In the world of LEGO MOC, there are two main camps of creators. The first includes simple hobbyists looking to create their own renditions of whatever the official sets couldn’t do, or improve upon existing sets to their own liking, for their own leisure.
And then there are brick artists, who take the hobby to a more professional level, building bricks not just for themselves, but to fill up their rice bowl as an actual living.
Jeffrey Kong is one such individual. A full-time brick artist by trade, Jeffrey lives the geek dream of doing what he loves as a job. In a country like Singapore, where career over passion is considered the mainstream approach, it’s always a breath of fresh air to meet someone who has successfully combined that.
But getting to that point wasn’t exactly straightforward for the 40-year old.
“I got into this by chance,” Jeffrey recounts his experience with Geek Culture. “Many years ago I stumbled upon this software (LEGO Digital Designer) that enabled one to create without using physical bricks. Back then I was a freelance editor and writer, and I was working from hospital because of my dad. So I found comfort in the creative process at a low point in life.”
“Later on, I showed a few friends some of my creations, and they started asking me ‘How much are you selling this?’ and ‘Can you teach me how to build that?’, and I thought if this could bring me some joy, I could make people happy with my work.”
That was ten years ago, when the MOC life all started for him. But it was only until 2015 that he finally decided to embrace his true calling as a brick artist and monetise his work, going under the moniker Artisan Bricks. He receives commissions from clients and organisations, as well as hosting building workshops for eager first-timers on a regular basis.
Speaking of his work, Jeffrey’s inspiration for his builds mainly consists of things that filled his life growing up in the 1980s and 1990s. His miniature interpretations of various everyday aspects of Singapore culture ranges includes your typical road sign or recycling bins seen around HDB (Housing Development Board) blocks.
He’s also worked with various government-owned corporations and community organisations to build iconic landmarks such as the Changi Airport Control Tower, and the Parliament House, just to name a few.
But of course, he is also no stranger to pop culture either.
Among his works, Jeffrey picks the little balloon dog that he built back in 2013 to celebrate the Year of the Dog for Chinese New Year.
This build is striking as it doesn’t use the bricks in the traditional sense, but rather a combination of round studs, bars and hinges. To him, it is representative of his achievements as a brick artist, and as a reminder to “push the limits of this medium and to make people smile [through his work].”
And true enough, the fact that his builds are based on Singapore culture, including old landmarks, allows Jeffrey to connect with the people who are tied to these structures and places by memory or sentiment.
One such instance is his interpretation of the old Forfar House in Queenstown during a workshop he conducted in 2017. For the uninitiated, the Forfar House was an old 14-storey residential block first built way back in 1956. Once declared the tallest residential building in Singapore, it was demolished in 1996 to make way for what Singaporeans now know as the Forfar Heights condominium.
“One of the participants told me this brought back so many memories for her because she actually stayed in the Forfar House, and she pointed me to the level and unit she stayed [on his model]. This meant a lot to me — to be able to express the intangible with the tangible,” recounts Jeffrey.
No doubt, being a brick artist is as tough as it is fulfilling. Despite getting a great deal of recognition from the public, government and media with his work, Jeffrey still gets the occasional misconception that he is simply one who builds bricks. On the contrary, he spends even more time doing research rather than messing around with LEGO bricks, designing drafts of the final build on LDD, before putting bricks together.
It is because of his photographic memory (and also records of his builds on his social media pages) that gives him the ability to potentially start building from scratch once more should a fire break out in his home.
Jests aside, Jeffrey’s constant desire to learn and improve is one of the biggest factors for starting this business and maintaining it. “Even after ten years on the job I still find new things to discover all the time,” he says. “After a while you are your own teacher.”
But if there is any advice he can give to folks looking to begin their LEGO MOC journey, and perhaps even become a brick artist, it would be to simply be yourself in what you build. There is no better way to get into the hobby than building what you know and love, be it from memory, or from your favourite pieces of pop culture. For example, here’s one of Jeffrey’s earliest pieces, built in memory of an old friend:
Looking back, Jeffrey has absolutely no qualms about quitting his previous job and making the shift to be a brick artist.
“I am grateful to be able to turn this hobby into a career, and the creative process helps keep me alive.”
Marion has a serious RPG addiction. Sometimes it bleeds into real life; he forgets to sleep because he thinks he has a Witcher’s body clock. Forgive him in advance if he suddenly blurts out terms such as “Mind Flayer” and “Magic Missile”, because never once does he stop thinking about his next Dungeons & Dragons game.