World Coins

Interview with the artist: printmaker discusses Lunar coins

The Royal Mint unveiled the design Aug. 19 for its 2015 Year of the Sheep coins in the series celebrating the Chinese Zodiac calendar. The 2015 Lunar animal is variously styled as a sheep or a goat by the several world mints that are marking the year with coins.

Coin World posed a few questions to Wuon-Gean Ho, a British-born artist of Chinese descent, who has designed the first two coins in the Royal Mint’s series, which began in 2014 with the Year of the Horse. 

Wuon-Gean works in many disciplines, including printmaking, animation and books and has work in several collections including the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

RELATED: Royal Mint unveils 2015 Year of the Sheep designs

After graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in the history of art, Wuon-Gean took up a Japanese government scholarship in 1998 to study woodblock printmaking in Japan. 

Her background as a licensed veterinary surgeon might just be unique among coin designers, positioning her well to create animal designs for the Royal Mint. 

Our questions and her responses from the email interview appear below, with very few edits. 

Coin World: Please talk about your background as a veterinarian and how that prepared you for designing coins showing animals.

Wuon-Gean: Well, the vet job involves very careful observations of the animals that come in, and observation is the foundation for drawing and printmaking as well. I was lambing in those pre-internet days, when all the waiting and watching was perfect time to be sketching.

CW: How did you come to design coins for the Royal Mint? Did you enter a contest or did they seek you out? 

WG: I was lucky to win a contest that was sent to me through a mail-out from the Chinese Art Centre in Manchester. 

CW: Did the Royal Mint seek designs for all 12 Lunar Animals at the beginning of the series, or are your designs being considered on an annual basis?

WG: I am designing the monkey coin right now.

CW: The 2015 Sheep coin is your second coin design for the Royal Mint, correct? Have you designed coins for any other mint? 

WG: The Lunar Horse and Lunar Sheep are my first experience of working with a mint. 

CW: What did you learn in creating the first design in the series (for the 2014 Year of the Horse coins) that helped make the process smoother this time?

WG: Each design is a steep learning curve, as there are many considerations which I was not aware of when I started. 

For example, a printed black area is usually translated to a low part of a coin, which then reflects light more and appears more shiny, and paradoxically bright. So I had to rework details or change textures to help read the image in the way that I’d envisioned. 

Also, the eyes of the animals tend to look smaller, as fine detail can tend to close up, so I’ve been compensating for this. I am grateful to the engraving staff at The Royal Mint who have been fantastic to work with.

CW: What were the most surprising elements of coin design as compared to printmaking, which is your main area of focus?

WG: Actually there are more similarities than differences, as I work in reverse, carving away all that I want to be white, and the engravers seem to go through a similar process of thinking in reverse. 

My lino prints come out a mirror image of what I made, and in a similar way the metal dies punch out the design back to front. My biggest surprise is the round format. I have always made things to a rectangular shape (which is sometimes square, sometimes long and thin in the case of books).

CW: Did the Royal Mint invite you in for striking of either the Horse of Sheep coins? Do you own any of the coins with your design? Have you used them as gifts?

WG: I enjoyed visiting the factory and striking the sheep coin, which was thrilling.

I have been happy to give gifts of the Horse coin to friends and family, and my parents were especially proud to be able to send them to our fairly large family in Malaysia and Singapore.

CW: Prints are generally limited edition items – bullion coins can have mintages in the hundreds of thousands. Do you have a preference?

WG: They each have their charm. Prints are a democratic art form, they are affordable works of art, and individually made. 

In the same way, I love the idea that the Proof coins are individually stamped and carefully inspected before passing the seal of approval and being allowed for sale. That is identical to the process in the printmaking world. 

Bullion coins have less fine detail than Proof, so I would always chose the Proof if I could. 

To learn more about the artist, visit her blog or website.

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