Building Big, Building Bold – An interview with Jonathan Farrell [Feature]

There are a lot of different ways to approach building mosaics in LEGO, and each artist tends to make a claim on their own style. Sometimes that means “massive brick-built images”. In that theme, a clear standout is Jonathan Farrell. We had the opportunity to sit down (virtually) with Jonathan and talk about his methods, his favorite builds, and just what happens to a mosaic that fills a room once you’ve photographed it!

Please introduce yourself to our readers!

My name is Jonathan Farrell, from Montréal (the french speakers of Canada). I work in the video game industry by day and create large scale lego mosaics by night.

How long have you been interested in LEGO mosaics?

I started making mosaics about two years ago when I was playing with my son’s Duplo bricks and got the idea to make some original NES pixel art with it. At first I would search online to find sprites to recreate in LEGO form and had a lot of fun doing it. It was an homage to all my favorite childhood games. I soon found myself wanting to create other types of subjects so I started doing research on how best to pixelize images using photoshop.

I started out doing simple images using only 1-2 base plates but as my process evolved I was able to do more complex and bigger images. I picked bricks instead of plates because I needed to break them apart faster and more often and because there seemed to be a bigger variety of colors available. Every time I bought more pieces or new colors for a specific piece, I could reuse them to create something else and this has been going on ever since.

It’s a great hobby to do at night to relax as I watch old movies or listen to music. It keeps my hands and mind busy and has been tremendously helpful during this covid pandemic. Posting my work on Instagram I discovered the fantastic LEGO community and made a lot of new friends while discovering other people’s work.

How do you select your images?

I am usually inspired by whatever I am watching or reading at the moment and am always creating new patterns for later use.

What’s the usual part count/size of your mosaic work?

My favourite size to work at presently is twelve 48×48 stud LEGO baseplates for one image. I find that I can get the best resolution with this size. In bricks, this is roughly 20k+ pieces per mosaic,

How large is your part selection? Where do you source your brick?

I have a lot of bricks. I first bought bricks from the pick a brick section of the LEGO website but not all pieces I needed were available in every colour. When I discovered, this opened up a whole new world for me and I’ve been getting my LEGO from there ever since.

Which aspects of a mosaic do you usually find most challenging?

The most challenging part of the process for me is breaking up the mosaic and sorting out all the pieces before I can create something new again. It’s almost as long as the actual creation part. Second to that is finding a good image to work from, I can spend many hours making or remaking a pattern until it’s just right.

Do you keep your mosaics assembled? If not, how long do you normally keep them around?

I always break them apart, like the Tibetan sand mandalas, for me, the creation is the goal. Once the mosaic is done and I’ve taken a few pictures I’ll sometimes start breaking the piece apart mere hours after completion. The only one that has been kept assembled is a portrait I made of a friend. It was glued to a piece of wood and framed as a gift.

Do you display them publicly?

No, I never have.

What are your favorite works?

Billie Eilish mosaic. This one is my most popular piece and the one that took the longest to make. I decided to make it after watching the world’s a little blurry documentary on her and her brother. I thought it was so interesting and I’m in awe of their talent. I thought the movie was so interesting and showed many facets that fans don’t think about (like their parents). I knew about her music but listened to more of it as I created this piece and it was really fun. I’m especially happy with how her eyes turned out.

Back to the future mosaic. This is one of my all-time favorite films, I consider it perfect in every way and love everything about it. It reminds me of my childhood so much and I can quote most of the film. It was my first really large work and I had to put it on hold twice while I waited for more bricks to arrive. If I could build only one and hang it at my home, it would be this one. 

Black Panther/Chadwick Boseman mosaic. This one is important because of the shock it was to find out he died suddenly. For some reason, it really hit hard to see a person at the top of his art die so young. He seemed like he had it all, he was very talented, very well-spoken and smart, generous to others, of course, there’s the matter of representation for the black community. Seeing his popularity explode you saw how it mattered to so many. The next day after his death I designed a pattern of him and I wrote that it was free to anyone who contacted me. (this offer still stands). It was only normal that I make a more complex one later on, for the anniversary of his passing.

Are you still using photoshop as your primary planning tool? 

Yes, photoshop exclusively. 

What one tip do you wish you could share with your past self when it comes to the design step? 

Bricklink! I wish I had known about this website from the start. Aside from the fact that they have more available colors (coral, dark orange, olive green were game changers for me) they also have more pieces. The best example is green (what LEGO calls dark green), that color was not available in 1×1 bricks so I couldn’t use it and it was very frustrating since it stopped me from building many mosaics. When I discovered Bricklink it opened up a whole new world of creation for me and that’s when I started doing more complex pieces.

Do you often get questions with regards to selling your work?

People are always shocked that I break my work once it’s done and many have tried to convince me to sell my work and here’s why I have little interest in this. Doing this is extremely relaxing to do at night, especially so during the whole pandemic but more than that is that this work is mine and mine alone. I like not having to answer to anyone about how I work or what subject I pick. I know what goes into setting up a website and trying to promote my work and if I do that, it’s less time for creation, which is what I like. The creation aspect is so fun for me that’s why I don’t mind breaking up my work, I’m always excited for the next piece I’ll make.

What’s up next for you in the mosaic world?

One day I hope to have a small show in a gallery to share my work with people. I’d also like to create a large-scale mural if I can find the space for it. If not, I have many more patterns that are designed but waiting to be created.

A special thank you to Jonathan for sharing these insights into his work! If you’d like to see what other artists have been up to, be sure to browse our mosaics tag!

3 comments on “Building Big, Building Bold – An interview with Jonathan Farrell [Feature]

  1. Angeli Ivan

    this is an amazing intervew. And some of the answers – it is refreshing to see a superbly skilled AFOL who is not trying to sell his art, boost it on LEGO Ideas or trying to get a job as LEGO designer. As a friend once said: “I want to spend money on LEGO, not earn from it”

    As a personal msg, I have a 4×4 (10×10 48×48) mural that is permanently exhibited in USA embassy in my country, one more in Polan, one more in Portugal, in private firms – if you want to make a mural, Jonathan, with some good planning for the background (to make it safe – mine has fallen down first time:) you can do almost anything – and there could be organisations in your city or country that would love to help with costs – a donation that gives you untied hands about what you make, when you will finish it and how it will look, indepedance that I notice you love (me too, that is why I am replying:)

    Good luck, fellow creative AFOL and I can;t wait to see more of your builds :) Maybe share a beer on some of the conventions, once pandemic is over :)

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