It’s New Year’s Day where I am currently sitting*. The sun is shining. It is around 30º C (86ºF to those in other parts of the world). Last year was a hectic year: we had been locked down for large parts of 2020 and 2021, and it felt like half of society was trying to make up the missed time socialising and getting work done, while the other half was trying to keep out of harm’s way. [*I might have taken an extra day to edit this]
Ultimately, it is time to kick my feet up and relax. As good fortune would have it, The lovely people at the LEGO Group have sent me a copy of the latest LEGO Art Set: Hokusai The Great Wave. Based on Hokusai’s woodcut ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa,’ the set promised me “the chance to immerse [myself] into the relaxing project of recreating the iconic Great Wave, captured in a LEGO Art set. This set offers so many ways that fans can unwind and find their flow. Not just immersing themselves into the building process, but also getting into the artwork and how that is composed.”
So, did it deliver? Running from Christmas to New Year’s Eve is often a mental challenge: so many last-minute things to do. If there was one thing I needed, it was a chance to relax.
And More importantly, will I feel happy to nail it to the wall afterwards?
Let’s take a look at the set:
From here, I go through the build process in some detail. There aren’t too many secret things here that aren’t apparent from the box and advertising material already revealed, but there are a few clever tricks, here and there. If you wish to avoid the entire build process, you can jump to the end here, read my summary, buy the set and build it for yourself. But if you want to know more… Read On.
What’s in the Box?
Chances are, I am not the only one in the household needing to take a moment to relax and reflect. And so, once again I am indebted to Ann, the Knoller-In-Chief, who finds that the best way for LEGO elements to help her to relax is to lay them out on a series of trays so that we can see what we have.
In fact, opening the box, we find some numbered bags bags, but we also find a box containing more bags of elements, and the instructions – secured in a cardboard envelope. All up there are 15 numbered bags, and a couple that aren’t. The set includes 6 ‘Art Plates’ 16x16x1 /13 plates, with Technic holes around the edge. In this set, we have 4 that are nougat-coloured, and 2 black.
The instruction manual is reasonably thick, and offers some insights into the original artwork, as well as clear instructions for the building process itself.
There are 2 clear parts of the build: the image itself, mounted on the art bricks, and the frame: depicting a white mask, with a tan border.
The print itself is put together using the contents of bags 1 to 11, as well as the Art Bricks.
The first few steps are spent colouring the base layers on the six Art Bricks: the sky and clouds are fashioned using DOT round tile elements, while the Wave itself and Mt Fuji in the background are completed using plates – both rectangular and wedged. The nougat shade is peaceful to work with, and the background of the wave is blocked out using dark blue plates.
The colour palette is relatively limited, as it is in the original: nougat, white, light and medium stone greys, dark blue and bright royal blue. This does help with colour discrimination in the building process, while the underlying art plates contribute nicely to overall shade.
A 2×6 tile, and another 1×4 provide us with the Artist’s signature, as well as the title of the work.
This initial layer brings lots of plates and tiles, which are clearly guided in the manual, After joining the plates together, we also attach the ‘hook’ elements which will allow us to attach the finished piece to the wall.
After our initial layer, we start to build up detail in the wave – particularly using whites and light blue overlying the dark blue spread.Most of the details are fairly angulated at this point, setting up layers, but perhaps little of the actual detail for the build, except for the clouds/mist and Mount Fuji on the horizon.
The Tan wedges represent the first part of the boats being tossed by the wave. This is expanded on during the next step, with the outline of the boat relegating Mt Fuji to the distant background.
As we continue with the third layer of plates, some clever geometry (application of Pythagorean triplets, actually) sees the nets at the front of the boat added, in the form of toothed plates. The first of the sailors/fishermen are added – using 1×2 rounded plates in bright blue, with DOT tiles printed with small faces. Alignment of these elements was probably the most challenging/ anxiety-provoking aspect of the build, but also easily corrected – so no harm done.
Building up the shape of the waves is very satisfying, and simply guided through the instruction manual with a parts list, as well as outlining the new elements in these steps in red. Even with poor lighting, I was able to discriminate the shapes without cause for concern. Although I did have to pause to pick out some of the outlined elements, from time to time.
Our next phase fills up the boats with their sailors. On the right side of the image, we start to add details to the wave, through the use of white leaf elements, held in place with curved sloped wedges, while additional wedge plates shape the sea.
Our final bag while working on the artwork sees many leaves secured in place, adding to the feeling of the foam from the wave, along with a few scattered studs. The crest of the wave is completed by the addition of some white bird elements: I love the effect here, and it reminds me somewhat of the use of the frog as blossoms in the bonsai tree. Could a white frog have been used? Possibly. It’s been seen a few times in recent years. And would it really have the same effect as the birds? I don’t think so.
And with this, we complete the actual print. The build keeps you on your toes, ensuring the plates go in the right place, but the actual number of misplaced elements during construction was relatively low. The leaves and birds require a degree of care to give the best ‘foam’ effect, but on the whole, I found the build so far very satisfying.
Now that we have completed assembling the main image, let’s compare it to one held in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria.
Next, we move on to the frame, consisting of the contents of bags 12-15, plus another bag full of plates.
We start with 6×8 technic frames, in rows of 8, and then attach them together. together.
We then strengthen it with a layer of plates on top.
We move on to add a layer of plates underneath the frame, as well as attaching a series of brackets which are secured to the bottom of the frame, and will ultimately secure the print into the centre of the frame..
We complete the layer of plates around the bottom, and then add 1×2 bricks with technic pegs on the side: these are attached at regular intervals around the frame, – and will be filled up with 1×4 bricks in later steps.
After filling in the gaps between the outer row of bricks, we build up the outer edge of the plate layer: and fill the gaps with white tiles – mainly 6×6, but with some 6×2 on the left and right columns.
Another layer of plates next to the tiles, and an outer layer of bricks brings the tan elements up to an even level – allowing tiles to finish the effect around the frame:
The frame features a lot of repetitive motions in its construction: from joining the frames, to layering plates,bricks and tiles. I found this phase of the build required less focus than decorating the wave itself, and as such became quite relaxing.
Putting it all together
Next we place the image into the frame: it fits snugly, and you feel the studs in the brackets grip the edge of the image. After getting it into place, I turned the whole construction over, and locked the image in.
Here is the final result. The minimalist frame fits really nicely with the print. I was surprised, to an extent, by the final size: 50×66 studs.
I found those builds to be relatively tedious to complete, even though the results were satisfying. In the Great Wave, the use of plates to cover larger areas of the image, as well as the use of wedge plates and leaves to better approximate the shapes in the original work gives a more satisfying feeling: straight lines and curved, limited pixelation, and greater detail overall.
I found the variety of techniques featured in this set to bring a more engaging building experience than the stud only experienced initially revealed, but I did find that it meant I had to pay greater attention to what I was doing, and not just get lost in the flow of slapping down studs.
What is the point of a poster or other form of visual art, if not to display it? If you have enjoyed the process, or just feel it fits your household aesthetic, then you might wish to mount it on the walls. This process presumes that you are able to nail hooks to the wall or have some form of hanging rail.
Perhaps one of the big disappointments is the lack of a hanging template: a piece of paper with the locations of hanging pins/nails/ hooks shown the appropriate distance apart. I took my instruction envelope and added some pen marks, separated by the same distance that we have between the hanging elements.
After locating a stud in the wall, and nailing in a hook, I used my template, as well as the level in my phone, to locate the point for the other hook to hang. It lined up easily, and the model slipped onto the hooks effortlessly.
Here it is next to the LEGO Ideas 21333 The Starry Night. That set uses radically different building techniques compared to this one, and is widely regarded as a most excellent set (21333 was not reviewed on the Rambling Brick, as it was built by a non-blogging member of the household.
As you can see, The Great Wave is quite sizable, even larger than the 50×50 stud mosaics initially released. This particular Marilyn mosaic won’t be going up on the wall. I am amused at the way that households in LEGO Lifestyle marketing photos are frequently very minimalist in their decoration, and that apparently the only LEGO set that they own is the one being built…
In summary, I found this to be a satisfying build, and not as monotonous as some of the first-generation art sets such as the HOGWARTS CRESTS or Marilyn, where construction was based around the careful location of 2304 studs on the board: The variety of elements used certainly helps here.
Adding additional textural elements helps to achieve the level of detail in the original print that might not be attainable using the standard studs or DOTs alone.
The frame is attractive and minimalistic, although I was distracted a little by a slight colour variation between the tan tiles. That said, most pieces of natural wood demonstrate variability, so it is not a big disappointment. Its attachment to the artwork itself is clever, and readily reversible, should you wish to install another artwork in its place.
The accompanying podcast provides interesting insights into the original artwork and provides lots of interesting information. The presentation style might not be for everyone, but you receive a variety of insights into different aspects of the work, and its historical context.
The build took me around 5-6 hours, all up, interrupting the flow from time to time to take some photos.
Overall, I think this is an innovative addition to the LEGO Art portfolio, and am happy to give it 4/6 Arbitrary Praise Units. The build is engaging, and the final result is aesthetically pleasing. The Price feels reasonable for the number of elements included, the time taken to build it, as well as the final result.
Hokusai – The Great Wave (31208) is available from LEGO.com from January 1, 2023, except for the Asia Pacific region (1st February) and India (1st March). If you are interested in purchasing the set, please consider these affiliate links: the Rambling Brick might receive a small commission from any purchases made, which goes back into running costs for the blog.
What do you think of the Great Wave? Does it grab your interest? Would you hang it on your wall? Was the Spoiler warning useful? We love to get a bit of feedback on what we do here at the Rambling Brick. Please leave your comments below. Follow the Rambling brick on Facebook and Instagram to find most of our content of interest, or join our mailing list, and be notified when an article of interest comes along. If you think your friends or community might be interested in our work, please share this post with them, and until next time…
This set was provided by the LEGO Group for Review Purposes. All opinions are my own!