In a scene in “The Lego Movie,” viewers briefly look at the world through the eyes of the character Wild Style, who doesn’t see buildings and trees but a landscape of plastic numbered bricks.That’s what the world looks like to Alice Finch, a renowned Seattle Lego builder known for her colorful, large-scale models of fantastical places like Rivendell from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, constructed in intricate architectural detail.
Finch is a free builder, which means she doesn’t follow a set of instructions but constructs from imagination to create something new or replicate a place from a book, movie or real life.
A former middle school teacher, Finch played with Legos as a child but rediscovered them as a mom whose son needed a building partner. She caught the Lego world’s attention when she built a 400,000-brick model of Hogwart’s Castle, inspired the “Harry Potter” series. After seeing the set, DK Publishing, creator of illustrated reference books for Lego, reached out to her. Since then, she has contributed to two books about free building, “Lego Awesome Ideas” and “365 Things to Do with LEGO Bricks.” She was also featured in the movie, “A Lego Brickumentary.”
Saturday, Finch will sign books and talk about free building at Eureka! Palouse, a Moscow-based STEM learning center. She is helping kick-off the center’s Lego Big Build, where kids will create a large-scale model of downtown Moscow. Inland 360 talked to her by phone at her home in Seattle about how she sees the world and, more importantly, how she keeps her Legos sorted.
360: You build from a collection of more than 3 million blocks and you have two sons (ages 9 and 14), how do you keep them all sorted?
Finch: The most frequent question I get is how to keep organized. I have several million bricks and an organized system to store them by size and color. My sons are responsible for sorting their own Legos. It’s like getting them to brush their teeth or take out the trash, if you have the privilege to play with Legos, you’re in charge of cleaning up your own scraps.
360: How do you decide what sets to buy for pieces you may need for a build?
Finch: If I buy a set, I’m usually buying it for the parts. Sometimes I know from looking at the box, but there is a also a website, New Elementary (www.newelementary.com), dedicated to the new colors and parts that Lego creates, so I follow that. I’m always interested in new colors and what they have created now that I could have used in that last thing I was building that I didn’t have.
360: Are there any sets you collect?
Finch: There’s always something to learn from building a set with instructions. We are big Star Wars fans. We have a huge collection of models. My kids actively play with them. We keep our Star Wars models built; I’m a believer in using, not keeping it in a shiny box. We keep the boxes in the attic. If we take a set apart, all the parts go into the block bags and into the box.
360: When you build a big model, do you start with a drawing or plan?
Finch: Usually not; it would be a good idea if I did do that. For Hogwarts, it started with the Great Hall, which was based on the Christ Church dining hall at Oxford. I wanted to make a model that looked like the real thing. I started with one building, then built the kitchen under it — gradually it became the entire thing.
I tend to focus on architecture. One of the things I’ll talk about this weekend is how do you get started. For me, when I look at an arch, I find specific features that look like a part: like a slope that replicates a feature or indicates the scale. I transfer the architectural elements to the part and what would work best.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Lego artist and author Alice Finch
WHEN: 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 22 book signing
WHERE: BookPeople of Moscow, 521 S. Main St., Moscow
COST: Free, books will be for sale
WHEN: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22 talk on free building large scale models
WHERE: Eureka! Palouse, 509 S. Howard St., Moscow
OF NOTE: Finch’s visit kicks off the Eureka! Palouse Lego Big Build. Kids ages 6 to 18 can register to help build a large-scale Lego version of downtown Moscow from Oct. 26 to Jan. 26. The model will go on display downtown in February. More information and registration is available at www.eurekapalouse.org.