JBF 2019 Magazine – Interview – Alice Finch

1. Can you please introduce yourself briefly to us?

I am a mother of two, builder, author, educator, community volunteer and activist, and LEGO® plays a part in all of these. It was when I was building with my own kids that I became interested in building again myself. I have written or built models for several books about the brick- the most recent is The LEGO® Architecture Idea Book, a reference book of ideas for building a thousand different architectural details. I used LEGO® in my own classroom when I taught middle school, and now as I teach LEGO® camps, art and social justice lessons.

2. What was the motivation behind the magnificent Hogwarts castle build and what was the design process like?

The original idea to build my own Hogwarts came from seeing the series that LEGO® made. I was just starting to mull over the idea of building again when the HP line was being phased out.

I bought a few but was disappointed by how simple and sparse they were. I have been to many of the places that the movies were filmed, and in particular, the dining hall in Oxford that was the basis for the great hall, and because I am particularly interested in architecture, I wanted to build something that looked like the building on both the inside and outside.

So, I started with the idea that I would build the Great Hall so that my older son, who was reading the books at the time, would have an accurate and complete model to play with. I did as much research on it as I could- from the books, the movies, and from photos from my own travels to Oxford. I didn’t plan anything out on paper, which would have been a good idea, but I didn’t think past the Great Hall at first. It was when I added the kitchens and then the Slytherin common room that I realized this might be huge if I kept going. I was still figuring out how to build again and with a whole different palate of colors and shapes from when I built with basic bricks as a kid, so I pretty much just figured it out as I went along.

3. What was the very first LEGO® set you owned?

As I child I had basic bricks with some windows and roof slopes, but I don’t remember it being an actual set. I can tell you the first set I had as an adult- it was the very first present my boyfriend, now husband gave to me. Set #6034 Black Monarch’s Ghost and I still have it in the original box. He played with LEGO® as a kid, especially castle and space, and even though both of us were in our Dark Ages, that was his first gift to me when I was a freshman in college. Who knew it would foreshadow what was to come!

4. How many models have you built to date?

I don’t think that I have ever counted before, so here is an attempt at a complete list, including collaborations and models for books:

Hogwarts Castle
Quidditch Pitch
Durmstrang Ship
Konigstein Castle
Potala Palace
Hobbiton Market and Green Dragon Inn
Laketown Master’s Hall
Notre Dame Cathedral
The Isle of Berk
The World of Mouse Guard
Plasma City
Burg Eltz
Map of the World
Tentpole of the Sky- Dinotopia
Mosaic portrait
Travel microscale Hogwarts
Even smaller microscale Hogwarts
Newt’s Suitcase (Fantastic Beasts)
Amazing Ideas book models (about 75 models)
LEGO® City Build Your Own Adventure book models (about 75 models)
365 Things to do with LEGO® Bricks book models (about 50 models)
LEGO® Architecture Idea Book models (about 1,500 models
Microscale world architecture- Mongolian yurt, English thatched cottage, Shanghai apartment building (to go with the world map)
Winter houses 1-3 (kits available on my website)

5. Can you share with us your top two all-time favorite builds and why?

Since I became aware of the LEGO® fandom as an adult, so much has changed and improved, making the task of choosing two of my favorite models of all time exceedingly difficult, but also really a fun question.

Physical map of Europe with places of interest

The relief was built by Vanessa Graf, Tanja Kusserow-Kurth, Torsten Scheer, Bruno Kurth and Tobias Reichling
Number of bricks: ca. 53.500 (only relief)
Area: 480 studs x 480 studs (3,84 m x 3,84 m)
Number of studs: 230.400 studs in the base area plus 453.026 studs additional
Time: April till September 2010

I didn’t come across this until 3 years ago, but I love the idea of building a physical map and being able to show what connects places. I think this group did an amazing job of showing the geography of Europe and it was the inspiration for building my own large physical world map which I use with school kids as part of our annual culture fair. I have seen and built maps before out of LEGO®, but it has been either small and isolated, like a shape of a state or country, or of the 50 US states, which is political. What is so fabulous about this map is the scale, which enabled them to have so much detail about the borders and colors for different regions, and also the greater point about seeing what connects places together, and not a little black line that separates them.

Kinetic sculptures of Jason Allemann/JKBrickworks

I find all of his kinetic models fascinating, partly because he gets inspired by things so completely different from me, partly because he sees an opportunity to build something and then builds it quickly, partly because his ideas are brilliantly executed, and partly because he makes great videos, instructions, part lists, and shares them freely.

6. What is your dream build or project?

I have wanted for several years now to build Minas Tirith, the white city from The Return of the King. It is an epic scene- 7 layers of a city surrounded by a round wall, a massive battle with siege machinery, multiple factions fighting for Sauron, fantastic creatures like mumakil and Nazgul, and a mounted army from Rohan. It represents many things I haven’t yet taken on in a big build- vertical layers, round walls, battle scenes, big creatures, and a whole lot of minifigs. All of these challenges make this a perfect next project. Now all I need is to find the time to build it!

7. What inspires you?

Anyone who finds a way to use what used to be seen just as a kid’s toy, in a huge variety of other creative, crazy, and beneficial ways. It could be a microscale model of only a few parts, but parts that are used to great effect. Or someone who uses LEGO® Serious Play to resolve social issues in rural communities. Kinetic models of all varieties, including GBC. A photograph of a minifig and some accessories cleverly placed and captured in just the right way. I find great inspiration in seeing the eclectic ways people do creative things with LEGO® and in the people drawn together through the hobby.

8. What kind of difficulties do you encounter creatively?

The most obvious challenge for me now is the lack of time. I have so many things on my plate right now that little time remains for just sitting down and building. I used to make time by staying up until the wee hours of the morning, but I realized that the long term health consequences of chronic lack of sleep were serious, and immediately stopped. So now, I build less and think about it more. I have a list of about a hundred new models that I want to build for my next book, but just haven’t had the time to build them yet. So I keep adding to the list until I do.

9. Will it be your first time to visit Japan? What are the things that you are looking forward to?

I have been to Japan before, but it was ages ago! I traveled as part of a teacher study tour in 2002 and we spent 3 ½ weeks visiting schools and some of the most beautiful and historical sites on Honshu. We started in Kobe because Seattle is sister cities with Kobe. I did a homestay with a family in Himeji for a few days and we also went to a baseball game in Osaka, visited the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, stayed in a ryokan on Miyajima Island, walked through the temples of Nara, as well as spent several days in Kyoto and Tokyo. I think I took about 1,000 photos that trip! This trip I hope to share some of these same highlights with my older son Thorin.

10. Any tips for aspiring builders out there?

Be courageous. Don’t be afraid to build and unbuild and build again. Try out multiple ways to do something. Use bold or unconventional colors. Build with a friend over a pile of random bricks. Ask for advice when you get stuck. Be willing to listen when someone gives the advice. Build a set with your mom/dad/sibling/child- you pull the parts while they build, and then swap for the next page or 5 steps or whatever feels right.