BricksBen – LEGO Benjamin Cheh Jeffrey Kong Brick Artists Singapore – The Straits Times Sunday Times Life (8 June 2014)

BricksBen - LEGO Benjamin Cheh Jeffrey Kong Brick Artists Singapore - The Straits Times Sunday Times Life (8 June 2014)

Yes, we’re crafty… with bricks, that is. What a journey it has been for the BricksBen duo! Thank you The Straits Times Singapore for supporting local artists and spreading the joy of the brick to local readers. Credit to ST reporter Kezia Toh and photographer Wee Jin Ong, and to pl&y Singapore for the venue. You rock!

Full text:

When Mr Jeffrey Kong topped his primary school cohort at age seven, his parents offered him a choice of reward: a remote-controlled car or Lego bricks.

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Jeffrey Kong (above, right) and Benjamin Cheh (above, left) of Bricksben. Image: ST/ Ong Wee Jin

"It was an obvious choice," says Mr Kong, who made a beeline for the plastic toy blocks. He says: "It was not just a bunch of bricks, but a tool with which I could build all sorts of things."

This included a windmill and a van, which he toggled with for the next six years, before entering what Lego enthusiasts dub the "dark ages".

This refers to one’s teenage years, when one has little spare cash to buy Lego bricks, emerging into the light only when one begins to draw a salary, explains Mr Kong, now 34 and a lifestyle magazine editor, with a grin.

When he started work in 2003 as an army regular, he built up his Lego collection, constructing creations such as a camera and telephone.

He met Mr Benjamin Cheh, 31, at a previous job in 2008 and the pair bonded over Lego. They decided to pool their strengths: Mr Kong prefers to build small creations reminiscent of yesteryear, such as a mini cassette tape and typewriter, while Mr Cheh likes larger pieces such as warriors and robots.

Mr Cheh, a senior graphic designer who is single, says he got hooked on Lego while watching anime as a child. He particularly enjoys building robots of his childhood, with "hidden parts with mysterious functions", he says.

His robots, for example, come with detachable hinges that open to reveal their Lego "skeleton".

He and Mr Kong started their online business, Bricksben, in 2012 to sell these pieces, take on commissions as well as conduct workshops.

Says Mr Kong: "I love to spread the joy of the brick, because it brought me comfort and joy when I was depressed."

Working on Lego creations helped keep him strong while his father, a former shipyard storekeeper, battled terminal lung cancer for three months before he died in 2012, says Mr Kong. He is married to a 34-year-old housewife. They have a pair of six-month-old twins, a boy and girl.

He now keeps 11 containers jammed with about 100,000 Lego bricks at home, which he uses for creations such as a red "balloon" dog and a white "paper" crane.

"Playing with Lego bricks opens up many possibilities: placing bricks upside down or turning things around can create the illusion of a piece being inflated," he explains.

His pieces cost between $20 and $300, though recent large pieces such as a dragon playground model – based on the iconic Toa Payoh play area – go for $1,000, although it has yet to find a buyer. Mr Cheh’s creations cost between $300 and $2,000.

The pair make about 10 to 20 sales a month. There have also been commissions: an industrial building company got them to supply 200 namecard holders in the shape of its building, for $30 a piece, last year.

But sales are not sufficient for the pair to give up their day jobs, due to the cost of pricey Lego bricks, they say. Their creations often use custom-order bricks shipped from overseas, rather than off-the-shelf ones. It is also difficult to put a price tag on their craft.

Mr Kong says he charged a customer $50 for a 200-piece Santa sled beneath an ERP gantry last year. After comparing prices with others who make their own Lego creations, he thinks he should have charged about $90.

He adds: "But it depends on the buyer: some are genuinely interested in my craft and ask lots of questions, and perhaps I can charge a little less."

This article was first run in Straits on June 8, 2014.