As a kid, Veronica Watson loved LEGO and the possibilities of what she could make. Her imagination certainly wasn’t limited when constructing things like Hogwarts Castle and other fanciful Harry Potter–inspired creations with her brothers on their basement floor.
Watson, 23, grew up, but she didn’t leave her LEGO bricks—or imagination—behind. After graduating from New York University with a degree in architecture and urban design, she landed what would be a dream job for many: a LEGO Master Model Builder, one of only seven in North America.
Now, Watson takes her LEGO creations to new levels of artistry. From a replica of Picasso’s Guernica painting to sculptures celebrating the US Women’s National Soccer Team at the World Cup, she finds inspiration in both current events and wherever her creativity takes her.
Here, Watson shares what it’s like to be a LEGO Master Model Builder at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester, the inspiration for her work, insider building tips, and the one indispensable tool anyone who loves LEGO should have.
How did you become a LEGO Master Model Builder?
To become a Master Model Builder, you have to enter a competition called Brick Factor, which is an all-day building competition and interview process.
While I was in college, I worked here at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester on the weekend and during the summer. I actually graduated around the same time that the position opened up, and the contest to name the future Master Model Builder for the attraction was scheduled. I thought I’d just enter for fun . . . and I actually won.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Master Model Builders have an interesting job. I do different models for events or for social media, depending on what’s happening in the news. I’m also responsible for repairing and cleaning the large-scale models that are already on-site and built by other builders out in California. I also work on education, so I’ll help put together workshops and educational programs for kids visiting here.
What kind of sculptures have you been working on lately?
Currently I’m working on a US tennis build because the US Open is happening. I’m building a replica of the Women’s US Open trophy, tennis balls, and a Serena Williams figure. I’ve also made a sculpture for fall Fashion Week in New York.
So how do you approach your LEGO designs?
Often, especially if it’s a smaller model, I’ll work from reference images and just keep building—adding a bit here, removing a bit there.
Now if it’s a complicated model, maybe something that has geometric patterns, I’ll use what’s called “brick paper,” which is like graph paper except it’s set in the scale of LEGO bricks. Then for really complicated models, I will use LEGO Digital Designer, which is a design program.
You graduated with a degree in architecture. How has this influenced your work with LEGO?
There is definitely a big crossover between architecture and LEGO. Ironically, I don’t typically build architecture-themed models. But in school, I spent a lot of time analyzing buildings to determine their time periods or specific, important aspects of movement.
When I’m building with LEGO, it’s a similar thought process. Because I’m trying to represent something, I have to look at the object and really zero in on what are the most essential elements of it. Then I can represent the most important parts because I can’t re-create every aspect of it.
What is your favorite LEGO sculpture that you’ve created?
I think I’m most proud of the Picasso piece Guernica. It all started one day when I had a little extra time, and I realized it was his birthday. So I thought I should do something to honor it.
It was a challenging piece. The painting has so much happening with so many forms. I chose which parts to represent in LEGO and figured out how to layer them. That was definitely a fascinating exercise, and it was pretty challenging.
What are some insider building tips for LEGO?
The basic LEGO brick has studs on the top and can connect to another brick stacked underneath it or on top. But it’s also important to incorporate LEGO elements that have studs on the other sides. Those allow you to build out, adding more dimension and complexity to the model. We call this method “sideways building.”
Spheres are also tricky. If I’m going to do something like a sphere, I’ll plan it on brick paper before I begin to build.
Do you have any tools that are “secret weapons” to help build the sculptures?
One thing that’s pretty handy is a brick separator. This tool will come with certain bigger LEGO sets, and it basically just saves your fingernails.
Depending on the scale, how long does it take you to create some of these models?
Usually, it will take me a couple of days. For Guernica, it took me all of Sunday and then the next Monday. But that’s because I was free those two days and I was building as I went along.
It also depends if I designed it ahead of time. For the US Open trophy, I drew it on brick paper ahead of time. It’s about 12 inches tall and scaled to be the actual size of the US Women’s Singles trophy. So it took me a good two to three hours to draw it out, but then building went much faster. It was only about four hours to build as opposed to two days.
Are there any designs you’ve seen recently and thought, “Wow, they really nailed it?”
I was just in Pittsburgh and went to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. I’ve seen it hundreds and hundreds of times in pictures and read many articles on it and the engineering issues.
When you’re actually there, though, it’s so different . . . you just get it. You understand it better than you ever could otherwise.
What’s the best part of your job?
Well, it’s very satisfying to make something from scratch. Sometimes when I start, I think, “Aw, I can’t possibly really do this.” Then, right before it’s finished, I start thinking instead, “Oh, this is going to be good.”
It’s cool to have so many kids and their parents coming in each day, and it’s great to see them react to the models that I’ve created. And then they share models they’re creating at home, telling me about things that they want to build and asking me how I built my models. That really is the most rewarding aspect to me.
Redshift’s “Inside My Design Mind” series explores the personal insights from leading designers across industries.