Exclusive Interview with "Zeus" Coin Designer Tom Vaughan
With the huge anticipation over the Perth Mint's new two-ounce high relief Zeus silver coin prior to its release, I contacted the Mint to arrange an interview with artist Tom Vaughan, who designed this unique coin. Mr. Vaughan was also the designer for the Perth Mint's flagship gold and silver Lunar series this year, celebrating 2014 as the Chinese Year of the Horse. (You can read our interview with him here,) and it was a treat to catch up with him again.
Gainesville Coins: Firstly, congratulations on the big reception for your designs for the 2014 Perth Lunar Horse gold and silver coins.
Tom Vaughan: Thank you for your kind words.
GC: The demand ahead of the release of the Zeus high-relief 2 ounce silver coin has been phenomenal. What led the Perth Mint to choose the ancient Greek gods as a subject for a coin series? (Limited to only 1,500 coins world-wide, most distributors sold out of their stock of the coin in a matter of hours.)
TOM: The idea of the Titans came from one of our regular brainstorming meetings and evolved into ‘Gods of Olympus’. The Greek (and Roman) gods have a lot of visual potential, and are part of the mythology of the Western World, making it a very popular theme.
GC: You mentioned that you were already involved in other projects when we spoke together about your Lunar Horse designs. Were you already working on the new “Gods of Olympus” series then?
TOM: Yes, that’s true. The coins spent a number of months in the Research and Development department due to their unconventional style, so they were perfected over a longer period than a lot of our other designs.
GC: This is an unusual format for a bullion coin, being a high-relief, rimless design with an antiqued finish to bring out the details. Was the subject matter chosen to show off this unique high-relief coin style, or was the type of coin chosen to enhance the subject?
TOM: The coin’s unusual format was chosen to highlight the design. We felt that the rimless, high relief format would add a sense of drama and gravitas to the larger-than-life mythological figures. Furthermore, we believe that the antique finish would bring out the maximum relief of the figures and also embody a sense of history and the ancient world.
GC: What challenges did you face with this design? Had you designed a high-relief coin before this one? It seems that not needing to worry about a rim or the “stackability” of the coin would be liberating.
TOM: We produce many high relief coins here at The Perth Mint, a number of which I have designed myself. I’m particularly proud of the Australian Lunar and Australian fauna series.
In this case, the increased relief of the 2oz rimless coin presented an additional challenge in terms of visualising how the design would best be displayed in this new format. Antiquing is a finishing technique which creates a great impression of depth to a coin. Knowing this, I needed to create a design that was quite bold, yet offered subtle layers in order to capture the best effect - this was a challenge from a design perspective. Sculpting the figure was also a challenge to our engraving department, and I think they pulled it off with considerable aplomb!
GC: What sort of technical challenges did the Perth Mint encounter during the die making process and the minting of the coin?
TOM: Our Manufacturing team advised that the minting of this coin was unique because it is splash minted rather than struck in the conventional fashion. This was the first time that The Perth Mint manufactured an ultra-high relief rimless coin so it was a challenge to determine the ideal metal flow. A range of new tooling had to be developed, and a number of prototypes had to be made, to ensure the optimum relief was achieved.
GC: How long did this project take, from the first team meeting deciding on the concept, to the final product?
TOM: The project was developed at a concept meeting in September 2011.
GC: This is a very different art style from the Lunar Horses. Last time we talked, you mentioned that you thought that your knowledge of anatomy was one of your strong suits. It seems to have stood you in good stead! What would you call your style for this coin?
TOM: Thank you. I was aiming for a sort of heroic realism, typified by the dynamic larger-than-life poses and compositions of ancient Greek statuary. The Elgin marbles were an inspiration, as were the hieroglyphic-looking designs on ancient Greek earthenware.
GC: Where did you draw your inspiration for such a striking design? What sort of research did you do?
TOM: I researched ancient Greek art, statuary, friezes and domestic design, as well as the symbolism and mythological histories of the Gods in question. It was exciting – those Gods got up to a lot of hijinks!
GC: The more I look at this coin, the more things I notice. What would you say you like most about the coin, now that it's finished?
TOM: I enjoy the way the antiqued finish brings out the subtler details of the engraving and sculpting. I’d like to give credit to one of our finest engravers, Joseph Tilli, who contributed to a first class sculpt on the figure. It was great to be given a chance to use the antique finish. I’ve always appreciated the way it brings out the three-dimensional feel of the design.
GC: Which coin is next in the Gods of Olympus series? Poseidon and Hades have been mentioned. Will there be any more coins besides those? Perhaps Aphrodite or Ares?
TOM: All I can say for now is watch this space!
GC: Our art department would like to know which designer tools would be hard for you to live without.
TOM: It would be very hard to live without our digital drawing tablets! They provide a similar experience to drawing by hand, while giving you all the tools of the digital desktop.
GC: Finally, what coin would you design, if given free rein?
TOM: I have suggested another rimless series at a concept meeting we held last year. For the particular theme I presented, the artistry would be very colourful and varied in design, and would present beautifully in the right packaging. I’d love to see them in production one day.
GC: Thanks again for taking time to chat! We can't wait to see what your next design will be!