LEGO letterpress experiments at Gafisch Atelier Hilversum started in around 2014. At first it was mostly used in education programmes for primary school children. The familiar 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 time for experimentation and iteration of a design and that's the focus on in these workshops.
Developing these techniques and seeing what even the youngest could come up with was inspiring. This led us to start some serious play ourselves. One early LEGO letterpress project is a set of [ten Lego dinosaurs](), a collaboration with collegue artist and educator Martijn van der Blom.
The 50th anniversary of the printmaking studio in 2018 provided the occasion to start 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. It would make for a varied but coherent collection of prints.
To ensure that coherence and delineate the design space I defined a couple of design principles:
- One size of prints, based on a 16x16 LEGO "points" base plate. Printed on 15x15cm (6x6 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 a thousand prints.
In the early stages I thought I could limit the number of color and thus color seperations as well, but that quickly became untenable. As with regular printmaking, each color needs a separate 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.
Despite the strict restrictions that Scholten gave himself for the project, his sleek, structural results feel effortless
- PRINT magazine
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 recurring challenges.
Paradoxically, the better I got at it, the harder it has become to finish the next 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 of 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.
See the collection so far: