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Author: Shelly

The Joy of Art

RecentI enjoy receiving ArtNetNews every morning in my mailbox. I enjoy the articles on the comings and goings of the fine art world. I feel like  a voyeur to this rarefied world of museums, galleries and million dollar art sales. It is a world I will never be a part of and I am just fine with that. The following headline reinforced this opinion:

Okwui Enwezor’s 56th Venice Biennale Is Morose, Joyless, and Ugly

So while the movers and shakers of the art world are hopping from one floating pavilion and art installation to another, looking to see and be seen at the latest Venice Biennial, I am more than happy to plan my next lego photo, interact with the amazing people that surround this blog and of course peruse all the latest and greatest photos from the Instagram toy photography community.

I have no pretensions that we will take the traditional art world by storm, or that we are creating art work that will change the course of history, but I do believe that we are creating work that reflects the world that we live in. From those ubiquitous Storm Troopers, to the super heroes out to save the world from the latest super villains, to the amazing custom toys I see every day on my feed, I truly believe the toy photography community is creating art that is more accessible to the average human on this planet than the work created for the Biennial.

And even if toy photography isn’t the next wave of Pop Art, I know that we have a heck of a lot more fun creating our work and we definitely spread joy in this world we all live in.

Anubis and Pharaoh out for a joy ride.

Do you think art should create social change or bring visual enjoyment to the viewer?  

Can you inspire social change through your art and still create something beautiful? 

The Importance of Light

The importance of good light can never be under estimated. Several of my blog mates are studio photographers who’re able to control every nuanced shaft of light. As an outdoor photographer I don’t have that luxury and often my work suffers for it.

This past week was one big wasted opportunity. As I spent five days in rural Italy near Florence and Siena, I was surrounded by picturesque vistas, rolling hills of grape vineyards, fields of wild red poppies and rock walls covered in moss and succulents to die for. Basically a photographers dream.

Unfortunately the light had other plans.

The weather during my visit was windy with overcast grey sky’s and a constant threat of rain. I took a few photos in my spare moments, but they are all colorless and flat. The only time I saw any of that fabled golden Tuscan light was walking up the hill to dinner one evening and I had no camera or mini figures in my possession.

All of this is just a reminder that we really aren’t photographing our subjects but the light reflecting off of them. The next time you are outside taking photos, be aware of the light and try to capture that, not your subject.

Because that is where the magic lies.

What is your best or worst travel related photo experience?

My Muses

I have been asked more than once what are my favorite mini figures to photograph. Normally I would be diplomatic and tell you all of them, but I have come to realize some characters mean more to me than others. I am about to pack for another adventure and I want to only take my favorites, or as I like to refer to them, my muses.

My first introduction into the LEGO mini figure was the Geisha (S4) and The Samurai (S3) and after all these years they are still some of my favorites to photograph. I like the idea of true, yet unrequited, love and they seem to represent that for me. In addition to their symbolic nature, they are also very beautiful figures.

It wasn’t until my toy photography “career” that I became obsessed  with the Galaxy Squad mini figures. I liked their candy colored space suits and their mini space craft. They have a sense of adventure about them and a certain bravado that I like. Of course the Bugs that came along with the sets take me right to Robert Heinlein’s classic science fiction epic Starship Troopers. I loved that book, but probably not for the reasons you would think.

It was an easy move to transfer my Galaxy Squad obsession to the Classic Space theme. Although I never played with these guys as a kid I do love their simplistic expressions and an “up to any adventure” attitude. I think they reflect my own attitude when I am out shooting or exploring new terrain for a photo. Now if only I could find a black one….

My next favorite line is the Chima series; not any Chima, just the birds. I love those wings! They are beautiful to photograph. I also like the fact that you can see there eyes (which is handy for focusing), that they come in a variety of colors and represent a freedom that only flying can achieve. You may not like the Chima figures (most people don’t), but for me they will always be one of my more important muses.

The Watchers are a trio of characters I created by crossing Classic Aliens from S6 with a set of dapper suits and bowler hats. I have a strong conspiracy streak running  through my personality and these guys represent that part of my persona. I never leave the house without them.

Other mini figs I can’t image traveling without are The Swamp Monster, The Brave x3 (S10) and The Panda x 3 (Lego Movie) / Panda Troopers. I might bring along a few pigs (S12), an Explorer (S2), a few elves and hobbits from LOTR’s, a couple (read at least three) Ninjas and maybe even a knight and a dragon (but that seems too obvious). If I was going to be near water I would bring along a few characters from the Atlantis theme. I am going to land locked country so water figures seem to much of a stretch. Last but not least I will take along the little Peter Reid designed robot that frequents my Instagram feed.

By the time this gets posted I will be in far away lands, exploring new and hopefully amazing territory, taking my little muses along for the ride. And unlike dear Boba, I will not be leaving anyone behind.

The very first Minifigures I ever purchased

Square Peg in Round Hole

I have been an active participant in the online toy photography community for three years and I almost always feel like a square peg in a round hole, I simply don’t fit in.  This feeling has been growing the last few months to the point where I want to chuck the whole thing and run in a more appropriate direction.

You’re probably scratching your head and wondering how could this be? Let me outline exactly how I don’t fit into this amazing group of people.

First, there is my age. Yes, I am one of the oldest people, that I know of, who is actively participating in the toy photography movement. In fact it is so bad, most of my followers have more in common with my kids, than with me.  I don’t feel like a peer, I feel like the den mother.

Second my gender. I am female in an overwhelmingly male field. When you combine toys with photography (both dominated by boys/men) you are going to get an overwhelmingly male participation rate. I have managed to find a few incredible female toy photographers within the community, but they are few and far between. My day to day interactions are primarily with men and sometimes the testosterone, the crude jokes, the sexism, wears thin.

I don’t consider myself a geek. I barely know the difference between Marvel and DC, my pop culture knowledge is slim to none, and I have never played video games much less read a comic book. This lack of knowledge puts me at a supreme disadvantage when it comes to identifying half of the toys being photographed. On the subject of Star Wars (which frankly dominates the scene) I will remain silent; although I do appreciate the community that has grown up around the franchise.

What makes the toy photography community so amazing is that they have accepted me as one of their own even though I clearly don’t belong. I have never meet a group of people so welcoming and supportive to all the diversity you find within this community; culturally, economically, educationally and of course, individual tastes in toys. I know that there are occasional squabbles, like in any close knit family, but the love and respect is real.

So I want to thank the community for accepting me for who and what I am… a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

Boba “Proto Fett” Challenge

If you have been following my Instagram feed for any length of time, you know I have certain characters I gravitate towards in my photography, and Star Wars characters rarely make an appearance. So why all the Boba “Proto Fett” images lately?

I, and an unknown number of other photographers, were asked to photograph this character in any way we see fit by the deadline April 27th. So I have been spending some time with dear Boba, getting to know him and thinking about his character. I even bought Slave I and spent an enjoyable few days building it.

Now it is time to pay the piper. Its time to send two images off to these arbitrators of good taste and I know I am about to make a poor choice. My work (if it is chosen) will be displayed next to the work of (what I imagine to be) some pretty amazing photographers who all know how to shoot Star Wars, have a better handle on Photoshop and are, in all probability, better photographers than I am. Comparisons are bound to take place between my work and my fellow photographers and frankly I would like to look good.

And this is the quandary. I am purposefully not going to send my best images; I am choosing two that I feel better reflect me as a photographer. I want to be true to my work not the charecter. My work is not showy, it’s not going to blow your socks off, but maybe, just maybe, if I do my job well, you might feel something from that little piece of plastic beyond that first “wow” moment.

A Need for Speed!

So today I want to share with you the three images I feel are my best effort. I know that by leaving one of these on the cutting room floor I am probably not doing myself any favors.

The Killing Fields


Patience seems to be the name of the game right now and it’s not my strong suit. But unfortunately that is the order of the day. When I was preparing for the In LEGO, We Connect show I was in charge, I knew what needed to happen and I could push the process along. Now I have entered a new stage, the waiting game and I hate it.

What I am waiting on:

  • My next project requires customs figures and I am waiting for those to be created.
  • I am waiting on my copy of Bricks Culture; either the digital or physical copy. (Right now I am betting the physical copy gets here first.)
  • I am waiting to see if the seeds I have planted regarding future exhibitions germinate.

So while I wait to see what the next step is, I am going to get busy with life. I have entered a new stage, the waiting game and I hate it.

I am sure I will be taking a few deep breaths along the way.

“Only photography what you love.” Tim Walker

The Dark Underbelly

I think we artists don’t talk enough about the emotional cost of putting on a show like In LEGO, We Connect. We tend to focus on the successful press, impressive sales and positive feedback but never talk about the dark underbelly. When you put your entire heart and soul into creating something meaningful out of nothing, there is always a flip side; and trust me, it’s not pretty.

I can only talk about my experience, I am sure whatever Boris and Vesa went through after they returned home was mitigated by the fact that they both immersed themselves in some pretty heavy duty projects; Boris catching up with Darth, Inc. and Vesa on his super secret, super exciting project soon to be announced. Me? I was left to deal with this huge void that can only be created by spending 24/7 worrying, guiding and working towards the opening. To say I was left in a total free fall would be an understatement.

Luckily I had my husband, my good friends Kitty and Gwen and even Boris who were kind enough to listen to me as I alternated between “I’m fine.” and “Today is NOT a good day.” If you have ever planned a wedding or any large scale event you might know what I am talking about. Personally, March was a non-starter, it never happened.

But now we have arrived in  April; today is the last day of the show, and tomorrow I will go to the gallery and retrieve any unsold works for storage. Frankly, I am thrilled to be moving on.

Of course much of this new sense of energy and my newly cleared head comes from finally settling on my next project. When I had mentioned in an early post, “What does success look like?”, I wanted to emphasize that it looks like everything else: Do the work! For me the only part of this whole process that gets me truly, deeply excited and profoundly happy is taking the photographs. Everything else feels like window dressing to prove that I have a job, a career.

I have to ask myself: is the cost too high or does this part of the experience ultimately strengthen me? As the collective explores our next step (because there will be one) I want to remember this month and what I have learned. I need this reminder of the emotional price that will be paid for pushing this project forward; the higher the highs, the lower the lows. I appreciate this blog not only as a means of fostering community and sharing experiences, but as a record of where we started and how far we have come. For me it is an invaluable touchstone.

Recently I have been exploring my earlier posts and I realized that I was a much smarter person when we started. I still have many lessons to learn and even relearn.

So if you are ever lucky enough to put on a public exhibition of your art, make sure you have a good support system in place to pick up the pieces. Because when the hard work is over you will be left with a big empty gaping hole in your life. And trust me when I say, you will need all the support you can get.

The Importance of Stories

Some lessons can only be learned in person. There is no substitution for hanging ones work on a wall and interacting with your audience; more can be learned in a few short minutes than months on Instagram. The biggest take away from this experience for me, was the importance of stories.

I know for some people (Avanaut for example), stories are second nature and an integral part of the viewing experience. I myself have always tended to take a more subtle approach and used quotes to give an image a twist and added depth. But I may have to reassess this strategy going forward. The audience that we had the privilege of interacting with was hungry for the story of the image, the back story, a glimpse of the magic.

I want to stress that this does not necessarily mean they want to know exactly how the photo was taken; I heard from more than one source that hearing too much about the making of an image took away from the magic and joy of a particular photograph. There is a fine line the artist must learn to walk that is sharing information, but never so much that the viewers response is compromised. This is only something that can be learned by talking with your audience, in person.

So as I move forward with this crazy LEGO photography project I am going to have to learn to better incorporate stories into my photography.

Exploring Mt Eire, Washington

An Audience of One

My friend Avanaut has frequently mentioned mentioned his personal guiding light: Stuart. One simple comment left on a Flickr post that reads: You have inspired me. I hope to do something like this with my legos. He is the personification of Ves’as audience in one child, one comment.

As an artist it is always good to know who your audience is. For Vesa it is a 10 year old boy, for me, my audience is decidedly different. In many ways my audience is just one person: me.

Now I know that sounds self centered, but hear me out. I am a very driven and intense person who works way too much. I worry about everything, even things I know I can’t change.  The state of our world makes me wonder why I even had kids. Sound familiar? Even if it doesn’t, for me, photographing toys is a very necessary escape and a way to reconnect with my inner child.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old: we grow old because we stop playing.

George Bernard Shaw

When I started on this Instagram journey three years ago it was to see if I could rediscover my love of photography (something I had lost seven years earlier), and nothing more. Along the way I have connected with an amazing community of like minded toy photographers that span the globe and have learned to take myself a whole lot less seriously. I have even begun to discover a sense of humor I didn’t even know I had.

In January of 2014 I posted an image to IG with the tag line: “My New Years’s Resolution is to take myself less seriously.” Honestly, I think I should have made the same resolution this year and every year going forward.

I will not deny that this month has been a roller coaster ride that at times has overwhelmed me. Some part of me wants to run away and hide in a hole and wait for this to blow over. But yesterday I received this comment on photo I had posted on one of the many social media platforms I play on: “Your photos always delight. Never doubt that.” It made me realize there are other “me’s” out there who need to be reminded that play is good, that the world isn’t ending anytime soon and that it is important to reconnect with our inner child.

In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play.

Friedrich Nietzsche

So no matter what happens in the coming months, I will continue to move forward creating the imagery that I love and hope that I can bring joy and a shared love of the little plastic people to adults like me. Adults who are often stressed out and overwhelmed by this age that we live in and need to be reminded to slow down and reconnect with their inner child.

“I’ve…seen things people wouldn’t believe…”

Opening Night

Opening night is an evening that is both dreaded and anticipated by any artist. I spent much of last week ignoring opening night (denial is not just a river in Egypt), but the appointed time did arrive and we all made our way to the Bryan Ohno Gallery.

I am not going to bore with my ramblings on what was a fast paced evening and a blur of people stopping by to see the show. But I will share with you a few photos from the amazing Jim Bennett who was kind enough to photograph the evening’s festivities for us. You know what they say…a picture is worth a thousand words.

The show continues through April 11th, 2015, I hope you will get  a chance to see the work in person. I know I speak for all three of us when I say we are very proud of what we created.