What characteristics in your art medal design raise its appeal for both viewers and buyers?
What makes an art medal desirable? What makes a collector want to acquire the latest art medal creation? After all, collectors are the “consumers” of art medals. They are the public for which medals – glyptic art objects in bronze or silver – are created. This discussion is addressed to the artists who are charged with the design of art medals. However, this information is just as valuable to those who make art medals and those who collect art medals.
Every art medal artist must keep it mind the characteristics unique to art medals. Most prominent of which is that an art medal is an image and caption in two panels – obverse and reverse. The design is in relief, raised or sunken, in which that image is conveyed.
The images and lettering are called the elements of the design. That is what the artist creates. The artist must craft a pattern complete with all design elements which will ultimately be transferred to the surface of the medal.
Next the artist must be aware of size. His art work will be reduced to a very small size, most often the palm of your hand or smaller. This is not a billboard for grand murals. It is a selection of images to be view close up. The artist must tell his story in very concentrated form.
The artist must be a master of symbols. Because of the size and space limitations, the artist must use symbols to convey the chosen theme, perhaps even creating new images of symbolism. These become design metaphors and visual substitutes which express the theme of his medal.
Finally, the artist must remember he is creating an art work of great longevity. Medals, like coins, are noted for lasting longer than any other art form or artifact of man. They are preserved where other works of art crumble or are destroyed by the vicissitudes of time.
With these characteristics in mind the artist can then begin the creative process. Perhaps the first step is somewhat philosophical. “What concept am I trying to convey in this design? Often concepts are supplied with the order or commission for the medal design. The artist must answer that question to his own satisfaction in his own mind.
Frequently the designer must modify any suggestions from the client to conform to art medal requirements, or to be more specific, or simply, to be more artistic. After all, he is creating a miniature work of art, the art aspect trumps all else.
It is at the next step the artist begins working with form and arrangement. Most artists work with pencil sketches – thumbnails – to try visual ideas of the images. Great artists, like August Saint-Gaudens, did his sketching in clay. He had to test his images in three dimensions. Either way is satisfactory.
Designs for art medals often require many sketches. Once an idea is on paper (or clay) it can be judged against others in a period of trial and error. No limit on possible design ideas. What the artist is sketching is the shape of the device – the main element – and possible subsidiary elements including symbols. He is testing the principle device and interrelated spacing of all elements.
At the point he is comfortable with a design concept, and it is fixed on paper, he can show this to the client. The next step would be modeling, where that concept is rendered in clay to form the three dimensional image (or in modern times to be rendered into a pattern on the computer).
Detail is added during the modeling stage. Texture is added where appropriate. The entire design is polished. (Modeling will be discussed in a separate article.)
But lets stay with design for a moment. When I gathered terms for my dictionary of coin and medal technology, I came up with 258 terms of design. These are listed in 15 categories:
- 02.1 Design, Drawing, Sketches
- 02.2 Allegory & Symbolism
- 02.3 Background, Field, Texture
- 02.4 Base Lines, Center Point & Exergue
- 02.5 Borders, Dentiles & Rims
- 02.6 Devices, Emblems & Foreground
- 02.7 Edges
- 02.8 Elements, Ornaments & Wreaths
- 02.9 Human Figures & Portraits
- 02.10 Lettering, Dates & Reserves
- 02.11 Openwork
- 02.12 Perspective
- 02.13 Shapes & Silhouettes
- 02.14 Obverse/Reverse Relationship
- 02.15 Design Error
So the art medal designer has a broad spectrum of words and techniques in his toolbox for use in his design of art medals. Thus there is a lot to learn for the medal designer. Perhaps, that is why some of the best art medal designs have come from seasoned artists. Experience is a great teacher.
But what can be said for the beginning art medal artist? If you have talent you will get recognized, you will receive commissions. But you must keep producing continuously.
To aid both experience artists and beginners I have compiled ten tips on the next page that will be useful to all. Good luck in your next art medal design and your art medal career!
Ten Tips For Creating Top Art Medal Designs
- Build charm into your medal design.
- Keep learning; examining art medals of past – determine in your mind what is good, bad and mediocre in art medal design – strive for the best.
- Let your imagination soar to unprecedented heights, stretch your creative talents to reach those heights.
- Push the medallic envelope; know the entire medallic field, try to do something never done before in design or technology.
- Study symbols and symbolism, use appropriate symbols in every design.
- Know art medal techniques, as how to pack a lot of detail into a small space, the use of terse lettering, no congruent mass, others.
- Use art techniques to enhance your medal design where possible: balance, harmony, symmetry, simplicity, interspatial relationships, contrast; repetition and continuance (of reverse to obverse); subordination (with subsidiary devices) and such.
- Study calligraphy, make your lettering harmonious with your theme.
- Use texture wisely.
- Polish. Polish. Polish. Keep improving the design until it shines, make it more than perfect to exceed your own exacting standards.