BY JEREMY NORMAN
In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell famously writes that “10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness.”
If the work of Brian Korte ’00 is any indication, Gladwell may need to replace the word “hours” with “bricks.”
As in, Lego bricks.
Korte is an artist. His medium is Lego. The owner of Brickworkz, Korte creates greatness for his clientele one brick at a time.
“It all started with one piece,” Korte explains. “My friends at Radford University, Jeff Pollard ’00, and Olivia Lewis ’00, were getting married, and I wanted to give them something unique and personal for their wedding.
“While on vacation in Orlando, Florida, I began to peruse the Lego website and stumbled across a [now-defunct] program called LEGO Mosaic. Basically, the program took an uploaded image, converted it to pixelated ‘brick-by-brick’ details, and Lego would then mail you the directions for the design along with 2,000 bricks.”
“What you do and the people you meet are what spark ideas. If I didn’t get involved while at Radford University, I would be a completely different person.”
Korte realized that this was what he wanted to give to his friends. But he also knew that what he wanted to do had to be bigger than 2,000 pieces.
“If you don’t see what you want, make it,” Korte says with a laugh. “Just like that, Brickworkz was born — on vacation, in a hotel room, in Florida.”
For someone with an advertising and media studies degree, a career as a brick artist seems a little odd — that is, until you dig a little deeper into Korte’s background.
“I started as an art major and wanted to focus on digital design. But back then, media studies had better equipment and programs, so I changed majors,” Korte says.
While at Radford University, Korte served as executive director of Whim, Radford University’s student-run online magazine. He was able to parlay his experience at Whim, as well as his media studies background, into a job as a webmaster after graduation.
“That’s how I learned how to do business from the web,” Korte explains. “I certainly didn’t see my career as a brick artist happening. But looking back, I can definitely see how I was on this path.
“The most important thing to do is get involved,” Korte says. “What you do and the people you meet are what spark ideas. If I didn’t get involved while at Radford University, I would be a completely different person.”
The tedium of a project that takes around 35-40 hours to design and another 15-40 hours to build is of natural interest to Korte.
“I used to cross-stitch to relax,” he recalls. “Crossstitch requires a larger picture to be broken down into smaller squares. That’s essentially what I’m doing with my Lego mosaics.”
For each mosaic, Korte takes a picture and digitizes it, breaking it down into individual pixels, with each pixel representing a Lego brick. From there, he creates “instructions” for how to literally piece together the mosaic. He begins to collate the bricks needed to complete the mosaic.
“I find my pieces through third party vendors,” Korte explains. “It’s strange, but every color and shape of Lego brick has its own market value. Some discontinued bricks can be quite rare — and expensive.”
The number of bricks in each mosaic varies, but usually falls in a range from 6,000 bricks for smaller pieces to over 10,000 for larger ones. “Sometimes,” Korte says “I’ll flip the mosaic upside down to literally come at it from a different angle. That way it keeps things from getting too tedious.”
Because the spirit of Korte’s work lies in the subject of each piece, it is only natural that he is sometimes asked to create a memorial piece.
One piece, and the story behind it, recently captured national attention.
“I met Kevin Kirk and his two children, Connor, 13, and Brittany, 14, at a Lego convention,” Korte explains. “Connor was especially excited about my artwork being a Lego fan himself. Several months after meeting the Kirks, I received a package in the mail. In the package was a handwritten letter from Kevin as well as Connor’s entire Lego collection.
“In the letter, Kevin explained that his two children were tragically murdered in their home. He entrusted his late son’s Lego pieces to my care. I told him that I would find a good use for the parts as well as find a way to honor the children.”
Utilizing the pieces from Connor’s collection, Korte created a vibrant mosaic of the children, allowing their spirit to live on through his art.
“Everyone we know is in some sort of pain,” Korte explains. “People get this and are moved by it. To know that a little plastic toy can help someone heal is an amazing thing to think about.
“We may have tapped into something here.”