I recently had the good fortune to be able to talk to Perth Mint artist Tom Vaughan, who designed the gold and silver 2014 Year of the Horse coins in the Perth Mint's flagship Chinese Lunar Coin Series II. The Perth Mint Lunar Zodiac series is one of the hottest collectible bullion coin series in the world, and also has proof and colorized versions each year.
Tom has worked as an illustrator at the Mint since 2009. He has worked on a number of programs including the Young Collectors Mythical Creatures 2011 $1 Coin Collection, the Ships That Changed the World 1oz silver coin program, Discover Australia, Young Collectors Animal Athletes and the 2013 Australian Bullion Coin Program.
We conversed via email with Tom in his home in Perth, Australia:
Gainesville Coins: Tom, The Australian Lunar gold and silver coins are probably the most prestigious series from the Perth Mint. How is the selection process conducted for each year's design?
Tom Vaughan: The Perth Mint Sales and Marketing team meet fortnightly to discuss potential concepts for each coin program. Once the theme has been determined, the designers are given a detailed creative brief to follow. With the lunar coins for example, the brief will include the personality traits of the animal in the cycle which is to be featured that particular year.
GC: Do all the artists submit designs and one is chosen, or is an artist chosen on his/her body of work?
Tom: Each designer at The Perth Mint has a range of specialties and skills that each cater for a variety of different themes. Personally, I feel that my main strength is anatomy. As such, I really enjoyed working on the Year of the Horse designs. Horses have very large muscle groups making them very powerful and interesting to draw.
GC: Where did you get your inspiration for the 2014 Lunar Horse designs?
Tom: Whilst doing my research for this series, I looked at a range of farm life photographs, watched nature documentaries and visited a local stable. This enabled me to convey a detailed depiction of these magnificent animals.
GC: Tell me something about your training and influences.
Tom: I moved from Tasmania to Perth in 2003 where I took up a job in the printing industry. Specialising in typesetting and graphic design, I decided to study the subject in more detail by enrolling at Perth Central TAFE School of Art and Design. I was taught by industry professionals in the areas of design and packaging, web design, illustration and multimedia, graduating in 2009 with an Associate Diploma in Graphic Design. A year later, I commenced employment with The Perth Mint where I continue to work as an Illustrator.
GC: What do you find unique about designing coins?
Tom: The most unique thing about designing coins is that you get to see your drawing become a three-dimensional keep-sake, made of precious metal.
GC: What is your favorite part of the design process?
Tom: My favourite part of the design process is using technology to bring my ideas to life. At The Perth Mint, we use top of the range graphics tablets which enable us to hand-draw images similar to the way a person draws with a pencil and paper. It feels so much more natural.
I usually start off with a sketch when I’m initially thinking of ideas, which I will then scan in my machine and use the tablet to render and paint in digital colour. This is a very effective way of producing coin designs at the speed and scale the Mint demands.
GC: Which of your coin designs (aside from the Lunar Horse) is your favourite, or that you have a special story about?
Tom: I really enjoyed working on Lunar Calendar Series 2013 Year of the Snake 1oz Silver Proof Rectangle Coins. To form the four-coin set I hand-picked four distinct Asian snakes including the Blue-Lipped Sea Krait, a Yellow Banded Wolf Snake, a Red Bamboo Rat Snake and a Chinese Green Tree Viper.
Snakes are such fascinating creatures to illustrate with their marvellous texture and vivid colourings. The backgrounds on these coins were interesting too, as they join up together to represent one landscape painting. I really like to see a flow of coins linked together.
GC: Tell me about your work. What are you currently working on?
Tom: My portfolio of work also includes collector coin programs such as Young Collectors Animal Athletes, and coins from the 2013 Australian Bullion Coin Program which are more popular with investors. I am currently working on the initial designs of a number of exciting projects for 2014 so watch this space!
We wish to thank Tom for taking the time to answer our questions, and Makeila Ellis at the Perth Mint, for all her help in making this interview possible.
For more information on The Perth Mint, visit www.perthmint.com.au