Katie Walker introduced her children to LEGO building blocks a few years ago and found out she had more interest in them than they did.
"I showed them the LEGO sets I had from when I was young but they were still too little to care," she said. "So I started fiddling around with the pieces and building a few things myself."
The 36-year-old Pasco mother discovered that creating patterns and mosaics with the small plastic bricks brought out her artistic side.
"It started out as a nice hobby that kept my brain occupied during a time of my life when changing diapers was one of the highlights of my day," she quipped.
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But after posting several of her designs online, Walker's LEGO art started gaining attention and is featured in three published books on LEGO art, including the latest, titled The Art of LEGO Design.
Walker said she was amazed at how quickly her designs caught the attention of people on the Internet.
"I got so many positive responses from people, and several LEGO bloggers started posting different models I made," Walker said. "Then, authors working on writing LEGO books started asking me to contribute to their projects."
The Art of LEGO Design, which sells for $24.95 at bookstores and Amazon.com, shows how the colorful bricks are used to create characters, cars and creatures, Marlon Rigel, with San Francisco publishing house No Starch Press, told the Herald.
"Mosaic patterns highlight the versatility and potential for LEGO as an artistic medium," Rigel said. "Katie is a pioneer in the realm of LEGO mosaics and has inspired countless other builders all over the world to follow suit.
"Nobody had ever even dreamed of the things she's built before she came along, which not only goes to show that anything is possible in the world of LEGO design, but that there are infinite possibilities for the medium that have yet to be discovered."
And Walker admits those possibilities are an infinite part of her daily creativity, along with exceptional organizational skills.
A bank of bookshelves fills part of her craft room, all neatly packed with hundreds of small plastic containers, each filled with a different size or color of LEGO blocks. A large square table in the middle of the room allows plenty of space to create her designs.
"I have to stay organized or my creativity suffers," Walker said.
But LEGO building is an expensive hobby. The average cost for a set is $30 to $40 and usually only includes enough pieces to create a set design.
That's one reason she dismantles all her designs once completed to reuse the bricks. But not before she photographs each one. So when she creates a design as a gift, it's truly one of a kind.
Last year, she lead a workshop at a national LEGO convention in Seattle.
Her dream is to someday publish her own book that includes instructions for her patterns.
Walker's mother, Dorothy Fanning of Pasco, said she knew there was some kind of artist brewing in her daughter even when she was a toddler.
"When Katie was 18 months old she would play with these building block toys," Fanning said.
But instead of stacking the blocks like most children, Walker would organize them by color.
Walker never guessed she would find a niche in LEGO designing when she graduated valedictorian from Pasco High in 1995.
"I have always loved math, and mosaics are all about geometry," she said. "My daughter (7-year-old Madeleine) shows an interest in the LEGOs and sits with me in the craft room a lot. But my son (5-year-old Grant) doesn't seem to have an interest yet."
But after staying home to raise her children for six years, Walker returned to teaching last year when her husband, Brian, lost his environmental scientist job at Hanford.
She's a bilingual kindergarten teacher at Whittier Elementary School in Pasco.
"Fortunately, my husband is back at Hanford now, so the stress of that is over, and I plan to continue teaching this year," she said.
Working full-time and raising two kids doesn't leave a lot of creativity time in her craft room, but she isn't worried.
"I love making pretty things and creating something that first appears to be impossible, which is the beauty of doing something that requires math," she said. "I still make time to do that, just not as often as I used to."