The last couple of months have been a roller coaster journey for all of us, one way or another. Even though my family was already homeschooling and telecommuting for work, we did not escape the upheaval of the norm. I hesitated to even mention COVID-19 in this post, because we’ve all heard enough news and debate and angst and tragedy. I think we’re all tired of hearing about and talking about the impacts of this pandemic.

But building this LEGO set will always be linked in my mind with the onset and unfolding of the world’s (and my nation’s) reaction to the spread of the virus. I started the build at the end of March, and this post is only now coming out at the end of May. This is a direct reflection of the distraction and disruption of my own life and creativity. Only now, with light glimmering at the end of the coronavirus tunnel am I beginning to put into words and pictures how precious art and creating beautiful things can be to the soul during times of stress and uncertainty.

Building LEGO creations: an oasis of beauty, peace and comfort

I may not be quite as extroverted as our fearless founder Shelly (@shellycorbettphotography), but I do enjoy talking with other toy photographers. This blog gathers a lot of people together, and offers the chance to hear many perspectives about topics we share in common.

One thing I hear again and again is that my friends in the community often find that toy photography (or customizing) brings balance to their lives. Sometimes it’s the hands-on creativity that offsets their digital professional life. Other times it’s the chance to get outdoors and into nature. Sometimes it’s the only creative outlet in a life dominated by school or a mundane work grind. One way or another, there is stress relief.

Expressing emotions through LEGO and other toys

Umm… Something’s wrong with this picture. Hee-hee.

The therapy aspect of our plastic hobby often comes through expressing our emotions. Capturing a moment of comedy or curiosity. Acting out fandom fantasies through action figures. Capturing beauty that brings joy and encouragement. Recently I’ve seen toy photos expressing frustration with the shortages and antics of people at retail stores, sadness at missing time with loved ones (especially if they needed us but it was safer for us to stay away), pent up energy from being stuck at home, laughing at the crazy reactions we see in the news or via memes…

There are so many creative ways to illustrate a wide spectrum of feelings.

Building LEGO provides a place of refuge

Other times, especially where the act of creation immerses us deeply, the benefit comes from blocking out the noise. As we follow the build instructions step by step to create a complex building constructed of hundreds of LEGO bricks, we can forget what’s happening outside our room and just enjoy the satisfaction of watching something beautiful come from simple blocks.

LEGO Creator Bookshop stairs in progress by Teddi Deppner @mightysmallstoriesI’m not a LEGO engineer type AFOL. I’m just a grown up kid who used to cobble together spaceships with my friends’ LEGO bricks and act out adventures. Now I create little stories from toy photos. The instruction books are golden to me, because I would have no clue about putting the bricks together in complex ways.

Builds like the Creator Bookshop are full of delightful surprises, where I go step by step and suddenly there’s an epiphany—“Ah-ha! So that’s what I’m building! Wow!” The curving staircase in front of the residence next to the bookshop is a great example.

Gorgeous architecture flourishes around every aspect of the building facade.
Lovely little details even on something as “simple” as a bed.

During this build alone, I learned at least four different ways to make stairs. The steps outside the residence (with ornate handrail) are pictured earlier in this post. And then there are these…

I’ve talked a bit about the experience of building during quarantine and the psychological benefits. But this is also a review of the LEGO Creator Expert Bookshop set (10270) from a toy photography perspective. So let’s talk about the lovely features of this set in terms of a setting for toy photos.

There are two structures: the bookshop itself, and the residence next door. Each building has roughly three floors, or rooms. Each room is chock full of enchanting details.

The residence next door

On the top floor is a bedroom, with a bed, a lamp, a potted flower, a dresser and a painting on the wall. Two windows allow light in, and stairs lead to the room below.
To the left above is the balcony outside the bedroom. To the right, you can see how the stairs lead down to the kitchen / dining room on the main second floor.
This floor is full of great details: a table and two chairs, a teapot and two cups, a newspaper, and an entry way with a rug. More below…
From this angle you can see the fireplace, the window seat with a painting on the wall and a view out three bay windows, and you can just see a corner of the cabinet shelf and counter with containers inside on the lower left.
In this photo you can now see the potted plant, the hat/umbrella rack (so clever!) and the door leading to the basement / bottom floor.
The basement has some funny little details, like scissors (for trimming plants, according to the set’s box illustrations), a ladder with a small door for easy access to it, a bag with mysteriously anonymous contents (gold? garden fertilizer?), and a device I puzzled over for a while before my TFOL son enlightened me: a mousetrap baited with a piece of cheese!

Note the little black posts sticking out of the left side of the basement in the photo above. You can put the two buildings (residence and bookshop) together on either side of each other, which is another handy customization option. If you have other modular Creator buildings, I believe these all go together interchangeably to create your unique LEGO city.

All in all, the residence next to the bookshop holds the potential for many, many visual stories. But to really be able to photograph some of these rooms the way I’d like, I had to do a little deconstruction.

Remodeling for toy photography

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a very good LEGO engineer, so I’ll probably pull in some expert help from the best one I know: my TFOL son, Lewis (@actionstuff). But for now I took a leap of faith and removed most of the front wall of the main floor of the residence.

Much better! Now I could capture photos like this:

A lovely #nofigurefriday moment!
Notice that I removed the table and chairs and moved the potted plant to create a different sort of scene. Lots of potential for customization here!

With Lewis’s help, I’m sure to find a way to remodel that wall so it’s easy to remove and replace. But for now, my little LEGO friends will have to live with a giant hole in their building!

The bookshop

I know this post is long, but it seemed like a good idea to include as many details as possible. I’ll add less commentary and speed things up from here. The bookshop itself is the type of place where a business owner lives upstairs in the same building as their storefront.

In the attic is a very minimal bedroom. Its spartan appearance is offset by a window view of the birch tree outside and a special treat: a terrarium with a pet chameleon!
Below the attic is a comfortable living room. It features three windows, an armchair, side table, lamp, grandfather clock (so lovely!), a rug, and a glass door to the balcony outside, which has a small table and two chairs.
What a comfortable place to relax after working all day at the bookshop!
Here’s where the bookshop gets really tricky to photograph. The stairs from the living room lead to a landing with a bookshelf (the bookshop owner’s private collection, of course!). Below the landing, you can see the sales counter and cash register, and the beautiful tile floor of the ground level.
From another angle on the same level, you can see down to the tall bookshelf holding books for sale, and the window display with the book Moby Brick.
The storefront, with a view through the open front door to the sales counter.

To buy, or not to buy?

Yes, yes, yes and more YES. The LEGO Creator Expert Bookshop is a fantastic set for LEGO photographers. If you have the budget, and like what you see, I say, “worth it,” even if (like me) it’s the only City building you have. Besides the many, many indoor rooms, there are no less than eight unique outdoor spots for a photo shoot. The only downside for me was the need to deconstruct walls to get better angles for photos. But I’m confident we can figure that out.

Given the tall, vertical nature of the overall buildings, I probably won’t be taking a lot of shots that include the entire building. This makes it easier to settle the decision to deconstruct individual floors/rooms. After capturing some establishing shots of the overall set, I’m comfortable leaving it in a state of partial deconstruction most of the time for ease of using the rooms themselves for ongoing stories and individual scenes.

Final thoughts

With the pandemic ongoing, sometimes it feels like the world will never go back to normal. Maybe “normal” is like a bluebird living in a birch tree, always out of reach.

But I’d like to think that within each of us is the ability to see the best in any situation and make the most of whatever we have.

Until next time, stay safe and sane, and keep taking toy photos!