Since 2012 The Royal Mint has struck a special Remembrance Day Alderney £5 Coin each year featuring the poppy – a widely recognised symbol of remembrance – to honour servicemen and women who have lost their lives in times of war. For 2016, the poppy wreath takes centre stage on a coin designed by Royal Mint designer and engraver, Thomas Docherty. Ahead of Remembrance Day, we caught up with Thomas to find out a little more about the inspiration for his design.
Tell us a little bit about yourself…
My name is Thomas Docherty, I’m a member of the coin design team and I’ve worked at The Royal Mint for almost twelve years. I started at The Royal Mint as a trainee engraver and worked my way up to being a fully fledged member of the team within a few years. I’ve been working on the job ever since.
What projects have you worked on at The Royal Mint? What have you been working on recently?
Lately I’ve been designing for Bullion and Circulating coinage, conducting daily hand-finishing of master tools, and completing an overseas re-coinage project. The re-coinage project has been four and a half years in the making and I have designed the country’s three highest denominations, which I’m really happy with – it’s the biggest project I’ve completed since I’ve been at The Royal Mint.
What do you enjoy most about your job as a coin designer/engraver?
I’d say the opportunity to carry out research and the diversity of the role are my two favourite things.
I enjoy getting to look into things, things that I thought I would never get to research; I could be looking at Remembrance as a subject, the war, or I could be reading about endemic species of flora for overseas or at surface pattern work for a Bullion project. When I start my research, I’m a bit of a nightmare and usually end up in a bit of a rabbit hole, one subject leads to another and I end up miles away – I love that. I don’t really know where it’s going to go at the beginning, and then the more research I do, the more I start to feel like I’m getting somewhere and it starts to be fun. I really value the opportunity to delve into subjects that normally I wouldn’t get to read about, that’s always been interesting.
And then, the diversity of the job. I love that my role involves design and sculpture. The opportunity to make things has always been important to me. Nowadays, I sculpt digitally so I don’t work at my bench as much, but I like that I still sit at my bench every day to hand-finish the tooling that goes on to produce coins. I can be at my desk, I can be at my work-bench or I could be at a coin trial – I like that I work in differing environments with the chance to work with members of other teams.
You say you don’t go back to the bench much…
We still go back for the tooling, so we still hand-work master tools, which I’m very glad about. If I were doing any traditional modelling, such as plaster or any clay relief sculpture, that would be completed at the bench, but I sculpt entirely digitally now.
Is that quite a switch for you?
I used to work in plaster and clay and thought I always would. I didn’t believe the software could match the subtleties of traditional sculpture, but we’ve invested in a new software which is brilliant at producing organic modelling.
The computer package that we were using before was well suited for architecture and typography – flat surfaces and angle plains – but to get the subtlety of a portrait I always thought that I would use clay or plaster (even though other members of my team were successfully using this software for these type of models). We’re now using zBrush, which is excellent, and I’m very happy with the results that I’m seeing from the package. Some people will continue to work in plaster and may not transition to digital, but I doubt I’d go back to it now unless a project comes up where plaster sculpture would be better suited.
How did you go about designing the 2016 Remembrance Day coin? Where did you start?
When I first received the brief my initial reaction was aimed towards monuments, the monuments of the war, these statues that were erected to commemorate people.
From there came the laying of wreaths at the monuments as an act of remembrance. If you go to any large town they will have some sort of memorial service on Remembrance day. It’s something that really brings the community together, with many people paying their respects. The laying of wreaths really resonated with me. It’s an act ingrained in culture.
I was looking for something that was really inclusive, so it wasn’t a unique thing to one place, and I came across a specific monument called the ‘Cross of Sacrifice’, designed by Reginald Blomfield and used at Commonwealth grave sites across the world. I actually found out that they had one of these in Cathays cemetery in Cardiff, so, from there, I started thinking about how I could use this together with the poppies.
I went to Cathays cemetery with the wreath from The Royal Mint’s own memorial and found the Commonwealth grave site. I took lots of reference photos; I photographed the wreath, monuments and graves. Looking around I thought “these could be the basis of my compositions.”
I started to work on designs and I was thinking about the text. I wanted the coin to have a really strong inscription and came across a passage that comes from the book of Ecclesiasticus in the bible. It is used in Commonwealth grave sites across the world and is a really nice passage. The more I read the more I realised that it made sense to use it:
“Their seed shall remain for ever, and their
glory shall not be blotted out.
Their bodies are buried in peace; but their
name liveth for evermore.”
From there I was thinking about how I could treat the inscription. With wording being carved on to monuments, I thought that it would be a nice detail to echo this on the coin by giving the text a champfered profile. This became the basis of the designs.
Then I went back and I started playing around with the wreath and that’s how I got to my final design. That’s how it all developed really. I started with the monuments and then went back to the wreath and looked at that and thought about how I could fill that space and get it looking really impactful.
Talk us through the different elements of the coin
You’ve got the wreath , which is based on the wreath from The Royal Mint’s on-site memorial, designed so that it fills the coin as much as it can while still keeping it at an angle – I’ve moved and shaped my drawing so it fills the composition better. I knew I wanted to create a quite dynamic perspective, to give the design a sense of pride, as though it were standing proudly. Then you have the inscription “their name liveth for evermore” and finally the ‘V’ profile on the lettering which ties it in with the one used on war memorials.
What was the most challenging aspect of the design?
The thing that was new for me on this, was that I haven’t done a great deal of colour work since I’ve been here – I’ve done small pieces here and there but never a full digital painting, so that was really new for me and a bit challenging, just to get my technique right. I mixed up a colour palette on the side of my screen and then just kept picking colours and oil painted it. Using the brush was brilliant, I learned loads with that. It was new for me, but I really enjoyed it. I’m used to working in greyscale so to get to work with colours was excellent.
With tri-chromatic printing you have your CMYK colours and also a base colour of white. Our production department print the white first and then the CMYK on top, but they can apply the colours in different amounts and sequences. I went to the first trial and it wasn’t quite right, so we tried applying the colours in different orders, just to see how we could layer the inks up to get the most vibrant result. I think it went through trial about four times before we got it as close as possible to my artwork. We had to tweak it, but we got it right in the end.
Tell us something we don’t already know about the design… this could be a quirk in the design? Maybe a particular element that took a while to perfect? Or maybe something that happened while designing it?
Getting the colour to match how I see it in my head, getting the painting to how I wanted it to look, was probably the thing that took a while to get right. There’re no real quirks in the design – the only other thing that people wouldn’t know about the design would be that it’s The Royal Mint’s wreath. It was at our on-site war memorial for a whole year and then I took it away and photographed it.
How did you feel about designing the coin to mark this significant anniversary / event?
People use this day to mark all wars, so it’s a really big thing and I’m intrigued to see how people react to it. I would imagine that there are a lot of people interested in remembrance products as a result of being effected by war, even if it was their grandparents/great grandparents – because their life and their family have been touched by it in some sort of way. That’s why I’m really interested to see how it goes because people are probably going to have some sort of personal connection to remembrance. I’m happy that I’ve been given the opportunity to do it.
And finally, excluding your own design, what is your favourite coin?
My favourite coin is an Eric Gill sixpence pattern piece. He designed it as part of a series but the sixpence is my favourite.
For me the Gill designs are beautifully balanced…but of the four produced, I feel that the Sixpence achieves this best. It’s so simple and well -balanced. Simple things are really easy to get wrong, because if something’s wrong it’s so very obviously wrong, whereas, if it’s busy they’re easily hidden. But this has to be right otherwise it will look bad. I like the use of dots as a way to symbolise the denomination, and the custom lettering fits perfectly within the weight & composition of the designs. They are very simple but also very elegant coins that convey a sense of being ‘complete’, nothing seems out of place.