What’s Marilyn Worth? A quick analysis of LEGO® Art, and alternatives.

Please note: all prices referred to in this article are AUSTRALIAN dollars. Shipping is not taken into account.Prices quoted were accessed on July 4-5 2020, and were only accessed from sites that could supply the full number of elements in a given colour. Individual results might vary. Now read on…

In the last few days, since the announcement of the LEGO® Art Series, one of the most common issues raised in a number of LEGO discussion groups has been the price of each mosaic.

So: a quick recap: There are 4 ‘sets’ in the series, and each set has the option to build several different images: The 31197 Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, and 31198 The Beatles make 4 versions, while Iron Man and Sith have 3 different images, and a super image – requiring 3 of the sets to build. They are built on 16×16 ‘plates on bricks’ (a new element) – and coloured in with either 1×1 round plates or tiles. The finished mosaics an elegant frame, and comes with a QR code, to give you a ‘soundtrack to listen to while you build. These sets are aimed squarely at adults, who are probably not regular LEGO shoppers.

At $AUD200 each, the price feels higher than I want to pay. Especially if I want to complete the ‘set’ and build all four of the Warhol Marilyn’s (or the Beatles; or 6 copies to build the set of Iron Man or Sith mosaics). The truth is, if you want to channel your recreational income towards LEGO, to build your own creations with, you may not wish to divert $200-$1200 to have on the walls.

So, while I will acknowledge that the LEGO Art Mosaics are expensive, there are two questions that I still find myself asking:

  • Do they offer reasonable value for money? and
  • Could I get a similar same result, with less expenditure?

Let’s start by looking at what we get…

Make Mine Marilyn

Of all of the mosaics to look at, I chose Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe. With 3341 parts, it might not have the lowest part count, however the simple colour blocking readily allows manual counting of parts, and therefore calculation of the parts included.

The Marilyn mosaic uses only 7 colours in its palette. The image uses definite colour blockings. The idea of distinguishing the dithered colours at work in any of the other LEGO Art mosaics on offer, frankly, made we weep. Seriously, I have enough difficulties distinguishing the various shades of blue and grey on a good day. Blowing up a press photo, featuring 10 colours, and counting out thousands of dots by hand would not be pointing me towards a good day!

Estimating the Inventory

There are three aspects to estimating the inventory for these sets:

  • the tiles
  • the backing sheet
  • the frame

Looking at the ‘picture on the box,’, there are several primary colour blocks used. Some remain fixed throughout the 4 variations on the image (black and dark stone grey). Others cycle through the different regions in the face.

Count the dots…

I sat down with a pen and paper to count the dots in the picture. I should have been able to account for 48×48 pixels=2304.

Color BlockElements
Dark Stone Grey127
Background/eye liner468
Light shadow46
should be: 48 x 48 = 2304Difference: 9 =0.1%
In counting up my total’s, I was about right: maybe a few pixels under. I did find the medium stone grey to be easily confused with other colours on my page.

Looking at the collection of 4 versions that can be produced, we see a total of 7 colours in the set. – Black and Dark stone grey elements included are easy to calculate.

The largest block of colour – the face – needs approximately 590 tiles, and can be made in any of the four main colours: yellow, medium azur, light purple and dark purple. Therefore, there are going to be at least 590 of each of these tiles in the box.

Bright reddish violet is only used in one version of the image, to depict ‘light shadowed’ regions : mouth and beneath Marilyn’s hair on the right lower side of the image. There are relatively few tiles in this colour required, based on the color schemes used in the collection.

SO: Here is my projected TILE inventory for this set.

Dark Stone Grey127
Dark Reddish Violet46
Medium Azur590
Light Purple590
Dark Purple590
TOTAL ‘dot’ tiles:=3105
A reconstruction only… source: New Elementary.

The Baseplate

No, these are not the only elements present in the set: there are 9 of the new ‘picture plates’. These have been described as 16x16x1 1/3 elements: like a plate with technic bricks around the bottom, and a support in the middle. Presumably, this is the strongest option for wall mounting the model. There are also, according to New Elementary, two technic elements which can be used to hang the finished work.

To Securely attach these plates together, I would imagine 2-3 technic pins per side, plus a row of plates underneath, for the frame to be attached to 24-36. Lets say a round 40 pins.

Let’s count this as eleven plus forty = fifty one elements.

The Frame (and other elements)

There would appear to be a tile and 1/3 of a brick thickness above the mosaic tiles.

We have accounted 3156 elements so far, out of the 3341. Could there be around 200 elements making up the minimalist frame? I expect there is a layer of plates, binding the frame to the ‘picture plates’. In the press pictures, the whole mosaic looks a little recessed compared to the frame. As such, I would expect the frame to include a base layer of plates ( binding it to the picture plates); two layers of bricks (50 studs long per side), and a layer of 25 tiles (with 2×2 ‘L’ plates in the corners). It rapidly becomes possible that 4 layers of elements producing the 50 stud square frame will approach 75-150 elects

So: 3105 tiles + 9 plates + 2 hanger elements + 40 pins + 100 bricks in the Frame =3256. Not quite 3341, but within 90 or so parts. It isn’t really that important for this exercise, which I seem to have become sidetracked from.

Sourcing the tiles.

WARNING: This is an impractical thought exercise only! Bricks’n’Pieces, the LEGO Replacement Part Site has a huge range of parts, but you are limited to 200 of any element per purchase. Pick a Brick online is geared for higher part counts, but is lacking in variety of colours for the DOT elements required to make Marilyn. Several colours or ‘Dot’ tile, that we need a large piece count for do not yet exist in other sets.

The question I am setting out to answer is “Does 31997 represent reasonable value, as far as being able to produce the mosaic?”

As we mentioned earlier, in each Warhol/ Marilyn Monroe pack, there are 3105 tiles appearing in 7 colours. Some of these colours – medium azur; dark purple, bright red violet – have never been used for 1×1 round tiles previously. What can we expect to pay for them?

There are several ways to source tiles: you could do it from LEGO’s online store – either pick a brick, or Bricks’N’Pieces. Prices here vary between tiles. Now, as some colours are new, I looked at Bricks N Pieces, (element 35381) – It becomes obvious that colours that have been used frequently are priced differently to those that are a new/uncommon (Frequency data from Brickset.com; pricing from LEGO.com Bricks’n’Pieces). Another option might be to use bricklink.com. At this point, there are some assumptions that will need to be made. The pricing here considers element pricing only, and not the cost of shipping., (NOT: At present, the yellow DOT average price on Bricklink is more expensive than through LEGO online)

Colour# of sets Cost
Cost BricklinkNumber
in set
Total cost (BnP)Total Cost (BL)
Dark Stone Grey120.06.071277.62127
Light Purple30.060.0359035.417.07
Dark Purple(presume
(presume 0.05)59035.441.30
Medium azur(presume
(presume 0.05)59035.441.30
Bright reddish violet(presume
(presume 0.05)462.763.22
Cost of 1×1 round tiles, sourced from Bricks n Pieces, or Bricklink. Bricklink prices are sourced from stores that can source the full number of tiles in the colour reported. Prices in Australian Dollars.

So, considering purchasing the tiles alone from LEGO.com, we are within $25 of the retail price. Brick link is, potentially, a more expensive way to shop for these colours ( but to be honest, it will take a little while to see how it settles once the new colours enter the market)

What about the mounting plates? They are not available from LEGO at this time, but 16×16 plates (Design ID 91405) are. They cost $2.97 AUD each through Bricks N Pieces. Nine will set you back: $26.73. We expect that the new mounting plates will be more expensive than these – So we are only using these for the sake of argument. (Current cost: $174+26.73 =200.73)

And there we are: You have covered the cost of the elements in the set without even building the frame, or using the proper picture plates. Add another 100 plates, tiles and bricks. I won’t attempt to second guess the exact composition, let’s imagine it to be around $0.08 cents per part ( I am being charitable) and we can expect the frame alone to cost around $20!

So, to go back to my original question, the 31197 Andy Walrhol’s Marilyn Monroe represents reasonable value for money, for what you get in the packet. But is it value for money, for the elements you require to build one given mosaic?

Now, we have established that the set contains around 3105 tiles, to cover a space of 2304 tiles: we have around 1000 extra tiles per set. What if you wished to just buy the parts for the picture, and not the extras?

The Marilyn Monroe portrait has 4 suggested colour schemes. I have presumed the same price for each off the new colours (0.06c) Lets try the numbers, with what we know. I shall use the price for 16×16 plates, in the absence of specific knowledge about the price of picture plates.

Light Shadows46$2.76
Dark stone grey127$7.62
Frame elements100$20
Picture plates
(using 16×16 plates @2.97 each). Estimate only – will potentially be more expensive
Pricing out an individual mosaic, using bits n pieces pricing. Actual end results might vary, depending on the final cost of backing bricks.

So, IF you only purchase the dots for one mosaic, you might save roughly $AUD30 from the purchase price. Remember: bricks and pieces only ships 200 of any one element, and estimates do not include shipping. And the picture brick element, is a single moulded part: it may or may not become available for seperate purchase.

Is it possible to purchase 3, and a few extra elements for the 4th?

We have established that if you purchase one mosaic, you have 1000 extra tiles. To build 4 mosaics, you will require1596 Bright purple, Light purple and yellow tiles, as well as 1550 in medium Azur. If you purchase 3 sets, you actually have 1770 of each of the coloured tiles: this means that you have all you need for the fourth mosaic. However, you still need 572 black tiles, and 127 grey, as well as backing elements.

Black Dots$22.88
Dark Stone Grey Dots$7.62
Frame (estimate)$20
Plates – estimate $5 each$45
Total additional elements:$95.30

Now, it has been hinted in designer interviews that the ‘picture bricks’ might be ‘hard to come by’ – restricted to the LEGO Art Series. In which case, you might need to build your own.

New Elementary provide a good description of the new backing plate, in their article announcing the Art Series, based on observations made at the Fan media days. It sounds like a real POOP element – A Piece the should made Out of Other Pieces.

A 16×16 plate, four 1×14 technic bricks, 4 2×2 bricks and 3 4×4 plates. And then make another 8 of them. They may not be as strong as the single element solution, however.

I looked at building these up through Bricks N Pieces, as it has been suggested that these modules might not be readily available, outside of these sets. The black 16×16 has a much higher price on Bricklink than other colours, especially with suppliers that have significant quantities. As such, I have limited myself to BnP.

ElementPrice on BnPPrice for one platePrice for 9 plates
91405 16×16 plate$2.97$2.97$26.73
32018 1×14 technic Brick$1.12$4.48$40.32
3003 2×2 Brick$0.20$0.80$3.20
3031 4×4 Plates$0.37$1.11$9.99
Yikes: the Price of POOP!

I am really hoping those built for purpose plates become available before too long, and at a reasonable price.

So, if you look at building these up from scratch through bricks and pieces, the total cost for your 4th mosaic is $134.54. Remember, bricks and pieces might require you to break up your order (limit of 200/element). Alternatively, we would be looking at an international Bricklink order. At present, the international stores with adequate quantities of these dots average a higher /unit cost than is currently available. If you are in Europe, this might be an acceptable option.

Decorating on a Budget!

LETS GO Back to the start. The most common complaint we had heard about LEGO Art is the price. With a price of $AUD199.99, you get a simple solution for creating a LEGO Mosaic to hang on your wall. With the LEGO product (the fully fledged set, in this case) there is no doubt that you are buying a premium product.

But not everyone is looking for a framed print to put on their wall. (lets be honest, these are mass produced works – more akin to a print, that require some effort and concentration to put together, rather than individual works of art.) And like a print you purchase, you might opt for one that comes on nice print stock, with a classy frame. And you will pay a premium for that,

OR, you might just pick up a poster, and stick it to the wall of your student accomodation with a piece of tape. You can still look at the picture. It just isn’t presented in the same, elegant way.

Only the best is good enough. The LEGO quality credo probably explains in as many words why the version available as a prepackaged set comes beautifully presented, with a frame, and elegant backing elements to construct it. It also explains why they are $200 each.

SO could you do this another way? Other Mosaic techniques.

One of the things I find appealing about the use of the ‘Dots’ – the round tiles – is that they have no ‘right way up.’ No logo to ensure that you align it properly. Simple. But this is not necessarily the established way to build a mosaic.

The majority of ‘home made’ mosaics are likely to be made with 1×1 plates (occasionally tiles), on a 48×48 baseplate. The baseplate is relatively inexpensive, compared with the ‘picture plates,’ however, it is restricted in the available colours: Blue and medium stone grey most recently produced. But not black.

A baseplate can be used on their own, perhaps in combination with the square elements, but other ‘mosaic elements’ might include the 1×1 round tiles(dots), round plates (studs), quarter circle or cheese slope. With the Marilyn mosaic, all colours are currently available, in all of the different elements you might use, other than the ‘dots.’

So, lets price out one of the Marilyn mosaics, for all of the elements that might be required. For ‘complete coverage’ elements – I’ll use a grey baseplate – 48×48 – $19.99 AUD at lego.com. The typical Bricklink price is currently about the same. For the smaller elements, I am pricing 9 of the 16×16 plates in black for the background, with some further plates to join them together. I think $45 should cover the least expensive but adequately functional option here.

At prices from Bricks N Pieces, the DOT used in the retail product priced on par with similar options that might be used for a mosaic.

Discrepancies between Bricklink and Bricks N Pieces exist for some elements, in some colours. Bricklink is a similar price to BnP for dots. Studs and Cheese slopes both work out as a much cheaper solution. Square plates are also more economical. However, if the official sets go on sale for 10-20% off, then you are starting to see minimal advantage in purchasing the elements separately.

In summary

Ultimately, mosaics are expensive, regardless of how you might choose to make them. There are alternative ways to build them using custom solutions, but savings vary, depending on the type of elements used. On the whole, the sets seem to offer good value for money, when they become available in August.

One thing that I think is important to consider, is the rationale for the LEGO Group behind these sets. Part of the 18+ strategy is to diversify product lines that are suitable for adult consumers, particularly those who might not be purchasing LEGO for themselves on a regular basis. At the German toy fair this year, it was announced that 1 in 10 LEGO sets is bought for an adult. More recently, it has become apparent that 20% of revenue is derived from product purchased for adults. I think believe these sets are setting out to entice people who are looking for a recreational activity, but are not necessarily in the habit of buying themselves LEGO. They are not necessarily established AFOLs.

There is a period in many people’s lives where they don’t buy LEGO: in between buying LEGO for yourself as a child, and when you start buying it for your own children. Often with 10-20 years in between. This is obviously not everyone’s story, but it probably applies to many. Sometimes, you need permission to buy a thing that you thought of as “a kid’s toy”

If you are a LEGO fan wanting to make your own mosaics, chances are that you already know where to start sourcing the elements. And you know how expensive it can be. But you also know the tricks of getting LEGO elements for better prices, as well as the patience that might be required. If you don’t want these sets, that’s probably okay: they probably aren’t meant for you.

SO back to my original questions: the 31197 LEGO Art version of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe offers a premium product, at a reasonable price point for what you get. You do get a surfeit of dots, however. Roughly one thousand of them. If you price out the elements in the set, it comes to be somewhere between $175 and $200 AUD, depending on the final cost of the ‘picture brick’ elements. Of course, if they are not available out side these sets (and not through bricks n pieces), it’s all a moot point.

However, if you are looking to complete the 4 image diptych, you might make significant savings by just purchasing the additional elements requires, rather than a fourth set. (Buy 3, get 50% off number 4).

Of course, if you just want to ‘blutac a poster to the wall’, rather than hang a framed print, there can be significant savings made, buy bricklinking studs, and attaching them to an array of 16×16 plates. – at approximately $108, this is a 45% saving on the premium product. And that may well be all that you are looking for.

I’d love to know what you think of this analysis: I don’t expect it to change many minds. For myself, I probably think that I would like to experience one of these sets, with the full experience, including the soundtrack. But I won’t need to buy four of them.This is all really a thought exercise. I probably have some other projects on my mind for the next few months.

Until next time,

Play Well.

8 thoughts on “What’s Marilyn Worth? A quick analysis of LEGO® Art, and alternatives.

  1. What do I think of this analysis? I think you have far too much time on your hands! At even just $50 an hour you probably could have bought a set of 4 Marilyn’s in the time it took to research and write it 🙂

  2. Thanks for writing this analysis. I’m going through the exact dilemma as well now that 2x VIP points Bricktober is here.

    You might want to mention that the sets offer tile and plate version depending on which one you get. I was originally set on the Iron Man (plates) but I shied away from the thought of having to get 6 sets to have an impressive display. And, am I THAT big of an Iron Man fan to get 6 sets $150 CAD sets? I might consider if they offer this in another superhero version. Then I look at the Beetles. I don’t mind getting 4 to have an impressive display but they are all tiles. What can I do with the tiles when I get bored of looking at the Beetles? I can’t build with tiles. I can only mosaic with tiles. At least with plates I can do something else with them. Can I turn the this into some other portrait, or a giant portrait of 4 of these put together? The Beetles is an interesting colour scheme, I’m gonna need a program to turn a custom portrait into a LEGO mosaic of a similar colour scheme.

    With that, I think I got my answer. There might be life for the mosaics after the Beetles.

  3. Great analysis. I wish someone can source the missing pieces and sell as add on for those who purchase 3x sets. And with add one can make the 4th portrait. Cause buying four and then have 4k dots leftover is insanity.

    • The 16×16 plates as well as the extra dots can be sourced through BrickLink.com – although international shipping g is a challenge at present – but it should be achievable

Leave a Reply to frank castle (@FPCastle)Cancel reply