Wednesday, 13 November 2013

American Beauty

As I noted in a recent posting, one by-product of LEGO's current upsurge in popularity has been an explosion of LEGO-related publications. I've already reviewed a couple of offerings on here this year - Sariel's Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder's Guide and Nathanael Kuipers' Amazing Vehicles volume 1 - and I hope to review a couple more in due course - David Robertson's Brick by Brick and Pete Reid and Tim Goddard's LEGO Space. Each of these books has a distinctly different focus, highlighting the incredible diversity of LEGO-related publications out there right now, and recent arrival Beautiful LEGO by Mike Doyle continues in the same vein, offering something very different to any of the other books in my LEGO library.

First impressions of this surprisingly weighty tome are very positive - Beautiful LEGO is a beautiful book. The front cover (above) showcases one of the author's own creations, snappily entitled "Contact 1: The Millenial Celebration of the Eternal Choir at K'al Yne Odan" (I kid you not) while the back cover (below - click to enlarge) highlights a few more modestly-sized creations. The book looks like a hardback from a distance, but the front and back covers, which fold back on themselves to confer additional rigidity, are actually made of card and are printed with a mixture of sumptuous matt and glossy photographs. All in all there are well over 270 pages of content, and it's all beautifully laid out and printed. Quite exquisite, actually.

In the preface, we learn that the author only became aware of the kinds of LEGO artwork that people were creating about 3 years ago. If, as this suggests, he didn't start to design and build his own LEGO creations until that time, then he's a rare talent. To put things into perspective, he's managed to accumulate his astonishing portfolio of original work in the time that it's taken me to build a few official LEGO sets, tinker with my LEGO City layout and reproduce cavegod's UCS AT-AT. Gulp.

Alien Chestburster, by Ramon & Amador Alfaro Marcilla
The organisation of the book is pleasingly haphazard, with chapters showcasing the work of specific builders rubbing shoulders with collections of models focused on specific and seemingly random topics as diverse as birds, architecture, mecha, mosaics, space and Monty Python. Maybe a third of the book's thirty or so chapters focus exclusively on the work of individual builders. Some of these LEGO artists, including the likes of Nathan Sawaya and the book's author Mike Doyle (both of whom I've previously featured here) I was already aware of. Others, such as brothers Ramon and Amador Alfaro Marcilla, creators of the incredible Alien Chestburster model above, I wasn't. For me personally these builder-focused chapters are the highlight of the book, as in addition to the featured models they also contain text which provides insights into the motivations, creations and favourite elements of the builders. The chapter which casts a spotlight on Mike Doyle's own creations features some of my favourite-ever MOCs, namely his series of Abandoned Houses, one of which you can see below.

Three Story Victorian with Tree by Mike Doyle
The chapters focusing on specific topics consist predominantly of collections of models made by different builders, although in a few cases all themed models in a chapter have been built by a single individual. Topics covered range from the predictable (architecture) to the plain inspired (Monty Python), and the featured models range from tiny to huge and showcase an almost bewildering array of different building styles. These chapters would I think have benefitted from explanatory text to accompany the pictures; I would have particularly appreciated getting some insights into some of the ingenious building techniques used in the models. That having been said, I guess the author had to draw the line somewhere in the interests of keeping the book to a manageable size. As a Brit, it was pleasing to see a number of models created by fellow Brickish Association members Tim Goddard (his Rearing Stallion model can be seen below), Barney Main, Rod Gillies and James Pegrum - great work, guys !

Rearing Stallion by Tim Goddard
One minor downside from my perspective is the absence of a few specific builders and their creations from the book. I was disappointed that the work of Ed Diment (Lego Monster) wasn't featured in some form, for instance, and the omission of his stupendous and much-admired model of U.S.S. Intrepid was particularly surprising to me. Fully forty pages of mechs and space ships without a single Peter Reid (legoloverman) creation was also disappointing, as was the absence of any of Ralph "Mad Physicist" Savelsberg's fabulous vehicles. Admittedly, as the author is at pains to point out in his preface, for practical reasons it would have been impossible to feature all of the models that deserved to be showcased, and in a book of this type there's consequently always going to be a substantial element of personal preference in the selections. Truth be told, therefore, aside from a few notable omissions I actually think that the author has done a pretty good job of highlighting a diverse range of different models and building styles; I suspect that had I been responsible for choosing the content it would no doubt have been criticised by some for being too EU-centric, so you really can't please all of the people all of the time.... Talking of preferred content, in an ideal world I would also have liked to see more commentary on the models, and better still get some insights into the building techniques used, but again it's a fairly minor gripe.

Temple of Jugatinus by James Pegrum
I suppose there's a potential question to be addressed regarding the purpose of the book. It's undoubtedly wonderful eye candy, but you could argue that most if not all of the featured creations can be freely seen on the net, and there's precious little accompanying text to provide additional value. Interestingly, non-AFOL friends and family were particularly wowed by the book - they couldn't quite believe that the models were made out of LEGO - but I don't see much likelihood of such people actually buying it. AFOLs, on the other hand, will generally know where to find such content on the net, so is the book really worth the $29.95 MRSP ? Well, that depends on your perspective. The book is beautifully presented, and it showcases a thoughtful selection of impressive, inspiring, amusing and thought-provoking creations which richly deserve to be captured for posterity. You can therefore look upon the book as a source of inspiration and an object which brings pleasure in it's own right. If that's important to you, as it is for me, then I can wholeheartedly recommend the book to you. Otherwise you're probably better off saving your money and looking elsewhere.

Westie by Shin-Kai Huang
Beautiful LEGO is available now. At the time of posting you can buy it at a decent discount from Amazon in the U.K. (click here), the U.S. (click here) and elsewhere. Many thanks to the publisher, No Starch Press, for sending me a copy to review here on Gimme LEGO.

1 comment:

  1. absolutely loving this site. Could spend hours looking at the pictures and trying to build these. Thank you.