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Ryan Johnson, Published August 29 2013

Johnson: Childhood toys rekindle creativity

Brick by brick, I learned creativity by following the instructions. I always wanted to be an imaginative, artistic person. In reality, I was firmly a left-brained kid who was better at analyzing than making art or music.

While I could easily ace a math or science test, I failed at drawing the most basic stick figure. But none of that mattered when I would get a new Lego set.

The simple, step-by-step picture instructions appealed to my logical personality. By following along, I was sure to end up with a masterpiece.

Finishing a complicated electric train or space shuttle launch pad gave me a sense of accomplishment. More importantly, it gave me confidence that I could make something beautiful.

Once I was done building a set, it wouldn’t take long before I’d grow bored – other than putting it on a shelf to look at, there wasn’t much I could actually do with it.

But the confidence that came with building also gave me ambition to try to make something even better, and that’s when I could put critical thinking aside and just got creative.

I’d tear the completed sets apart, adding the bricks, tiles, wall pieces and figures to a large plastic tub I shared with my three brothers that was the home for hundreds of our former Lego creations.

I remember many lazy days spent around the mound of Lego parts we had dumped out onto the living room floor, the four of us all digging through frantically for just the right part to add to whatever it was we had dreamed up.

When I first discovered the original “Star Wars” films, I desperately wanted an X-Wing. So, I found airplane wings, part of a cockpit and bricks to build the perfect ship for Luke Skywalker without any help from an instruction manual.

Eventually we grew too old for toys, and the plastic tub became relegated to a dusty corner of the basement closet.

But I rediscovered the much-coveted Lego box about a year ago, and it wasn’t long until I just had to crack open the lid again.

At first, I was rusty and uninspired, building a boring box of a house. I found my stride when I decided to build useful Lego art – I really am a left-brainer – and I scoured the Internet for ideas.

I copied a couple of designs at first, building a small drink coaster and a picture frame.

It wasn’t long until I was cranking out perfectly sized Post-It caddy, a few pen holders and a magnet for the fridge.

I started to look for things I could add to my house, so when I was sick of the stack of magazines cluttering up the coffee table, I dove into the Lego box and had an attractive double-shelf magazine rack with a built-in remote holder in just a few hours.

I wouldn’t classify any of my creations so far as a masterpiece. Still, I can’t help but feel proud when a visitor talks about my latest creation with a hint of jealousy in their voice.

No one would care about my lame attempts at painting, and even my photos are usually nothing special. But with a few vibrantly colored bricks and the lessons I’ve learned after spending my childhood surrounded by Legos, I can make a one-of-a-kind piece that will stand the test of time.

At least until I get bored and tear it apart, adding it to the box again until an idea for something even better pops into my head.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587