Kildare woman Jessica a top Lego artist
Jenny Lee chats to Kildare Lego artist Jessica Farrell who is turning Lego bricks into intricate works of art
CHILDREN'S imaginations have been running wild ever since the humble interlocking Lego brick was first manufactured in 1958.
Kildare woman Jessica Farrell "fell in love" with Lego as a four-year-old. Now in her mid-40s, having raised four children and set up her own horticulture business, Jessica's love-affair with the little bricks is stronger than ever.
As a freelance Lego artist, she has exhibited all over the world and her model of Her Majesty's Theatre, London – which took 11 months to build – was purchased by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.
So, what made her start taking Lego seriously again?
"I remember as a young child Lego was just coming out as the new creative plaything for children and my mother had the foresight to buy me my first set," explains Jessica (47).
"It was one of those building sets were you got photographs on the front of the box, but you didn't have instructions.
"She watched me with amusement as I attempted to stack bricks one on top of another and the walls kept falling. She would not tell me how to do it – she just told me to figure it out myself and challenging me to do it.
"When I finally managed to work out how the bricks should overlay in order to make a wall and managed to make a house where the wall didn't fall in, then there was no stopping me.
"The love affair never really stopped, though I had what is commonly called 'the dark ages', which is when you grow up and turn away [from Lego] in your late teens and then life and family take over.
"Then it was the case of 'the enlightenment' coming back and you get back into the Lego," she laughs.
With her children aged between 14 and 27, Jessica – whose Lego artist name is Janet Van D – found herself with more time to experiment in what she calls "the Lego lair", a room in their house dedicated to Lego.
"It is floor-to-ceiling with boxes of bricks, sorted by colour and type. It's highly organised, but very, very crowded," admits the artist, who is hoping to buy an outdoor cabin studio in the near future.
Jessica builds a diverse range of models, some based on world-famous buildings, others inspired by popular culture.
"If I’ve completed something in one genre, the next time I would try to do something completely different," she explains.
"I like to say I’m able to build anything, rather than one particular genre or theme."
Jessica, who also runs a garden nursery and small-holding often incorporates nature into many of her models:
"Nature in general would find its way into my builds, even when I’m doing architectural models. I strive for all of my Lego builds to be works of art.
"That comes from my working with nature and that everything in nature has beauty."
Three of her large-scale models will be on display at Bricklive in Belfast’s Titanic Exhibition Centre next month.
One of these, her 16 square foot replica of Superman’s home away form home, The Fortress of Solitude, was inspired by the original
Superman movie trilogy.
"I liked the movies and loved the way the Fortress is made up of various angled crystals and ice. I thought it was an extremely beautiful and difficult model to make.
"To recreate the sense of grandeur when you look at the fortress was going to be a big challenge – and I like a challenge," says Jessica.
Her gaming-mad eldest daughter set her a challenge that resulted in Jessica's model of The Lost Valley from Tomb Raider, made from 18,000 Lego pieces.
"One of the games I remember playing was the original Tomb Raider and the most iconic image of that game is The Lost Valley's outdoor jungle with dinosaurs.
"It was quite an interesting one to build, as there was a certain amount of structure involved such as the ruined temple. It was also organic, with the plants and jungle life in the valley.
"We took a lot of screen shots to recreate it exactly because my daughter warned me that gamers were very exact and every aspect had to be entirely accurate or they would criticise it."
Her third exhibit is a replica of the famous cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Spain’s Galicia region, where she displays the versatility of Lego pieces, incorporating tea cups and car grills into the architectural decoration.
"The Lego sets with instructions are absolutely fine. But if you hold a Lego piece in your hand – even if it was meant to be the bonnet of a car or a windscreen – that doesn't mean that's what that piece has to be.
"Each piece has limitless potential. You need to let the imagination run wild," adds Jessica, who encourages parents to let children dismantle box sets when completed and re-use the bricks for their own creations.
Jessica’s 14-year-old son Faoláin will also be exhibiting at BrickLive with his model Attack of The Dark Army, which he describes as "a kingdom breached in a classic fantasy battle of good verses evil."
Whilst all her designs are original and she doesn’t use any digital design software, Jessica’s models do require careful planning.
"My first models never saw the light of an exhibition hall because they didn’t fit through the door," she reveals.
"I quickly learned they had to be built in modules so they could be packed into boxes and moved around.
"I design my model first on graph paper, getting my measurements correct and planning how the model is going to be reinforced and taken apart for transportation.
"I might trial certain aspects, such as the shards of crystal in the Fortress of Solitude. Then, once I have that groundwork done, everything comes together organically.”
Although Lego is a solitary hobby, Jessica has made many new friendships with fellow adult Lego builders through Brick.ie, an Irish Lego user group.
As well as conversing online, they meet once a month in Dublin and exhibit four times through the year.
Her message to other adults who loved Lego as a child or longingly look-on as young relatives have fun with the bricks is "get building".
"I think it appeals for many different reasons. A lot of people build because they say it is very therapeutic and a great relaxing tool away from the stresses of work of life. Some say they build because it expresses a creativity. Others like the mathematics involved.
"For me, it’s a medium of art. The thing I like most about Lego is the paradox that it is built in a very exact mathematical grid with strict geometric parameters and yet it allows limitless and boundless creativity."
:: Hands-on interactive fun with Lego
BRICKLIVE, the Lego fan event, makes its Irish debut when it visits Belfast for four days this August.
One of the largest Lego events in Europe, BRICKLIVE will feature a wide range of international professional and amateur displays, along with a range of features such as brick pits, with tonnes of Lego bricks to play with as well as a dance zone, race track and Lego graffiti wall.
Hot on the heels of its recently released open-world adventure game, LEGO Worlds, WB Games UK will be bringing some of its hugely popular Lego video games to the event.
As well as a pop-up Toys R Us shop, specialist retailers will be selling cool vintage and collectible rare sets and accessories too.
BRICKLIVE build zones feature dedicated Lego Minecraft, Star Wars, City, Architecture, Friends, Technics, Ninjago and Duplo zones.
:: BRICKLIVE Belfast takes places at Titanic Exhibition Centre from August 3 to 6. For further information and tickets visit Bricklive.co.uk.