When my family visited the Art of the Brick exhibit at the Pacific Science Center featuring Lego artist Nathan Sawaya, one of the pieces was a portrait the artist had made of his wife out of Legos. My son, Wally and I thought it was so cool and knew we wanted to do a DIY Lego Portrait for his mother for her birthday.
We had a plan and six months. We just needed a design.
The first thing you need for a DIY Lego portrait is the image to base it on. This was taken during a family photo session by the amazing photographer Megan Hooks. Check out Megan and her work at www.meganhooksphotography.com. I loved this image of Jess and Wally as soon as I saw it and knew this would be perfect for our project.
Next, we had to decide on the size of our final product. The portrait would be made with “flat” legos on base plates. A little research gave us a couple of options. We could use the larger gray base plates that are 15″ x 15″, or the smaller, green base plates that are 10″ x 10″.
We knew that the larger the DIY Lego portrait, the higher our image “resolution”. But we didn’t want to go too big. We decided to use the green base plates, and break the portrait into a 3×3 grid of them, making the overall portrait 30″ x 30″.
We took our starting image, cropped it square, and resized it to 96×96 pixels. Each base plate is 32 x 32 lego dots, which means each pixel in our image will correspond to one Lego dot.
We found that Lego basically had 4 colors we could use: White, Light Gray, Dark Gray, and Black. We needed to limit our image to just those four colors and I wasn’t sure of an easy way to do that. Normally, I would ask my wife, the Photoshop expert, but that wasn’t an option in this case. So we asked our other trusted advisor, Google.
As it turns out, Photoshop has a function called “Posturize”, which will take an existing image and limit it to a color palette that you specify. That was exactly what we needed. One click later and we had our image.
it was a simple matter to break the image into 9 separate ones. Our idea was to complete one section at a time, choosing our times wisely so Jess would never suspect.
I converted each section to an Excel spreadsheet. From there I was able to add borders showing each piece. I grouped them into as few pieces as possible, and added o’s in the center of the cells to mimic the Lego dots, making it easier to read our plan.
Once we had all nine plans done, we created a list of all the parts for each section. We then used Lego’s Pick a Brick option to order the bricks. It was not a super cheap project, so we ordered one plate at a time over the next several months. It took a couple weeks to get each plus waiting for a time when Jess wasn’t home to work on it.
As we finished each panel, I would take it to work where Jess would never discover it, but I would take a picture so Wally could see how it was all coming together.
Finally, it was finished. I can’t believe we both kept it a secret for so long. When he gave it to her, before she opened it, I told Jess “Wally wanted to make you something out of legos. Oh and he has been working on it for 6 months. Oh and it has 1321 pieces.” She was completely surprised and amazed and LOVED it!
We hung the final portrait in Wally’s room. There is no frame here, no glass. I love how the Lego’s shiny finish reflects light just like a real glass covered portrait would. I’m just amazed every time I look at it.