Checklist For Modeling A Medal
1 Background plate.
You must prepare a background plate upon which to build your model. If the medal is going to be struck, and the dies are made by reduction from your model, you may make this background plate any size from 9 to 15 inches in diameter. Choose a size you are comfortable with for your modeling. (The die-engraving pantograph will reduce this to the exact size die or dies required.)
2 Border and Rim.
For a round medal the background plate is made from a template. It is ideal to include a border and rim in the template design. Build a removable post in the center of a wooden board 4 or 5 inches larger than your intended background plate. Attach a piece of wood or metal (aluminum is ideal) that will swing around this center post. Cut the contour of the background, border and rim into this template. You may wish to build a slight slope from the center to the outside border (this will create a “basin” upon which to build your relief). These background plates are sometimes called basins because of this slope (this is mandatory for coin relief models where all relief is required to be below the top of the rim for several technical reasons). A basin is not necessary for medals since they do not circulate. and have no need to stack like coins.
Build a surface of clay around the post to the outer edge. Place the template on the center post and by rotating the template scrape the surface clay until you have the required smooth surface of the background, the border and rim on your model. Remove the template and post. Fill the center hole with clay. Cast this in plaster about 1-inch thick. This is your master background plate. It is negative. Cast two positives upon which to build your models, one for the obverse model, one for the reverse. Positive casts are also ideal for a number of similar medals, like for modeling a series of medals.
The border and rim act as a frame for your design on the struck piece. The border also aids human beings in picking up and holding onto a medal, particularly a large medal. (Finger ridges grip the ridges in the border, so it is desirable to model several levels in the border – the larger the medal the greater the number of border elements.)
When you make a positive plaster cast from the negative master background plate be sure to include about 1 to 2 inches around the model outside of the border to create a flange. With a long strip of 4-inch wide medal (galvanized iron is ideal) build a circular fence around your model (on top of the wooden board or around it if it is circular). The metal fence will corral the plaster in place until it hardens.
The flange is required for the ultimate pattern made from your model to be mounted on the die-engraving pantograph. Clamps, attached to this extension, are required to hold the pattern securely in place. It is important!
4 No undercuts.
Burn this requirement into your memory and psyche. A die cannot be made with undercuts. It could not strike such a medal if it could, and the medal would not release from such a die. Remember “no undercuts!” [Casting in metal also requires the ability to release from the mold. The only casting that can accommodate undercuts is a rubber mold.] Thus, paint a sign above your worktable, so you have to see it every day:
- NO UNDERCUTS
- BEVEL ALL RELIEF
The sides of all relief and lettering must have a slight bevel. Each medal making process has its own requirement. It is ideal to model a bevel (also called draft or taper) to accommodate all. Vertical relief from 0° to 2 ½° is called holding taper. Not only is it impossible to cut into a die, or strike, it would be impossible for the die to withdraw from the struck piece. Hand engraved dies can accommodate a 5° to 10° bevel where the dies can strike and the struck piece release from the die.
However, since you are creating a model that will be reduced on the die-engraving pantograph, this technology requires a minimum 15° bevel, draft or taper. Early in your modeling career it would be wise to create the sides of all relief and lettering with a minimum 15° bevel and maintain this throughout your career. A 15° bevel on relief or lettering is about the slope of a sharpened pencil. Tip: check the bevel of relief by holding a pencil upright next to your modeled relief. Light will show at the base of the relief if the relief is too steep.
6 No tall projections
No tall projections in the die – no deep troughs in the model. Tiny tall projections in the die tend to break off in long striking runs. Examples: the center of the letter O, or a human figure with arms akimbo, the area between the arms and body is vulnerable. Coin and medal makers have learned that if this is filled in somewhat it lessens the chance of breaking off (more mass in the die to stay intact). The French even created a term for correcting this situation: champs lavée (literally filling open areas).
The tiny projection can be ground off after the die is made, but how much easier is it to fill the troughs in a model with a tad bit more clay during modeling! In the struck piece this does not change the view to the human eye. Humans see the relief, not the height of the background behind it.
7 No congruent mass.
This is more the concern of the medal designer, but the modeler should be aware never to place high relief directly opposite high relief on the opposite side of the coin or medal. Metal has to flow from the blank during striking into all the cavities of the die. If you have obverse and reverse dies with high relief cavities back-to-back in the same area it creates a problem for striking (both cavities compete for the same metal mass). It can be corrected on the press, but it increases the number of blows required, cost, pressman’s time and, often, his temperament!). Best to redesign without great relief intended to be back-to-back (or lower the relief).
For medals that have a high-relief portrait on the obverse (large center cavity in the die), the wreath is very popular to have the cavities on the reverse away from the center, next to the border. Get the concept?
8 Include three support points
The reverse requires three support points. Highly experienced medal modelers have learned a trick that reduces wear and adds years of life to a medal that does not have a reverse border or rim. By the simple act of modeling three high points on the reverse – you can often hide these in the design – for the medal to rest upon throughout its life. Medals wear in many ways. One of the most obvious is medals sliding around on their reverse, when lying face up, like in drawers or table tops. Wear on the entire reverse can be greatly reduced by the simple act of modeling three high points on the reverse.
9 Contrast the elements with texture.
Where can you introduce texture into your model? Consider a bust. You have facial skin, hair, clothing and background. Hair is its own texture, perhaps you want a smooth skin, then give the clothing texture! This gives contrast between the bust and the background, face and the clothing. Or you might want to mix it up. Sculptor Jo Davison once made a Franklin D. Roosevelt presidential medal with all elements textured. (Best to abide by the rules for a while; you can break all the rules when you are famous!)
10 Add detail.
That great lady sculptor Malvina Hoffman came up with the best advice for modeling a medal. She once said “It is better to model a simple design with elaborate detail rather than an elaborate design with simple detail.” Detail is added during the modeling stage. If you have a chance read her chapter on medals in her book Sculpture Inside and Out. Here are five things she said about medal design and modeling:
- Eliminate unnecessary elements.
- Employ appropriate symbolism.
- Accent the important elements with authority.
- Use care in spacing the design elements.
- Execute the design with style.
11 Adding color to your medal.
Color can be added to your medallic creations with a patina (but that’s a subject for another article). The traditional way to dramatically add color to a medal – particularly an award medal – is to use enamel. If you wish to do this you must choose which enamel technique, they effect your modeling (you must add tiny fences in your model if you choose cloisonné). A recent development is to pad print color on the surface of a coin or medal.
But as a knowledgeable modeler you should learn the medallic code for color – it comes to us from Heraldry and is called tinctures. It is the direction of lines shading an area indicating the color. Here is the code: horizontal lines indicate blue (heraldic term: azure), vertical lines mean red (gules), descending diagonal means green (vert), ascending diagonal is purple (purpure) and crosshatch, or Florentine, is black (sable). Also a repeated small dot pattern indicates gold (or) and no shading or texture means silver (argent). Would your model improve with a spot of color?
12 Model harmonious lettering.
You must learn to model lettering well, serifs and all. Study typefaces. Stylize the lettering to be harmonious with the theme of the medal. Take great care with interletter spatial relationships. A medallist who can’t do lettering well, should choose another profession, perhaps accounting, where he might be better with figures.
Develop your own style.
We have a long heritage of coins and medals – 2500 years for coins, 600 years for medals. That’s a lot of design to study. But study you must. Examine what was done by the Greeks and Romans two thousand years ago – greatest glyptic art ever created!
Study French medals since the middle of the 19th century, that’s when they started making models oversized and reducing these by pantograph. Study the medals of the entire 20th century. What is good art to you? What is atrocious? (Both abound that century!) What makes good medallic art? Which artists created the best medallic art?