You might be wondering how Legos are an art form, but if you think about it, they’re a foundational stepping stone for understanding visuals. Legos were the first tool many of us used to learn about and create shapes, architecture, and patterns. While this simple toy continues to enrich the lives of children, adults can also find joy in their use.
In his 50 birds project, printmaking artist and architect Roy Scholten used Legos to combine his two mediums. The goal was to create a graphic vocabulary of birds solely through printmaking, with Legos as the stamp form. Despite the strict restrictions that Scholten gave himself for the project, his sleek, structural results feel effortless.
Roy Scholten is a printmaking artist and information architect based in Hilversum, The Netherlands.
Lego letterpress experiments started in around 2014 at Grafisch Atelier Hilversum. At first it was primarily used in the education programmes for primary school children. Almost everybody is familiar with Lego. With that, Lego bricks provide a fast and easy way to build a stamp (forme) that can be printed on a proofing press. This shorter path to a printed result leaves more room for experimentation and iteration of a design and that’s what we want to focus on in these workshops.
And the students kept and still keep surprising us with what they come up with.
Of course as we developed this way of working we became inspired by the possibilities as well. One early Lego letterpress project is a set of ten Lego dinosaurs This was a collaboration with collegue artist and educator Martijn van der Blom.
The 50th anniversary of the printmaking studio in 2018 was the catalyst for the 50 birds project. I wanted to dive deep and explore the image making potential of this graphic vocabulary. Birds have had my attention for as long as I can remember. There’s a lot of variation in shape, color, pattern and character among the different species. At the same time, they’re all birds, so I figured it would make for a varied but coherent collection.
I defined some design principles to ensure that coherence and delineate the design space:
– One size of prints, based on a 16×16 “Lego points” base plate. Printed on 15x15cm (6×6 inch) paper
– Use only Lego and use it only as is. So no cutting, filing or other manipulations of the material.
– Birds that can be found in The Netherlands
– Depict the whole bird. No portraits or other partial depictions
– Print each design in an edition of 20 prints. Once completed the series will have produced 50 x 20 = a thousand prints.
In the early stages I thought I could limit the number of color and thus color seperations as well, but it quickly became clear that would be too limiting. As with regular printmaking, each color needs a separate stamp/forme. Sometimes the specific shape of a design requires multiple overlapping parts to be printed in the same color. For example, the relatively monochrome Little Owl still required six seperate printings to create the overall posture and that stern stare.
It’s been interesting to see the series develop and with it grow my repertoire of design moves. In the meantime, Lego regularly introduces new parts that can be incorporated. Aspects such as as diagonals, beaks and irregular patterns are still recurring challenges.
It all sure takes more time than I initially thought! I just finished print number 36 of the series. Paradoxically, the better I got at it, the harder it has become to finish a print. The easier birds with solid colors in clear shapes are done. The more intricately colored and patterned species need more design time to find the right balance realism and stylized depiction. But that was the objective of the whole project in the first place, so I’m happy to keep solving these visual image building puzzles.