The Coin Explorer recently had the chance to ask Perth Mint coin artist Natasha Muhl about being chosen to design the 2015 Year of the Goat silver and gold coins for the Mint's Lunar Series II. She has been an artist at the Perth Mint for four years, working on several popular coins, such as the “Working Dogs,” “Birds of Australia,” and the last few years of the famous Silver Kookaburra coin program.
Ms. Muhl was kind enough to answer our questions from her home in Perth, Western Australia.
Tell me something about your training and influences?
I studied at the Central Institute of Technology, graduating with an Advanced Diploma in Graphic Design in 2009 and I took the role at The Perth Mint the year after, in 2010. However, my passion for drawing started when I was just a young girl growing up in Derby, in the North West of Western Australia. I would say it was those experiences in the great outdoors that continue to provide me with the most inspiration, especially when it comes to drawing animals and Australian fauna-themed coins.
What is your favourite part of the design process?
For me it’s the concept stage that is the most fun. It’s the brainstorming step where all the wild ideas get presented and discussed. At this point the design team works together to decide what kind of designs will work on which coins, considering such things as the coin size, the metal, whether the design will contain any colour, and what shape the coin will be.
Seeing the final product is a hugely rewarding moment too, it never gets old seeing how your design has come to life.
You've described yourself as a “bird nerd,” and have been doing the Kookaburras for a few years, as well as the “Birds of Australia” series. Are the Kooks now “your baby” among the Perth Mint coin programs?
At the Mint, we try to share new projects equally amongst the members of the design team. Every year, each designer provides concepts for the Australian Kookaburra, Kangaroo and Koala coin programs and it is then up to the marketing team to select the ones that they want to develop for coining.
So it’s just been a coincidence that I have ended up designing the Kookaburra coins in recent years. I do have a soft spot for birds though, so it is always exciting when my concepts are chosen!
In addition to all the bird designs, I noticed you also made the colorized “Working Dogs” and one of my favourite collectibles, the 2012 “Forever Love” colorized koalas, which I gave to my wife for Valentines. The colours and designs were great on them. Do you work from live subjects when doing animal designs, or primarily use photos?
It would be really great to be able to work with live subjects more often, but unfortunately animals are not so good at sitting still long enough for us to capture them on paper! While doing my research for any new series, I tend to look at a range of photography and watch nature documentaries. This helps me to accurately recreate the animal. Occasionally we will also get the opportunity to go on a field trip to study certain subjects.
People are remarking on how well you did the hair on the Lunar Goats, especially the family on the silver coins. Some designs just seem to fall short, which makes your work on the silver Lunar Goats that much more noticeable. Do you find that hair or fur is very difficult to get right on a coin design?
I really enjoyed working on the Australian Lunar Series II Year of the Goat designs as there was quite a bit of detail involved in getting the texture of the goat’s long hair just right. Working with different textures such as animal fur definitely requires a lot of planning and research, and practice – particularly when working with coins that range anywhere from 1/10oz of gold right up to 10 kilos of silver.
Which of your coin designs (aside from the Lunar Goats) is your favourite, or that you have a special memory of?
As you mentioned before, I’m definitely a “bird nerd” so the Birds of Australia series does hold a special place in my heart. I could quite happily draw little birds all day long! I also really enjoyed the Lunar Calendar Series 2014 Year of the Horse 1oz Silver Rectangle Four-Coin Set featuring four different horses in different colours and poses. I am a self-confessed animal lover, so anything involving animals usually makes me pretty happy!
You do a lot of the colorized coins, with very lifelike results. How restrictive is the actual pallet you can use, to have the design look the same on the coin as it does on paper?
We definitely have to carefully consider our colour palettes for the pad printing part of the coining process. While The Perth Mint has some of the best printing technology available, we still have to be mindful that the final coin product will be quite small – so it’s best to use strong colour work as some subtleties you can achieve on paper will end up lost on a coin.
You have a more stylized illustration style away from coins. Would you ever like to bring that style into a coin design? What subject would you choose?
That’s a tricky question because at the Mint we always need to consider that our artwork and designs need to be created with the coining process in mind, as paper and metal are two very different mediums. So many of the illustrations I draw in my own time would not translate well onto a coin.
However, if I were to nominate the next subject I’d like to work on, it would be a series of owls. I think they are such beautiful creatures, and they would work well on a silver or gold coin.
Gainesville Coins would like to thank Natasha Muhl for taking the time to answer our questions, as well as Makeila Ellis and Sarah Roe of the Perth Mint for their assistance.