process

It’s rare for me to have a paper trail for my work. Not that there aren’t variations or versions when I work with Lego (or occasionally a lot), but the differences are usually so minimal that they’re not worth commentary. This time the arm was like… this time the light was reflecting on the minifig head so I adjusted…

So when I find one, I tend to want to talk about it. Especially when the results are good. Like, I’m kind of impressed I managed it. This may not change the world, but it was a challenge when I needed one, so…

Of my more mundane cards, the most popular in the local shops are the ones of distinctive Seattle sites. While I’ve got one of the Hammering Man outside the Art Museum (not THAT Seattle) or the new ferris wheel (it’s neat but not distinctive), the cards that sell out are of the Space Needle and Pike Place Market. They may not be the most creative cards I’ve ever designed but I’ll follow the market.

But not another “minifig in front of stuff” image again. It may sell (mostly. Like I said, I’ve got two dead designs) but it’s boring and limiting and quickly becomes minifigure on moss. And since I’m not a big Builder, I didn’t see much hope in trying to build, say, the Space Needle for a card, so I needed a new angle.

Funnily enough, I built the Space Needle anyway.

Make something distinctively Seattle while steering clear of just one landmark? I thought of those old postcards. You know the type: vista, name in big letters, “GREETINGS FROM”…

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The idea came together from there. And I made it up. The easy part was picking a few locales to shoot potential pictures for the letters, even if I didn’t quite know how I was going to do that. The harder part was the vista.

Everyone knows the Seattle skyline. Even if you’ve never been to Seattle, you know it, thanks to Frasier. Everyone who comes to Seattle wants to go to Kerry Park to take The Picture of the skyline. I know this because I used to live a couple blocks away. Enough to have more fun taking photos of the tourists than the view itself. Not that I didn’t do that too.

Clear sky

Like I said, you’ve seen this.

So start there. Imagine the letters, what can be done with that?

I went a little… weird with it.

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Start with a sketch. Then run through Stud.io and come up with something that’s… close?

[I love that under the sketch I wrote “Can I manage this?”] [Yes I can read my own handwriting, thanks.]

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Well it’s not going to win any prizes for scientific accuracy, but when you order the pieces from Bricklink and run over to the actual Kerry Park…

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Bingo. And like that, I never have to go to Kerry Park again (yeah right). Although being asked what the hell I was doing was kind of fun.

From there, a painfully rough draft done on my phone to make sure this could work. Roughly.

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This is where I started to believe this was doable. I wasn’t entirely sure how, mind you, since my Photoshop skills are very rough and learned piecemeal. And although I found a pretty good tutorial on a couple of tips and tricks involved, it was an admixture of Photoshop and Illustrator and would involve the library and….

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I managed to do it all in Photoshop anyway. And if it wasn’t exactly like the tutorial it was good enough that even my tendency to fret and quibble shut up long enough for me to be happy with the result. Really happy.

Happy enough that I took money from another recent wholesale order and ordered cards and postcards that arrived in the time I’ve been dithering about this entry.

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These are going down with me to Tacoma on Saturday. We’ll see how this crazy idea goes. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe not.

Either way I think the journey’s been worth it and I’m pleased that I challenged myself just a little bit.

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layers of lego

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Titled “Thank You, Sir”

Y’all know my Lego kink project is kind of satirical, yeah?

In all the assorted preparations for getting my work ready for SEAF (prints arrived last week, I’ll frame them after I vend in Tacoma in two weeks) and looking over the schedule (the artist’s “VIP” reception should be a hoot) there’s one event that leapt out at me as being particularly juicy.

The weekend before festival properly begins, there will be a chance for the artists to meet with the show’s docents. In this way, we can talk about our inspirations, share stories and other tidbits that could be useful in making a sale. Oh, yeah, and connecting the viewer with the art too. Whatever.

So I’m very curious to see what they make of my photos before I talk to them about it. Because there’s a lot going on here. And while the work is serious, I’m curious.

On the first level: this is Lego. And that’s silly and fun and unlikely and probably a big part of why my photos were accepted. They simply look different in a field of nude models and semi-abstract sculpture.

On the next level: I’m genuinely looking to make kink and fetish and sexiness look fun and even silly. To the point I’ll pull in dad jokes to serve my purpose:

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I submitted this as a lark and it wasn’t accepted. It’ll be showing up in the store, though.

A lot of what’s out there strikes me as grim and dark and, honestly, mean. It’s grim men in leather vests or strict women in severe corsets enacting impossible shibari in tricked out dungeons. And while there’s more to it than that, the image is prevalent enough that I think people find it off-putting.

And I know this because I faced it when I went out vending bondage rope at my last day job. Not all the time, of course, but for every buyer who knew that they wanted X length of Y color, there was someone who was intrigued by the idea bondage but not if it required converting their garage into a sex dungeon and buying fifteen pairs of leather pants. My job was as much about putting a human face on the product in jeans and a t-shirt instead of a reject from the Village People.

This is my attempt to make human art. Sweet. Loving, even if the scene itself is one that involves fifty feet of rope, a riding crop and a violet wand and looks to an outsider like an outtake from one of the Bourne films. Yes it can be lovingly brutal, yes it can be silly.

But deeper still? This is satire.

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I went through one of the online festival catalogs and I swear that I saw this picture two or three times. Not exactly the same, of course, (and obviously no Lego was involved) but in the broad strokes there it was: woman, rope and engineering combined to make… this.

Is it still sexy the fifth time you’ve seen it? The tenth? If the only real difference between this image and the next is the knot work but otherwise she’s just bound like a side of beef?

Is it still “erotic” if we take the human model out and replace her with a RealDoll (the link is mostly safe for work, nothing super explicit but use your discretion)? Or a Lego minifig? Or…?

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If the only difference between two images is that one features a brunette and the other a blonde…?

So yeah. My submissions are sincere. I’m not storming the barricades and throwing shit around like a bonobo at the zoo. But I am tweaking some noses here and there. I am trying to imbue plastic figures with more humanity than I see in most fetish photography. I’ve had friends compliment me for making the top image in this entry feel human. Gentle.

I’m looking forward to SEAF. I’m looking forward to that meeting. I’m looking forward to seeing if maybe, just maybe, I might change some minds.

At the very least, I’m hoping I can sell all these out.

Stay tuned…

my brain on Lego

one night only....

Where do I get my ideas? Jesus, I wish I knew.

The obvious ones are kind of obvious… obviously. A knight and a dragon. The Doctor and a Dalek. Batman and Robin. While I’ll take credit for an original staging or unique take on the subject, the idea itself is pretty self explanatory.

When you get in to the realm of this shot, however… yeah I wish I had an easy answer. It’s an idea that started with a joke, evolved with a few more minifigs and now I’m actually working on building up a band. All because someone in the hierarchy of Lego devised that glam Batman that’s lurking in the right hand of this picture.

That first wave of Lego Batman minifigs included the glam figure and it was wacky. Silly. I used it in a couple of pictures and it probably would have languished in the bottom of that box.

The second wave of Lego Batman minifigs included that Black Canary figure, with a microphone stand and a dual printed head that had her screaming (or singing) on one side.

Well that’s a rock band… right?

BLACK CANARY! LIVE IN CONCERT!

Well, mostly. Kind of. Decent duo. But not a band.

Have you ever had the experience where an idea just lands in your head, unbidden? Like your subconscious had been chewing on something for a couple days and there it is?

Some of the other figures in this wave were in the Superfriends, but that was too obvious. But Black Canary was in The Outsiders. With Green Arrow. So he’s on drums, Apache Chief is on bass, Black Lightning is on keyboards.

And that “tour poster”? Well that’s the first attempt at doing something artsy with it. I really wanted something more like the cover for “With The Beatles”, but it’s hard to get that kind of detail with plastic cylinders, so it became what it is now and I kind of love it all the more for not being “perfect” but the best that I could do with a bunch of minifigures and two flashlights.

I think there’s more to come with this. I don’t know what, exactly, but it’s been a lot of fun to think about.

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Well, today I got the news from SEAF. Of the five photos I submitted, they accepted four.

My silly little minifigs are going to be hanging in a show of “erotica” and I couldn’t be more chuffed! And shocked, actually. I was expecting that they might want one. Maybe. Four? Holy hell…

And the one they rejected? Honestly, I threw that in as a lark without really expecting anything so I’m doubly thrilled.

It teminded me of an argument I got into on a toy photography forum a while back. It was about where toy photos “fit” in the grand scheme of photography and the author was of the opinion that, nope, we could slot our photos anywhere we believed they fit. We should think outside the limitations of “just” toy photography.

Now, I agree with that to a point, but the examples given weren’t thought through. According to them a picture of a surfing Lego minifig surely belongs in a sports photography group, as does a picture of a Terminator action figure belong in a celebrity photography group since it’s clearly a photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger. And if you had a bunch of minifigs posed around a building, that’s street photography.

Which is where I really got into it because those parallels are sketchy at best and insulting at worst. I mean, have you seen what photographers will do to get the best surfing photos? Jesus! And as nice as it is to have someone praise my dinosaur photos as being almost realistic…

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I really like it, but let’s be real. The only way you’d see this image in National Geographic (or wherever) is if they did a special toy issue in the same way that Hasbro and LucasFilms will hold contests for the best toy photography featuring their action figures.

Sure, street photography is “just” candid shots of people, but there’s more to it. It’s about moments and humanity. Hell, I’ve been in groups that forbade any pictures taken indoors since clearly the mandate was photography on the streets. Strict, but fair.

It all ended in a damp squib of being told that if I didn’t believe my art belonged anywhere but Instagram, that was my problem…

Here’s the thing: I think my toy photography belongs in galleries. Absolutely, one hundred percent, some of my best work should be blown up to some ridiculous sized print and hung in a white walled cube for patrons to walk by in wide eyed wonder (at the prices). I want to see it in stores for sale. I want a book deal.

Between this and my studio work, I want to take over the world.

But some of that is knowing where the work doesn’t belong. I’m a straight white male photographer, my work does not belong in a space devoted to Japanese printmakers. Simple.

After that, though? It’s finding where I can slot my ideas in, maybe even without them knowing they wanted it. Like the places that are selling my Lego cards, both mundane and kink. Like the places I’ve shown my work.

Like SEAF.

The show’s in April. I’m vending in Tacoma in March. I’m sending line sheets to shops up and down the west coast this week, including Kink.com because why the fuck not.

And I’ll show you exactly where my work belongs.

anatomy of a comic

names matter

The reason I love toy photography is that it appeals to my desire to tell stories. Sometimes it’s as simple as sticking two figures in a scene, whether they’re dinosaurs fighting or superheroes. There’s enough in the picture that what’s happening is either clear as day or offers enough clues that you can find your own interpretation.

Sometimes, that’s not enough and you have to bring in panels and word balloons. Which is where the real fun begins because now it’s more than just a picture. It combines my favorite parts of writing (I love dialogue, can’t stand writing all the descriptive bits and “he said excitedly” and whatnot), photography, composition and design into one usually quick and dirty project.

So I figured I’d discuss how this comic came together, from concept to completion.

The idea first came together when I saw that there would be a Clock King in the next wave of Lego Batman figures.

That’s how I look at most Lego, as a story telling tool. Whether it inspires on its own or gets filtered through my ever expanding collection, that determines my interest in buying a kit. I mean, as cool as the mondo-uber-deluxe Millennium Falcom is, it doesn’t do much for me. But the Lego book that came with Emperor Palpatine? Oh I can work with that.

Same thing with the Clock King.

I’m a huge Doctor Who fan, so I already had the TARDIS set from a couple years ago, which is all about Time Lords and… well that’s the first glimmer. Throw in the Calendar Man minifig that came out last year and there’s definitely something there. I hit Bricklink for the Calendar Man figure, waited for the new wave to come out and then waited for a semi-nice day to pull something together.

Which happened to be today.

Next up: I have my characters and a rough “setting”. What’s the story?

Two villains, one Doctor. Probably nothing good. Did I want to show that? Have an “unconscious” Doctor in the scene? Not especially. I want these comics to be relatively streamlined, especially when they’re gags.

So they’re driving the TARDIS? I like the interior set, but I’d done something like that recently. And it was a really nice day today.

There’s still a lot of room here. I wanted a narrative so something more than the two of them standing outside the TARDIS with a caption about the “real” time lords. So a walk and talk (sorry Mr. Sorkin!).

What are they walking and talking about? One of them got the TARDIS, the other is impressed and… then… magic?

Calendar Man. Clock King. Such seriously ridiculous names. Nothing cool as the Time Lords I liked… like… there you go.

I do my comics in an iPhone app called Halftone 2. It’s a funky little program that was clearly designed to be used for tourist pictures and wacky captions of your dog. I figured this out when I contacted them about a glitch involving a comic of some twenty odd pages and they responded with mild shock. So there you go. But it’s super easy. Drop in your images, throw in some speech bubble “stickers” and some sound effects and you’re set.

Before I got to the park I threw some speech bubbles on the layout, which established the pictures I’d need. I took a couple pictures against the low angle of the winter sun, pasted them in, adjusted tails, cropped the images and, lo, I was done. A month of spitballing, fifteen minutes of photography, five minutes of editing.

I dig the hell out of this system. There are some serious limitations, beyond the tendency towards smaller file sizes. Most importantly, while the layouts are varied and you can make your own layouts in a related app, this is not really good at making super complex pages like Art Spiegelman or Alan Moore. I mean, there are options in the app, but I’ve never made them work for anything.

The learning curve on this app is less about learning the app itself and more about figuring out how to make it work for your vision. Or, to put it in a more visual form:
"Tutorial"Yep, that’s the long and short of it. You can have a big clear picture or a lot of words, but not both. Not really.

So yeah. My brain and welcome to it. And maybe you should try it yourself? Tell a dad joke in two panels. Recreate a Far Side strip in minifigures. Go nuts!

And, hey, Juicy Bits software? Call me. I’ve got some notes.

merry kinkmas

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Two things about these images.

First, yes, I know I’m going to a very special hell when I die. Obviously. But there’s something appealing and fun about coming up with such odd things.

Second, this is why I kind of love Lego photography.

I had the idea for the first image, set it up, snapped it and walked away. Then some marketing part of my mind kicked in and thought that, y’know, there’s probably an audience for the same sex/leather daddy version of this image. A quick swap (and no small amount of angry muttering as things kept falling over) later and I took the second picture. And I was done.

What happens next? Eh, maybe cards next year? Or at SEAF? I dunno. But I dug the hell out of the process.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

toy story (or, why I hate moss)

Last time I wrote here, I was talking about using photos to tell a story when you can’t capture a moment. This becomes important when I’m working with Lego minifigures that, let’s face it, tend to just stay there without a lot of inherent dynamism. So Batman v. Joker or robbers robbing or even a staged “conversation” can make all the difference.

But crucially, I think the story needs to be explicit in the photo. It’s not enough to simply put an action figure on the ground and say “Oh yes, it’s Daredevil and he’s running from the Hand and…” without anything else in the frame to fill that narrative out.

Case in point, here’s a picture I took earlier in the year.

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It’s pretty, the red and green are a nice contrast and the composition is OK. But what’s actually happening in this photo? Yes, I had a story in my head, something about a noble lady going through the woods to a temple somewhere but without that, what’s really in this photo? Minifigure. Moss.

I don’t think I would have noticed this if I hadn’t taken two pictures that, despite featuring different figures, were essentially the same. Minifigure on moss. The story I told was different, the images were the same.

By the way, this is something I find frustrating with a lot of things, seeing the same cliches and tropes treated mostly the same with only cosmetic differences. In burlesque it was  performers who used essentially the same choreography for most of their acts or the same set-up of “She’s an innocent little $JOBTITLE but really she wants to be $BURLESQUESTAR!” In pin-up photography it’s the same ten poses but different hair colors. In genre fiction it’s particular set ups or character types. It all adds up to a point where I can only see the cliches.

In toy photography… moss and minifigures.

Moss is great for toy photography because it serves as natural scenery at any scale. It looks right, it’s not jarring, it’s just green and lush and beautiful. It’s great.

Until you see it in almost every photo.

Which happens, especially in the Instagram tag communities that ask people to post their favorite photos of the month and you get layouts like this:

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Each image on their own is fine. Seen en masse and I feel overwhelmed by sameness despite the slight differences.

Moss. Minifigure. No moment. No story. You could swap the subjects around without losing a thing.

And dammit, the most polite I can be when confronted by tedium like this is silence, which can be frustrating when I think everyone can do better or at least push their art in different directions than this.

We all love a visual art, yeah?

Then next time, show me.