Merry Christmasssss! Because you’ve all been so good this year, here’s an early present. Last week I paid a visit to the UK’s only Lego certified practitioner, Duncan Titmarsh at his studio. His company Bright Bricks built the 38ft tree you see here and can have a closer look of at St. Pancras station. It was great meeting someone who has such a fun job and kindly answered all my questions, such as:

The Wonder– How many Lego bricks are in this room right now?

Duncan Titmarsh– Erm, with my storage room as well…not far from a million, or just over. Haven’t counted them all!

TW– Do you find Lego bricks everywhere?

DT– Not so much, I keep them all in here and usually have a big tidy after I finish a project.

TW– how long have you been building with Legos?

DT-as a job or as a hobby?

TW– both!

DT– ok, so as a hobby I started at probably as an adult back in 1991, after I left the air force when I picked up the hobby again. When I was a child I played, I kind if collected and did techy building, liked to build techy stuff and then I basically started doing brick and clay(?) builds round about 2003/4 and then I started as a job probably in 2007 I started building commissioned work and from there it’s grown more into a job, into what I do now.

TW– what made you decide to do it as a job as opposed to keeping it a hobby?

DT– I suppose it’s people asking me if to build for them and I thought that sounds like fun so I sort of pursued that avenue more than what I did before. It sort of grew and grew.

TW– How does one go from being in the Air Force to building Lego?

DT– It’s just a progression of different jobs. When I was in the Airforce I still did the Lego building in the background and when I moved down south for some IT work I still did it and I started to get known a little bit, with more commissioning in.

TW– How did you go from there to becoming an official Lego builder?

DT– You need to apply to Lego to become a certified professional and already have a business set up, which we did, we did school clubs and had our commissioned work- you apply showing them what you have built and where you want to take your business of mega- building and then Lego decide based on the criteria. It’s as simple as that.

TW– It sounds a bit serious though!

DT– It is serious but obviously Lego are looking for somebody who can sell their work in whatever form that takes. You have to have the personality to meet the customer’s demands and if you’ve already been selling as a business, that’s how they rate your building. It means you’re good enough.

TW– What’re the benefits of being an official Lego builder, apart from the cool title?

DT– Apart from the title, which does help with the business to be recognised by Lego, the bricks come direct from the Lego company, as many as you can see here  [there are 5 boxes in the room], we get them at a slightly reduced cost and also Lego do pass on work to us, Lego do have a set of guidelines which we follow and have a contract with them saying we won’t build certain things, and they pass work on to us because they know we won’t build certain things.

TW– Do you build from a plan or a blueprint?

DT– Generally not, but we’ll just know how long or how high we want it to be. Most of it is freehand build. Some of the mosaics I do, if they’re really complicated, I do a plan for them. But other than that, no.

TW– What kind of clients do you usually get?

DT– We get a mixture- there are bigger corporations we work a lot with. We’ve done work with Exxon Mobil, Philips and then it ranges down to small companies and small events, schools and well as individuals. We had a stall at Guilfest last year, which had a different atmosphere.

TW– I saw on your website a top hat you built…

DT– We built it for Royal Ascot last year, for Ladies Day. Lego commissioned us to build a top hat and a lady’s hat, which is interesting!

TW– It looked heavy!

DT– The lady’s hat was two kilograms. Yes, very heavy for a hat! Apparently the model did wear it all day.

TW– Now, I’ve been asked this by two people when I said I was going to interview you- do you have anything to do with Legoland?

DT– No we don’t, we know the model makers well in there, but they have their own model shop. Like where I do, like on a bigger scale. We make all their own models and they obviously build for discovery centres and other Legoland parks that are due to open. They do all their stuff internal.

TW– Have you ever been to Legoland?

DT– Yes! I used to go every year, but now my girls have grown up they don’t want to go, but I do visit the model makers and I ring them up and they let me in through the staff entrance and I get in that way, to speak to them. But I don’t really wander around the park much now.

TW– It’s not like being in candy store…

DT– Well, working here, y’know, I’ve got a candy store at home!

TW– What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever built?

DT– I think the Christmas tree has got to be the most interesting. The most hard work, and the biggest thing we’ve built. Yeah, it’s massive! And the most complex with logistics because of the sheer size of it.

TW– I read that it was built with 600,000 bricks

DT– Yes, that’s right. 600,000 bricks 170 odd branches to it, all the branches were made here in this workshop.

TW– And then you put them together in St.Pancras…

DT– And then we assembled them and the trunk on site. Two weeks of nights to assemble on site. 12.2 metres, very tall! Which I found out when I got to the top to put on the star! It was also very challenging because of health and safety we had to have a steel structure in it as well to make sure it wasn’t going to fall down.

TW– I did wonder what would happen if someone took out a few of those bricks!

DT– Yeah, nothing would happen. It’d still be standing. It’d be really difficult to take out the bricks from the middle. Nobody’s going to knock it down in a hurry. The tree has helped a lot with the business and now people know what can be built and that they can come to us.

TW– Did you have help with the build?

DT– Yes, I had a few students helping. A couple on the desk building the branches, someone doing the self-assemblies and I was building the main trunk and the central branches. I’d hand it to them to add the branches and we had a little conveyor belt going. We laid them all out in the garden in size order ready to take them up.

TW– So, you teach people how to build with Lego?

DT– Yes, we have done workshops before. Just got back from Manchester Corner House Art Gallery and we did a workshop there. We did two builds with adults and children last weekend. It’s not really teaching technique, it’s more inspiration. Next week I’ve got two workshops in a toy shop in Aldershot, where we’re making Christmas decorations. It’s more about having fun with something you may never have built before.

TW– What is it that makes you still passionate about building?

DT– I just enjoy putting bricks together. I’ve always built things in my jobs and every job is different, you don’t know what’s going to come up next. We were just asked to build a pirate ship, last week and get it in before Christmas [he won’t tell me which company’s ad this will feature in] So it’s that sheer enjoyment and not knowing what’s coming up and seeing how you can make it work. I enjoy that.

TW– What do you like building for yourself?

DT– I like doing the artwork for myself. Pictures and things like that. I enjoy sitting down and just making a mosaic of something. So I try and do that for myself when I get the time.

TW– Do you get lots of people asking you to build things for them?

DT– Yes, lots of people ask for me to build something evry quickly, but that something could still take half a day! You get lots of requests for free things!

TW– Do you have any plans for the future?

DT– I would like to own a shop one day when we move to a more retail location. But there’s a lot to consider before we get to that point, with rent and other business costs. We can get other people in to help, but we’re not ready to take that step in the business yet. The shop will probably happen at some point, because there is a market for something small, like a flower or a photo frame. Maybe start with a shop on our website.

TW– And get more storage…

DT– Yep, always need more storage!

TW– After building the Christmas tree, is there any other construction big or small you’d really like to tackle next?

DT– I would like to build a full size car.

TW– That would be awesome! Is there anything you’d like to add?

DT– I think most people say I have the best job in the world and in some ways yes I do, but it is a lot of hard work. There’s a lot of hard work involved, more than putting some bricks together. But it is still fun!Would I change it? No. I want to see where it goes.

If you like to find out more about Duncan’s work, head over to Bright Bricks.

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