A 25-Year-Old PhD Student Just Convinced Lego to Mass-Produce Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ as an Official Toy Kit

Truman Cheng submitted the idea to the company, which invites fans to share their ideas for future Lego sets.

Lego will produce Truman Cheng's Starry Night design. Photo courtesy of Truman Cheng.

One of the most famous paintings in the world, Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, has inspired everything from socks to umbrellas to face masks.

Now, the 1889 Post-Impressionist masterpiece will have its very own Lego set, allowing art lovers to recreate the Dutch artist’s most beloved work entirely from interlocking plastic bricks.

The kit is the brainchild of Truman Cheng, a 25-year-old PhD student from Hong Kong, who submitted the idea to Lego Ideas, which allows fans of the colorful construction toys to share their suggestions for future Lego kits.

Any project that receives at least 10,000 votes from the public enters an official review process and can potentially be chosen by the Danish company to be produced as a commercial set, with the original designer earning one percent of royalties.

Cheng’s Starry Night is unique in that it uses thin Lego plate pieces to approximate Van Gogh’s dramatic skies. The design uses about 1,500 Lego parts, including a tiny mini figure of the painter himself, at work in front of an easel and canvas.

LEGO will produce Truman Cheng's Starry Night design. Photo courtesy of Truman Cheng.

Lego will produce Truman Cheng’s Starry Night design. Photo courtesy of Truman Cheng.

“One day, I was just playing with Lego parts, and I realized stacking Lego plates together in random intervals looks a lot like Van Gogh’s iconic brush strokes,” Cheng told Lego Ideas.

He spent several weeks coming up with the design, working after shifts as a postgrad research assistant.

“It was a good brain tease to come up with tricks and techniques to capture the look of the original painting,” Cheng said. “The brushwork goes into many directions in the moon and the swirling cloud, so there was some creative use of bracket and clip elements involved.”

Cheng’s Starry Night design was one of a record 35 projects considered in Lego Ideas’ most recent review period, reflecting a surge of interest during 2020. Since Lego Ideas’ launch in 2008, 41 sets have been selected for production.

Truman Cheng at a museum exhibition recreating Vincent van Gogh's bedroom. Photo courtesy of Truman Cheng.

Truman Cheng at a museum exhibition recreating Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom. Photo courtesy of Truman Cheng.

“Art is a theme that we’ve only recently ventured into,” Hasan Jensen, the Lego Ideas engagement manager, said in the announcement for the Van Gogh kit, praising “the unique building techniques [Cheng has] used to recreate the beautiful brush strokes in Lego bricks.”

For Cheng, the leap from Lego to art was a natural one.

“To me, Lego is more than ‘toys,'” he said. “I can express myself, create characters and sculptures from my imagination.… very much like painting. It’s also like a puzzle game, because there are rules and ‘maths’ to how bricks can be connected, so there is ‘creative limitations’ going on too. So I guess to me, Lego is a unique synthesis of artistic expression and puzzle-solving.”

This Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe kit is part of the LEGO Art series. Photo courtesy of LEGO.

This Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe kit is part of the Lego Art series. Photo courtesy of Lego.

The company introduced a Lego Art series last June, with mosaic-like kits featuring new 2-D tiles aimed at adults to put on display. Most of the kits draw their subject matter from pop culture, with sets inspired by Mickey Mouse, Harry Potter, and the Beatles.

The only artist featured is Andy Warhol, whose work is the subject of a $119.99 Marilyn Monroe kit, which features four different possible color schemes. The kit, produced in collaboration with the Warhol Foundation, allows art lovers to hang Lego versions of the famous Pop art silkscreen on their walls, featuring an “exclusive signature title” with the artist’s signed name on a Lego brick.

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