Katie Walker is a FFOL pioneering the niche of patterns, designs, and stained glass cheese slope windows, developing new and creative designs. Over the course of a few days, I was able to talk with her about herself, her building, and her experience at Brickcon 2010.
Who are you?
"My name is Katie Walker, and I’m 32 years old. I’m married and am currently staying home to deal with the shenanigans of my 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son."
How long have you been in to/playing with Lego?, and have you ever had a dark age?
"I remember playing with DUPLO when I was young. I loved to connect a bunch of the train cars together, and then build houses on top of them, so that my DUPLO people could live entirely on a train. Sometime around my 12th birthday I decided that I really loved Legos (yes! We called them “Legos”! Heresy!) and told everyone to get me Castle and Pirate sets for my birthday and Christmas presents. I spent many a happy afternoon during my early teens building away in my room.
I did have a dark age which essentially started when I left for college. I did bring my LEGO collection with me, and a few times dumped it out on my dorm floor so my friends and I could fiddle around with it. After college, my friends and I re-enacted the song “Space Oddity” with LEGO, including dangling rocket ships over the edge of the loft where my bedroom was. But I think you could say those were just dim points of light in a dark age that lasted till we bought the first DUPLO bricks for my daughter."
How and when did you find the online Lego community?
"In 2008 my husband and I bought our daughter a 33-piece DUPLO set. It became quickly apparent that I couldn’t build anything cool with just 33 pieces. I did some investigating and discovered e-bay, and then BrickLink. It wasn’t long before we’d built up a fairly impressive DUPLO collection. At some point during my attempts to find cheap bricks I became exposed to some of the other LEGO activity on the web. I discovered the existence of LEGO blogs in 2009 and suddenly became aware of how cool LEGO creations could be. I also realized that lots of people posted their pictures on flickr, and I had an account there already. So I started posting our DUPLO pictures, and shortly thereafter created the LEGO DUPLO flickr group.
In the fall of 2009 I got out my “little Legos” (as we call them) to show my daughter. I fiddled with them a bit then, but mostly just came to the sad realization that my “immense” collection was actually teeny-tiny by AFOL standards. It wasn’t till 2010 that I finally bought some more of the smaller bricks and got around to really using them. I feel like that really marked my entrance into the online LEGO community. People started leaving positive comments on my photos, which gave me the confidence to start participating in groups and forums."
What themes do you like to build in?
"The majority of my building thus far has just been about me trying to teach myself how the bricks go together. During this process I’ve come to realize that I’m rather obsessed with patterns and geometric designs. Occasionally I pause from those investigations and make a more official MOC. Those have all fallen in the Castle theme, partly because I really like castles, but also because there are lots of opportunities to display the patterns I discover in a fancy palace."
Now, lets talk about your designs and patterns...
When did the "obsession" with patterns and geometric designs start? Have you always enjoyed them since you were young (or younger), or is this a new thing?
"I’ve been interested in geometric designs off and on since the elementary school art class where I learned that you could make an apparent curve out of straight lines. Over the years I would draw geometric designs, such as the ones seen here. I didn’t really set out to do geometric designs in LEGO, but once I started doing them I found them very compelling."
Did making the designs and patterns come easy to you? Or was there a there a learning curve you had to overcome? Or...has it always been a uphill battle the whole time?
"Making designs and patterns is very easy for me. Often I will be trying to make something non-geometric, but a pattern just somehow comes out instead. It feels a lot like plugging numbers into a formula and having it spit out results. My struggles have been in making something that isn’t obsessively symmetrical; photography has been another challenge for me."
Recently, you've made a "switch" to doing stained glass windows that are made out "cheese slope" pieces, maybe a little more "mosaic" side of your building. What brought these about?
"I was trying to design an intricate floor for a MOC. While working on that design, I came up with the need to somehow fill an empty square which had sides 2.4 studs long. The solution to the problem came through using “cheese slope cubes”, which is just two cheese slopes placed together to form a cube shape. I had to add in some 1x1 plates to make it work, which then sparked some ideas for other cheese slope cube patterns. Then once I had done a few, it seemed like a great idea to try to do them in transparent colors and make them into windows. After a little bit of experimenting, more ornate designs started to develop.
Were these especially challenging, as well?
"Yes! The cheese slopes do not attach to each other; they are all held together by compression and friction. They are rather small to work with, and I often have to use a toothpick to try to finesse them into the right spot. They have a tendency to tip over, and it is a true pain to try to frame them securely enough to stand completed patterns up as windows. Another problem is that cheese slopes are shaped like triangles with one of their points cut off, so a lot of patterns end up with disfiguring gaps where the missing points ought to be. I truly get pains in my neck from working with them! But the results were so lovely that I wanted to keep at it. Besides, challenges can be lots of fun. I do get the urge to scream a little, though, when I have an unprotected window that dislodges and “shatters” to pieces. I didn’t have enough transparent bricks to hold the upper windows of the atrium in place, and one of them did come apart when I was moving it around trying to photograph it. That night I had all sorts of bad dreams about my stained glass windows falling apart and raining down cheese slopes on me."
Do you have a favorite (or especially rewarding) cheese slope stain glass window, or pattern/design of yours?
"I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I haven’t been able to pick out a favorite. What I really like is the sense of discovery, of figuring out how different elements can fit together. I think that’s part of what makes LEGO fun for lots of people: you get the chance to put the bricks together in different ways and see what happens. There are literally an infinite amount of possibilities. At times I feel a bit like a scientist, trying out a certain idea and seeing what happens. Sometimes a particular pattern is especially difficult to figure out, and then I tell myself “I will make this happen!” Then I do feel a bit more rewarded when I finally get it to work."
Over the course of the summer and up 'til now, you've been gaining a lot more notoriety, and I'd say becoming a pioneer in patterns and designs. You've been blogged here, and posted there. What has that experience been like?
"Honestly, the best word that I can think of to describe it is “bizarre”. After the first time I was blogged at The Brothers Brick, I got a ton of views and comments on my flickr account. It was hard to believe that that many people were interested in something I had made. Then I got excited, thinking to myself, “Wow, maybe I’m not that bad at this.” That brief moment of optimism was quickly followed by getting really nervous. I felt like I could never build anything else that would live up to that again. Anything else I made was bound to be a disappointment.
But then after a few days things settled down and my fingers wanted to start moving bricks round into crazy patterns again. (It does seem like my fingers are the parts of me that figure things out; I think my brain is only an assistant in the process.) I still like to say that my reservoir of ideas is going to run dry in the near future; how many patterns can there possibly be to discover? But thus far my fingers always manage to figure out something else, and I remember that there are an infinite number of possibilities. Then the cycle tends to start over: I make something, and if it turns out well, I get excited, quickly followed by becoming a bit anxious about it. The public attention, to whatever extent I get it, is both exciting and nerve-wracking."
What was your experience at Brickcon like?
"I went to BrickCon with my mother for the day on Saturday. I was a bit frazzled when I got there, because Snoqualmie Pass had been closed for rock blasting, and we had to sit on the freeway for quite awhile. I thought I’d be too late to register, but thankfully they let me in. I took the atrium with the fountain and stained glass windows, and then threw in a spider mosaic I had been trying to design for a friend to use. I was so nervous and shaky when I got there that I could hardly set up my MOCs. The stained glass windows got most of the attention, but the spider was the MOC that won an award, for best small mosaic. That was exciting.
Overall, the experience was a lot of fun. I was a nervous wreck much of the time, because I tend to be shy and have a hard time talking to new people. But the LEGO creations there were really fantastic, and once I started talking to people, I found that they were all really nice. Now I keep thinking about the different things I saw and did at BrickCon, and look forward to being able to attend again in the future, hopefully for more than just one day."
Was there a large presence of mosaics there?
"There were some. Someone mentioned to me that there weren’t as many as in past years, but the large ones that were there caught the eye. Truthfully, I didn’t see many small mosaics. I think that the favored technique of making mosaics using 1x1 bricks works best on a larger scale, so most mosaics tend to be larger. I’ve been working on using cheese slopes to create more angles and details in a mosaic on a smaller scale, but I have only seen a few other people do this. (Building a Battle Bug is a much more popular endeavor!) My goal is to be able to incorporate small mosaics into larger MOCs as window, wall, or floor decorations."
What does the future hold for Katie Walker?
"The future will mostly hold more of the same. I don’t have any big projects planned, being short of both bricks, time, and space. I’ll probably just keep experimenting and getting new ideas, and then occasionally will try to incorporate them into a more official MOC, though I imagine they’ll remain on a fairly small scale for quite awhile. I hope to visit BrickCon for a day next week. I’d like to go for longer, but can’t really be away from my kids for that long yet."