[Radford University Alumni Newsletter] September 10, 2009
January 1, 2010 at 8:13 PM
It all begins with an idea.
The inspiration can come from a photograph or a piece of art.
Sometimes the idea is generated from someone else; someone who is seeking to set a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest LEGO image.
Two years ago, Brian Korte ’00 received a call from a LEGO collector in Ohio who asked Korte to design a full-scale 18-wheel tractor trailer entirely out of LEGOs. After almost a month of planning and designing, Korte delivered the plans to Ohio. Now that the project is complete, the creation spans more than 44 feet by 22 feet, is made from more than 1.2 million LEGO bricks and is a current Guinness World Record holder.
“That was the piece that changed everything,” said Korte, who is the owner of Brickworkz LLC, a company he founded in 2006 to create commissioned custom LEGO art and conversation pieces. “The momentum and energy from that project has carried on, even through today. It’s exciting to know that you’ve broken a barrier like that.”
Korte, who studied art and advertising at RU, got the idea to create Brickworkz in 2004 when he wanted to give a unique wedding gift to two of his close friends. “I wanted to do something personal and unique,” Korte said. I looked through my LEGO stash and began designing a portrait of the couple using 10,400 LEGO bricks. We worked at Whim together, so I knew they would appreciate the pixel style of the design.”
From there, Korte began building LEGO art for a Richmond gallery and designing custom portraits for businesses and individuals. Shortly after forming Brickworkz, Korte was commissioned to design a piece for a Richmond dentist, who later became his father-in-law.
Korte spent the next two years taking his art on the road to various LEGO-related events. He posted photos and descriptions of his work online at Brickworkz.com – Korte also is a Web designer – and by 2007, Korte and Brickworkz were gaining customers from across the U.S. and internationally from Canada, Israel, Hong Kong, Ireland and England.
“I have built commissioned pieces for people all around the world, and some of my pieces have sold at fundraiser auctions for more than $20,000,” Korte said. “But the piece I showcase the most is one that I designed as a Valentine’s Day gift for my wife, who was then my girlfriend. ‘Molly and Brian’ is the name of the piece. I spent a great deal of time making every detail count. Molly was really surprised, and we ended up displaying the LEGO mosaic at our wedding reception a year later.”
Korte, as do many kids, played with LEGOs when he was a kid, but had not touched a brick until he designed the wedding gift for his friends five years ago. However, in that short time, Korte has generated a number of terrific art pieces that are displayed in countless homes, businesses and a few Fortune 500 companies.
“The greatest compliment I get is when people are eager to hang my art in their homes,” Korte said. “I realize that I’ve turned a hobby into a business with Brickworkz, but it still humbles me. I am also very fortunate when my pieces are used to help others, as was the case with many of the fundraisers I’ve been a part of. In particular, knowing that the proceeds of my art’s sale last February went to send a child to Comfort Zone Camp, a camp that offers comfort and fun to grieving children, was a special treat to me.”
Korte’s ideas for his LEGO art come from a plethora of sources. Once he is committed to a project, he takes a photograph, digitizes the photo and renders the image into a simple color palette. “Then the work begins,” he said.
“I use my experience with LEGO to determine which pixels need adjusting so the final piece would look perfect. Once I have a digital design that I am proud of, I print out a map – it’s essentially an instructional guide – which lays out each pixel or square and indicates the color that belongs in the space. When it’s time to build, one LEGO stud – as we call them in the Lego world – equals one pixel in my designs.”
At Brickworkz, Korte has many talented helpers, many of whom he met at RU. “They come over to build and socialize,” he said. “We have fun catching up and working on a project.”
For Korte, Brickworkz is his livelihood and a creative outlet, but also he uses his company as a way to reach the Richmond community and share his story and artwork in schools by teaching children the importance of creativity. “The most fun is the elementary school visits where I talk with kids, show them my work, let them build their own mosaics and get them excited about being creative.”
Korte said much of his own creativity was fostered in the classrooms at Radford University. “I always loved art and Dr. Steve Arbury’s art history class really got me focused on why I love art,” he said. “Even 10 years later, when my wife and I honeymooned in Rome and Greece, I thought back to the slideshows and could still remember the history behind the art.”