested a dandelion clock structure, and perhaps that idea gave direction to the whole temple.

Temple of Quiet Contemplation

This was the first temple I made in this series. Of all LEGO’s colours, I love sand green almost as much as gold. For a while it was a very scarce colour and I used as much of it as I could. This one started with the gates – a tangled close-knit mass of gold shapes and bars. The rest of the structure is in a shape LEGO doesn’t quite want to be – the angles of the hexagon are too sharp and the bricks are under a lot of stress. This was my first opportunity to use all kinds of shapes such as saxophones, swords from Lord of the Rings and even the plastic stubs that join Ninjago weapons together.

Temple of the Beasts

Availability of parts is often the driving force and the most significant constraint for what I can build. The LEGO Monkie Kid range introduced bananas in gold as well as the pentagon shield shapes. I picked up quite a lot of them… Again, the gateway was the first section to be built, and the walls echo the curves and gaps between the bananas. The dark red wolf heads came out with the LEGO Vikings in 2005 and had sat in a box for fifteen years, sadly unused. They contrast so well with the gold that they defined the rest of the colour scheme. There’s something in the richness and strength of the tones which resonates for me.

Visit the Museum of Making!

Loads to do there, and the LEGO Lakes is on until 21 April. I’m very grateful to the Derby Museums’ Event Programmer, Dan Webber, for the wonderful opportunity to feel great about my daft hobby.

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