Ever since Remembrance Day began in 1919, the nation has fallen silent on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.
In 2012, The Royal Mint started to strike a special Remembrance Day £5 Coin, in honour of servicemen and women who have lost their lives in times of war. This year, for the first time, a Remembrance design has been struck on an official UK coin. Bearing poppies, synonymous with Remembrance Day, the coin has been designed by Royal Mint designer, Stephen Taylor. We caught up with designer, Stephen to find out more about his 2017 Remembrance Day design.
Please introduce yourself
I’m Stephen Taylor, a Senior Graphic Designer at The Royal Mint.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a big surfing fan and a member of the lifeguards where I am part of the Masters team. As a dad with a young family I’m very busy with sports. Both my two children are in the lifeguard club and are part of different swimming clubs so we don’t get a lot of free time. As a designer I’m often finding ways to be creative, and one of these ways is that I design and airbrush surfboards and sketch constantly.
How did your journey with The Royal Mint begin?
I started off doing a foundation course in Swansea where I found I had a keen interest in three dimensional aspects of design, as well as graphics. This led to me completing a degree in graphics and packaging design which I really enjoyed. After working for a number of design agencies in and around Cardiff and Swansea, I found the job here at The Royal Mint – since working here I’ve worked my way from a graphic designer to Senior Designer and fairly recently I have been put in charge of the Concept team.
How does coin design differ from your other work?
Designing coins is not something I do regularly. My day-to-day job involves working on the packaging and campaigns work for the products as well as exhibition and web design work. When designing a coin we are given a brief which is sent to the coin designers and the graphic design team, as well as external artists that all submit their designs to the RMAC (Royal Mint Advisory Committee). These submissions form part of a design competition, which is then anonymously selected by the committee – so we don’t get the opportunity every time.
So far, I’ve been quite successful, I’ve had a number of shortlisted designs but this is my second that has been chosen to be used on a UK coin. The first coin I designed was when Her Majesty The Queen became the ‘Longest Reigning Monarch’ in British history. The coin design featured all five of The Queen’s portraits presented as a timeline throughout her reign and it gained a lot of attraction in national and international newspapers.
How did you feel designing the coin to mark Remembrance Day?
Remembrance Day has touched everyone in some sort of way, whether it’s your parents or grandparents or other relatives that fought in the war – for me, it is nice to have something that honours that. I think the quote on this year’s design is really poignant, “Silence Speaks When Words Can Not” . Kerry Davies, a member of the coin design team at The Royal Mint used it on her design, which was then combined with mine – it’s a privilege that both our ideas were incorporated.
For me, to have a coin, a product, that is always going to be out there, is a big thing. It’s something you can hand down to your children, it has been approved by the Palace, it’s that legacy: something that’s going to be around forever. It’s great to be recognised in your field, as a designer you want to be rewarded for what you do. I’ve won awards for design before, but coin-wise you can only do that here which is a unique opportunity.
How did you go about designing the coin? Can you talk us through the process?
I worked the same way I would on a day-to-day basis in the design studio, I got my sketchbook and scribbled a few of my initial thoughts. After I had the basis of something I thought would work I started to sketch out some rough coin shapes and fill them with elements. The main thing to consider was the size of the finished canvas. Once I’d completed the sketching, I looked at what elements could work together and then started refining the design. For this design, I sketched a landscape in the background to give it a central line to focus the eye, a forest tree line and then a barren space, with poppies in the front, to represent this idea of regrowth.
Talk us through your research…
For my research I looked at poppy designs from the 60s, 70s and all over the 1900s and I also spent time looking at posters from 1914-1918. The idea for my final design came from the fact that my wife’s great grandfather was on the way to the Somme, and got shot at Mametz Wood. This is where the Welsh regiment got shot down from the tree line. When I hear these stories I’ve always envisioned that tree line, which is what I went on to portray in my design.
Can you talk us through the different elements of the design?
The landscape reflects where these battles would have been fought, and the grass and poppies represent regrowth after the war. The words ‘Silence Speaks When Words Can Not’ were taken from Kerry Davies, which I liked because everyone has experienced the moment’s silence on Remembrance Day. We used the selected font because we wanted to give the impression of it being etched into something, like a war memorial or a gravestone.
Did you use anything in particular for your inspiration?
In World War One, my wife’s great grandfather, Oswald Jones, was a soldier in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. During the war he was shot and had to pretend to be dead – he then had to crawl across the field before eventually being picked up by the German Red Cross who treated him for a gunshot wound. They took a bullet out of his elbow and looked after him before taking him to a prisoner of war camp. I was inspired to create the design for the coin because I am also a coin collector and my design would be placed on something that would permanently exist – it’s a huge honour for me. The coin itself will also be kept at the Royal Mint Museum and will be used to mark this year’s Remembrance Day.
What was the most challenging aspect of the design?
Trying to convey a large theme on such a small canvas is probably the most challenging aspect of designing a coin as well as how you can portray this in a three dimensional way. The pad-printed aspect of the coin was also something I’ve never worked with before. Because the coin is coloured, it needs to be flattened off on the areas where there is colour in order for it to be printed. After it’s sculpted and flattened off the detail is printed on to create an area which gives the coin its vibrant colour and shape. I’m a designer so I use marker pens for sketching and roughing out concepts as well as using design applications to produce design work but don’t really ever have the need to illustrate in the traditional sense so this is something I really enjoyed.
Can you tell us something we don’t already know about the design – this could be a quirk or something that took a while to perfect?
There is nothing in it that’s quirky, but the hardest part to perfect was the colour printing. It’s very different from traditional coin design.
How do you want your design to be received and what would you want to communicate?
With Remembrance Day, you want people to think it’s a great design and is something that marks the occasion in a way that is respectful but you also want it to be seen as a fitting tribute.
If you could design another coin and could design any other coin what would the subject be?
I’m pretty keen on cars, so i’d perhaps like to do a series of coins featuring old cars. I really like old American cars and watch all of the American car series, I really like things like Hot Rods. So it would be nice to do something marking automotive design. I think the engineering aspects would work well with a coin design and we could draw inspiration from photos of cars sliced in half where you can see the engine and mechanics.
How did you feel when you find out your design had been chosen?
It’s a massive honour to have a coin signed off by the Palace and for your design to be chosen as the best by a committee of experts, it’s fantastic to be recognised in my field.
What has been the reaction to this whole experience from your friends and family?
They are really pleased that I won the design competition. With my first coin designed to mark Her Majesty The Queen becoming the Longest Reigning Monarch, my family were pleased but it was only when the design started getting lots of attention that they suddenly started to get excited. When I went to pick up my kids from school, everyone was telling me “you’ve been on the news all day” – that was when everyone started realising it was a big deal.
To mark Remembrance Day 2017, we have created a memorial collage, populated with images of brave people dear to you who have served in the armed forces, past and present. Click here to view the collage.