Some of Jeffrey Kong's locally inspired creations include the Merlion, RSAF F-15SG, and the old TransitLink fare machine. | Photos: Jeffrey Kong @artisanbricks
From sneakers to dinosaurs, Lego has been inspiring generations of kids and adults to create just about anything and everything that strikes their imagination.
For Jeffrey Kong, it's a reminder of the wonder of home.
“This is where I grew up, so I am naturally inspired by things that mean 'home' to me. If it has a personal link to me, or can resonate with people I care about, I will try to tell a story with this medium,” says Jeffrey.
The 41-year-old first rediscovered Lego in 2012. It offered him solace while spending time with his father (who had been diagnosed with cancer) in Tan Tock Seng Hospital. There, Jeffrey played around with a Lego digital designer software, and he's been fervently building bricks since.
Today, inspired to inspire, he is the founder of Artisan Bricks, which provides Lego consultancy services (yes, there's such a thing!), holds Lego-building workshops and is involved with charities and giving back to the community.
In 2017, the former SAF regular even caught the attention of Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen for his brick recreations of the SAFTI MI tower, BMTC School 2 logo, the Commando crest, and an accurate mini F-15SG.
Most impressively, the F-15SG was built without visible studs on its wings, tail fins, and stabiliser to showcase how perfectly smooth the jet is - we definitely want that as a Lego set, please.
Meanwhile, we speak to the artist behind the art about his favourite Lego creations, delve into his creative process, and find out exactly what happens to all the builds he’s completed over the years.
We really love your locally inspired creations, from the HDB car park signs to our iconic playgrounds! Out of all your awesome Lego builds, which is your favourite?
There are so many! One that readily comes to mind would be my little balloon dog (my Instagram profile photo). It represents what I like to do with my work – to put a smile on your face, and to push the boundaries of the building brick as an art medium.
On average, how long does one piece take to complete?
It really depends on the project – it can range from a few days to a few months. Many people think that I spend all my time in the studio, building away.
Well, I do spend a lot of time putting bricks together, but a lot more time is spent on design, research and planning the story that I want to tell. A lot of the creative journey actually involves talking to people, making sketches, doing onsite research, and so forth.
What's your most challenging build to date?
One of the more challenging projects I have done is a series of brick models of life-sized musical instruments with the People’s Association. It was an experience to work with builders of all ages and all walks of life over several weeks to create these models – including a piano and a supersized boombox – for an event at the Istana.
Your recent Lego creation for Harper’s Bazaar looks just like the real thing! You’ve also worked with government agencies and many major companies in the past. What are some of your most memorable partnerships and what made them so awesome?
I have been fortunate to have had many wonderful clients – schools, government agencies, NGOs and companies big and small. Some of the most memorable experiences involve workshops, where I get to spread the joy of the brick to many people.
One example was a series of workshops I did with My Queenstown and supported by the National Arts Council (above), where members of the public joined us in building icons of Queenstown, many of which are now gone or due for demolition.
One participant pointed out her old unit in a model of the Forfar House that we built, and told me it means so much to her. That really made it all worthwhile.
Do you remember your first original Lego build?
One of the first few creations I did was a little brick camera (a DSLR) built on a Lego magnet. I still have it on my fridge at home. It means quite a lot to me because I used to take photos for work in my former career as a magazine editor - miss those days!
One of the people Jeffrey is inspired by is another former SAF regular, miniature artist Wilfred Cheah. Click this image to read about his model of Kampung Lorong Buangkok. | Photo: Facebook/@cheahwilfred
Who and what are your inspirations?
In addition to all things local, I like to get inspiration from artists who work in different mediums. I am a big fan of Wilfred Cheah (@cheahwilfred) and Lim Pui Wan (@picoworm) who create lovely miniature scenes of nostalgic Singapore and Malaysia.
You’ve hosted several Lego building online workshops for schools and community clubs. What motivates you to want to teach your craft?
Creating with this medium gave me peace at a low point in my life, so I hope to spread the joy of the brick whenever I can. It is immensely satisfying to share my creative process with the next generation of builders, to get them started on a lifetime of creative discovery.
It’s amazing that you’ve turned building Lego into a full time gig. We’re envious, but it must have been extremely hard work to get this far. What made you want to take the plunge to doing this full-time?
I got my first commission requests 10 years ago, when I was still a magazine editor. So I started this creative business as a sideline. A few years later, I got enough commissions to do this as a full-time artist.
As for art experience, I had no formal art training. It was only when I got into publishing that I learnt how to do some graphic design and magazine layouts, in addition to being an editor. Back then, I worked closely with the art directors and designers to tell a story with words and pictures.
Now, I'd like to think the goal is still the same – it’s just that I am using a different medium this time.
So sayang wei to take apart Lego builds when they're completed, and you’ve built so many over the years. We’re curious to know, what happens to all your Lego creations once you’re done with them?
Commissioned works get delivered to clients. Prototypes are dismantled, so that parts can be reused. As for table scraps, technique studies, and random ideas, these are dismantled for reuse too.
A selected few are kept to be used as examples in workshops. Nothing lasts forever, and to me this is especially true when creating with building bricks. I also like to think this is what this medium is all about – to enable you to create something different every day.
This article was first published in Wonderwall.sg.