IMG_9539Last week, The Royal Mint held a party to celebrate the Chinese New Year 2016 and the new Lunar Monkey coin at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

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This tiny linocut I made in Italy in the Summer of 2014 has become a gigantic poster!IMG_9541

There was champagne…IMG_9597

…and classical Chinese music playing.IMG_9702

IMG_9583I gave a talk about the process of designing this coin, inspired by Rhesus Monkeys and their cheeky tricksIMG_9620

The one kilogram solid gold coin was on display. The edition size is eight, and seven have sold already, at a handsome price of £42,500 each.IMG_9587IMG_9584

Here are some of the engraving tools, the dies and the polishing sticks used by the master crafts people at The Royal Mint.IMG_9580

It was great to share the event with my mum…IMG_9745…some happy Year of the Monkey customers…

… and old and new friends!

IMG_7607There is more information on the series at The Royal Mint website.

http://www.royalmint.com/features/lunar-series

http://www.royalmint.com/our-coins/events/lunar-year-of-the-monkey-2016

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Well, here’s wishing you all plenty of health, wealth and happiness in the New Year! I’m also wishing that we are all blessed with friendships, family and fortune. Here’s a tiny linocut I made after my linocut class at East London Printmakers today. The sheep are all tangled up in one of those wool care wool mark labels, looking rather warm.happy new sheep 2015_e

The launch of the Sheep coin from The Royal Mint happened last year, but from today I shall be putting mine on display. Here is a super cute picture of 6 year old Lillian Sun looking at the gold-plated silver 1 ounce coin. The official press release and some links to other press is below.

SO… Happy New Year all!!! Let’s Party!
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THE ROYAL MINT CELEBRATES LUNAR YEAR OF THE SHEEP

 As part of the celebrations for Chinese New Year, The Royal Mint has created a new design to mark the Lunar Year of the Sheep, the second issue in the hugely successful Shēngxiào Collection.

 British Chinese artist and printmaker Wuon-Gean Ho, who designed the 2014 Year of the Horse coin for The Royal Mint, continues the collection with a design that once again draws inspiration from both her British and Chinese heritage. The Year of the Sheep coin is the second in this auspicious series and its design reflects characteristics of those born in the year of the sheep: freedom-loving with a passion for company.

 The design artfully uses symbolic elements to create a fusion of Chinese and British heritage. Blending the Chinese symbol with imagery of the distinctive Yorkshire Swaledale sheep, the intricate details of the design highlight its beautiful smooth curled horns in contrast to the swirls of their wool coats.

 Shane Bissett, Director of Commemorative Coin at The Royal Mint said: “Following on from the hugely popular Year of the Horse coins range, of which three quarters were sold out in the first few months, The Royal Mint is happy to be bringing its craftsmanship and artistic skills to this latest coin in the Shēngxiào Collection. Supporting the centuries-old tradition of giving zodiac coins at the Lunar New Year, we’re expecting to see similar demand this year for Wuon Gean’s stunning design.”

Designer of the Year of the Sheep coin Wuon-Gean Ho says “I wanted the design to draw upon my British and Chinese heritage, as my parents are from Malaysia and Singapore and I was raised in the UK.  I recall observing sheep as part of the British landscape – in the grounds of Blenheim palace, on the hillsides of the Peak district and in the rolling Brecon Beacons.”

 The second design in The Shēngxiào Collection is available to order from www.royalmint.com

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-england-london-31464673

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/gallery/royal-mint-celebrates-lunar-year-5179648

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ukchina/simp/uk_life/2015/02/150217_life_sheep_coins

http://lkcn.net/news/uk-life/114-royal-mint-year-of-the-sheep-coin

http://www.coinweek.com/world-coins/the-royal-mint-issues-gold-coin-to-celebrate-lunar-year-of-the-sheep/

http://www.rexfeatures.com/livefeed/2015/02/17/the_royal_mint_celebrates_lunar_year_of_the_sheep

http://coxsoft.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/sheep-coin.html

http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/special-edition-coin

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/picturesoftheday/11417192/Pictures-of-the-day-17-February-2015.html?frame=3201959

http://www.myactimes.com/actimes/plus/view.php?aid=883988

http://www.boxun.com/news/gb/intl/2015/02/201502180408.shtml#.VORdM-asXSc

http://www.neehao.co.uk/2015/02/the-shengxiao-collection-the-royal-mint/

The Royal Mint have been working on a promotional video for the lunar year of the sheep coin. Here I am talking about sheep and printing linocuts in East London Printmakers a couple of weeks ago… Was great to watch and learn from Adam Millbank of www.jonesmillbank.com who deftly ran around the studio filming on two cameras, switching lenses, juggling lights, timing answers to account for the noisy train line that passes overhead every minute, and dispensing giant chocolate buttons to keep the whole team happy throughout the day. I think you can see the effect of the chocolate at the end!

Link to video here

The Chinese section of the BBC got in touch after the new Sheep Coin from The Royal Mint was released on the 1st September, and invited me to visit. What a wonderful day out!

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I saw the stage where they present breakfast TV and the weather cubicles, and many people looking very serious, typing away at hubs of information. Apparently there used to be 43 different languages spoken in the BBC, now cut back to 30. Upstairs was the radio channels which were very funky and with a great view. Of course I had to pretend to be a rock star for a minute or two before we got to work…

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Jacky (Chuanzi Xing) interviewed me about the commission, asking me how my printmaking interest first started, and whether being a mix of Chinese British has influenced me in any way. She was very cool, calm and professional with perfect English, so it was easy to chat to her. You can read her interview here (it’s in Chinese but google translate gives you an idea of what we talked about). There is also a link to my description of the sheep personality here (sounding very serious even though I’m making it up!)

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The Royal Mint had couriered a gold-plated solid-silver coin over to the BBC for the interview, but of course, being a lump of metal arriving in the National Headquarters of information meant that it was a potential bomb threat, and had to undergo extensive tests before it made it inside!

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It was worth the wait, and the gold contrasted nicely with the reflection of the BBC’s red upholstery, which picked out the detail in the landscape well.

IMG_6166_eI’d brought along a coin from the Year of the Horse with me, so we put them side by side to compare. They looked pretty handsome in their cases, and I began to see the fun behind collecting.

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Looking forward to the next coin now: the Year of the Monkey. Should be lots of fun!

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Photo courtesy of Chuanzi Xing, BBC

To read the interviews please see

http://www.bbc.co.uk/zhongwen/simp/uk/2014/09/140906_iv_sheep_coin_designer.shtml

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ukchina/simp/uk_life/2014/09/140904_life_sheep_coin_wuongen_ho.shtml

And to see the CCTV (China Central TV) video and interview please see here

http://english.cntv.cn/2014/09/01/VIDE1409573879279610.shtml

http://english.cntv.cn/2014/09/01/VIDE1409573879279610.shtml#.VAZD60P2J1A.facebook

And finally the BBC Radio Oxford Malcolm Boyden show interviewed me on Tuesday 2/9/14 at 2:20- 2:25 (two hours and 20 mins into the programme) about sheep related things…

The Royal Mint year of the Sheep Lunar coin is now officially out. (Mint and Lamb go well together don’t they?)UKH15GP_-_2015_Lunar_Year_of_the_Sheep_1o__Gold_Proof_Reverse

I spent a lot of time making pictures of rams originally, as that was what they’d asked for.

“Are you aware that rams have rather, erm, large testicles?” I asked.

” I think you’ll find that most heraldic beasts are male… and often erect” came the reply.

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I avoided the subject by making their tails discretely long and eventually cropped the offending area out…

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Then came the challenge to link the ram with the British Landscape. Henry Moore’s monumental figures in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park came to mind, but it was difficult to convey this in the limited space of the coin, and I abandoned the idea.

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However, pictures of trees in the morning mist of the park made me think: hmm, wouldn’t it be interesting if I replaced the trees with the Chinese character for the word sheep? This would be an in-joke that readers of Chinese would understand, and the number of trees would make a pun on the whole ritual of counting sheep in ancient Celtic language (Yan Tan Tether).

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After a lot of alterations, involving various re-carvings of many different versions of sheep faces, horns and bodies, I spent a fun day in the Mint working alongside engraver Lee Jones to create the final piece, and in August visited again to watch the minting process. IMG_4040_eweb

Minting a proof coin involved pushing two buttons simultaneously, much like the slot machines at Vegas. A glass screen went down and the silver was transformed into a coin with a pulsing sigh. When the screen rose up you could reach in, like Willy Wonka, and pull out the warm shiny glittering coin.

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The Lady In Charge of The Machine then inspected it for marks, dust and other aberrations, and then placed it either in the good tray (like a tray of chocolates, with all the patterns facing the same way) or a bad tray (smaller, with the offending slights facing upwards this time) and pressed the good or bad button on the machine to tell it, presumably, whether it had done a good job. Then she sprayed the dies with compressed air, gave them a wipe with alcohol, and put the next silver disc in for the next coin.

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JUST like printmaking I thought!

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1oz fine silver proof lunar sheep coin

To read an interview I did for Coin World on the commission, written by Chief Editor Jeff Starck, please see here

And to buy a coin, please see The Royal Mint’s website, where it will be live soon.

The Royal Mint and the Victoria and Albert Museum went to town last week, with an amazing party for the launch of the new Lunar Calendar Coin series, starting with the year of the horse 2014. The building was lit with a festive red glow, and there were banners displaying my design, a wall of champagne, coins and linocuts in cases on display, a video of the making process and lots of of friendly faces. It was practically like a wedding! 

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My photographer friend, Chris McLennan, took some pictures of the event, my talk and the showcases displaying the coins and prints.

Copyright Chris McLennan

Talking about my observations as a vet

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Image of Chinese Horse brush paintings

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The first coin design mock up

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Gold!

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Silver!

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Proof quality coins

Looking very happy and holding the five ounce coin

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The dies used for stamping the coins, plus a linocut of the Uffington Horse

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Some of my earlier prints

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Close up of the coins and diesMAC_9941This is the second linocut of the horse that I made for this project

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A huge poster of the horse print

My talk was about how lucky I felt to be selected for this commission, but that also it felt like a very good fit for my skills: in that I have animal knowledge from training and working as a vet, while also art experience with over 25 years of making prints.

Although there was food and drink fit for royalty being served, I was whisked away for interviews with China Central TV, China Radio International, China Daily UK, and Lavender’s Blue Magazine. The location was in a side gallery of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which had, aptly, a huge altarpiece of St. George on a magnificent horse.

Here is a link to the video footage in English (minutes 14:00-16:33 ) from CNC news and the link to footage in Chinese from the Xinhua network (approx 25 minutes in).

Lavender Blue’s article is here.

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St George on a horse, killing the dragon

The Royal Mint had also produced a beautiful publication and a video for the launch, so I felt incredibly honoured to be part of this experience, and also very happy to share the occasion with the friends and family who made it along.

Copyright Chris McLennan

Copyright Chris McLennan

Copyright Chris McLennan

Copyright Chris McLennan

Copyright Chris McLennan

I have to say one of the best bits about the whole event was seeing my parents so proud… IMG_2278

Well, after a long period of silence, I can finally say that I’ve been designing coins for the Royal Mint. The first ever Lunar calendar series of coins for the UK were launched today with these versions in solid silver and gold. The designs started off as linocuts; I had to code-name the project My Little Pony on account of having to work in a communal studio and not wanting to raise too much attention to this diversion from my usual themes…

lunar_hors_design_eOn a trip to the Royal Mint I saw how skilled engravers carve the design into plaster by making a mirror image and inversely deep image of the original pattern. They then rework the models in very low relief, and finally reduce the image down to the correct size. I couldn’t believe how much labour and skill is involved throughout the process.

lunar_horse_eFor more information, or to buy your very own copy- please see the Royal Mint website or this website for daily coin collecting news. I would love to say I have tons of free samples, but sadly no, not yet! Now for the next challenge: 11 more animals in the series…