What better sight for sore, rainy-morning eyes than an ocean of Legos?

We arrived, we chatted, we launched—for forty minutes of Friday’s Creative Scholars Project meeting, we focused completely on creating. There was no assignment, and there were no rules. Just play.

Ian and Adam built spaceships. From the start, they sought appropriate blocks (the right shape, function or color) for their structures, both of which ended up symmetrical and carefully considered. “Continuity and working as a complete whole is really important to this particular process,” Ian said. “You start out deciding to make a spaceship, and everything you do from that decision onwards, it has to lead to a spaceship.”

Adam's spaceship

Adam’s spaceship

Jay operated more instinctually, building a structure with little recognizable meaning. “I don’t like neat angles, I like to have overlapping, unusual spaces. I like to have things not line up, or if they are going to line up, I like them to do so in an unanticipated way,” Jay said. “Every step there was no grand plan, no sense of what I was going to do.” For Jay, the process was about seeing how he could make the pieces he picked work. When Adam handed Jay a block that matched another in his structure, Jay had to wonder why. “I didn’t know I needed it, so I had to figure out how to use it,” he said.

Jay's abstract space, complete with two similar triangle pieces

Jay’s abstract space, complete with two similar triangle pieces

Laura started with a Lego man. “I always start with the human of it,” she said. “Who is this guy, what might he want to do?” He might be a factory worker, she said, and he might be going out to make a shipment. A shipment of what? Maybe there’s an assembly line, and maybe he’s taking dark blocks—the gray, black and brown ones—and turning them into colorful blocks on a conveyor belt. Laura designed an experience, a scene, rather than a single object.

Laura's Lego scene, featuring a Lego man and his color-making factory.

Laura’s Lego scene, featuring a Lego man and his color-making factory

My own process lacked planning: preoccupied by that mornings news of turmoil abroad, I found myself grabbing for all the gray and angular pieces I could find. Slowly, I added blocks upwards, and then across, resulting in a two-level structure that at once looked to me like a military training facility. From there, I incorporated all the machine-like pieces I could find in the piles—an upright steering wheel, gears, heavy-looking doors. But after a while, the structure began to feel oppressive. So I grabbed the nearest bright block I could find, which happened to be green, and instantly saw a garden. There were trees and flowers hidden in the Lego piles.

My training facility and contrasting garden

My training facility and contrasting garden

We can impose narratives on the results of our impulses, leading to recognizable buildings and gardens, or we can build on narrative foundations, writing lives for our Lego men. We can set tangible goals, like building spaceships, then seek out and place our pieces accordingly. We can be motivated by the materials before us, or by abstract concepts. We can introduce constraints from the beginning of the process, or in the middle, or never at all. We can try to pick up the pieces that fall to the ground and put them back where they came from, or we can stick them wherever looks best and move on.