For a long time now, I’ve wanted to decorate my apartment with paintings. Ideally some of my favourite paintings, too, but a Monet isn’t exactly a small purchase, and learning to copy Van Gogh isn’t exactly a rapid process.
It turns out I can make copies that are more tangible than a print-out and that say “look, I am art!” in a completely different way, all thanks to little LEGO blocks.
I have discovered the world of Brick Painting.
By “Brick Painting”, I don’t mean “paint on construction bricks”. I mean the act of converting an image to LEGO-compatible colours, then building it using LEGO blocks.
As a child, I played a lot with LEGO blocks, but until I received this year a mini Star Wars X-Wing fighter in LEGO as a birthday present from Denmark, I hadn’t given them much thought recently. And then, that magic lightbulb moment occurred, and I decided I just had to make LEGO-based paintings for my flat.
It’s not the easiest process to “obtaining” a painting, but it’s certainly easier than learning to master painting techniques. It isn’t a faithful reproduction, but it’s more creative than printing out an image. In other words, it’s a lazy yet creative person’s dream.
Step one: converting an image to LEGO-compatible colours
After looking online for simple programs that would convert images to LEGO blocks, I found a couple that seemed promising (for instance the Kickstarted Brick A Pic), but didn’t find what I was looking for. I therefore created my own, Brick Painter, which is also available for download on GitHub.
[since creating Brick Painter, I’ve discovered the page of Legoaizer, which seems very complete, but isn’t open source and isn’t available for the Mac]
The premise of Brick Painter is simple: choose a picture, choose the dimensions and colour palette, and get a blockified result, an image that contains LEGO-coloured blocks.
In its current form, Brick Painter doesn’t e.g. take into account the available sizes of LEGO blocks, which means you may encounter 1×1 blocks of “Bright Yellowish Green” or “New Dark Red”, when these aren’t sold on the LEGO.com store (at least, not as “plates”, i.e. the thinner kind of block). This makes it more limited than e.g. Legoaizer, but given its open source nature, feel free to add functionality.
Step two: getting the right LEGO bricks
Once you have your blockified image, you have to build it. And for that, you need LEGO bricks. While Brick Painter doesn’t tell you how to build it, it does tell you which colours you need and in what quantities.
This then allows you to order the bricks in question from any LEGO reseller. LEGO.com has a “Pick a Brick” section that allows you to specify your individual brick needs, and it sends the entire package in one big bag (all blocks mixed up). Other resellers sell by bags of 100 of a specific block size – for instance, I ordered various bags from brickshop.nl.
Which kind of brick? LEGO offers “bricks”, “plates” and “tiles”. Bricks are much thicker, which makes the painting “fatter”, though there is probably a greater variety. Plates feel much more “paint-like”, given that they are much thinner, but there seems to be a more limited colour palette. Tiles are the smooth equivalent of plates, but you can’t add depth to the result with them. For this reason, I’ve limited Brick Painter to colours available in plate form.
One thing to remember: you have to build on something. LEGO ground plates are available in 32×32 and 48×48 sizes, and you can buy smaller-sized plates or ground plates to place around them.
Now, thanks to the program, I’ve built four paintings that have also been framed, and have a few more on the way. It’s not the cheapest or easiest way of getting a “fake” Master, but it’s more satisfying than just getting a print-out.
Step three: building your LEGO-based reproduction
The best thing to do here is simply start from one of the corners of the image and start building. Where Brick Painter shows you one block in a colour that is only available in plates of 1×2, imagine whether placing a 1×2 instead will break the image or improve it.
You may have to change the result somewhat depending on the actual dimensions. For instance, the result generated for one image of Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk was 64 blocks wide, 53 blocks high. For stability reasons, I wanted to have multiples of 8, which meant I had to bring it down to 64 blocks wide, 48 blocks high (i.e. two 32×32 ground plates, then the equivalent of 64×16, which I obtained through 4 plates of 8×32 – unfortunately not available from the LEGO.com store).
Once you’ve finished building it, it isn’t necessarily final. I am still in the process of tweaking a version of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, because despite several revisions, I’m not yet fully satisfied.
And then, if you’re happy, be sure to frame it and hang it. My apartment is already looking livelier thanks to the bright colours and contrast brought by the four LEGO-based paintings I’ve completed and framed so far.
For your information, cost estimate of building and framing my LEGO version of Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk:
250 EUR in plates + 25 EUR in ground plates + 90 EUR for frame
= 365 EUR (approx.)
So what are you waiting for? Start Brick Painting already!
Because it bears mentioning, I’ll end on a disclaimer: Peter Craddock and the Brick Painter are not affiliated in any way with any companies of the LEGO group.