Medal design ideas – Keys as motif


Due to what I feel is the success and the strength of my last sketch, it got me thinking that perhaps the strong point of these images is less about the hands, and tied into the set of keys which I am holding. It is after all the keys that show the representation of change in my life, that add the quality of subtlety in imagery to the piece.

keys now and then

Keys are objects which you always carry with you, and yet you never acknowledge. They are considered only upon the entering and leaving of the home, and are otherwise silent and inert objects. Unlike say a mobile phone, which is potentially carried on the person even more commonly than a set of keys, keys themselves have a very physical quality, a sense of permanence and importance about them. If we find an unknown key in the house, we cannot simply throw it away, what if we need that key some day, what if it unlocks something important? and so it is put in a drawer, forgotten about and silent, yet ever present and important. Not only do we always carry keys with us, the set of keys which we carry changes throughout our life, giving us access to new places, new opportunities, and are a physical representation of these changes. In this way, I think there are an excellent analogue for changes throughout life, as well as being something that is understandable and easily identified by the viewer, without being too heavy handed.

keys in stages

Over the past few years the set of keys which I have had has changed several times. I have gone from having simply the set of keys for my family home in the first year of university when I was living at home, to moving out in the second year and having a second set of keys (not represented in these sketches as I no longer have them to draw), and now in the third year having a new set of keys for my current flat. In the second year, although I had moved out of the family home I was still very closely tied to it, having to travel back there most days between trips to the hospital to visit my mother, and to walk the dog who was left alone in the house. Now in the third year, having moved in with two friends on the course I truly feel far more independent, and above all else in a very stable position, rather than the extremely vulnerable and isolated state I was in last year and constricted by my ties to the family home. This sense of independence, and the gradual lack of importance and distancing between myself and the family home is also reflected in the sets of keys I hold, with the family keys now being seen as simply one in a set of many keys, which is used infrequently. I have found it interesting to note by own behaviour when using my keys, in when I reach for my keys I automatically take hold of the flat key, even when I am visiting the family home, as I know I am returning “home” and my mind has classified the flat as where I feel most at home. In these sketches I have also looked at the use of key charms as markers in my lifetime, with charms such as my tesco clubcard representing a transition into a more adult life, and other charms such as the heart on a chain and the lion king having been given to me by men in my life.

keys and place on medal

After having had a presentation from a woman from the British Art Medal Society (BAMS) primarily to talk to the second year Makers about their BAMS brief for the year, it got me to consider the sense of scale and representation of place in a medal. Unfortunately I did not get any images or names of artists from the talk to reference, and I shall try and find these at a later point. This sense of scale could be very interesting when looking at the interplay between the two sides of the medal, perhaps with one face having an image relating to place, inherently seen at a more distant scale in order to view the place as a whole, and on the reverse then having a very close up image of the keys relating to that place. Scale could even be played with in terms of representing  my own feelings in relation to that place, for example the family home being seen much further in the distance, whereas the flat door would be seen much closer. keys on medal

In the same way that scale can be played with in terms of looking at place, perhaps incorporating place in relation to the keys.

While there are still many questions to answer, in terms of precisely what images I want to use, the relationship between the front and reverse of the medal, as well as between each medal in the set, I am feeling very strongly and positively about the use of keys as a motif. At the very least I now have a clear point from which to work from and to begin to distil the medal’s design.


Medal design ideas – Hands as a motif

I have written in my previous post about the very difficult and problematic issue of needing to find a continuing theme or point of reference to use as imagery across my medals. One idea which has come to mind, and which I feel reasonably positive about, is the use of hands. Hands are something I have always been drawn to, and are something which I have spent a lot of my time drawing over the years, my own hands in particular. What I always have enjoyed about drawing my own hands are the fact that they are always an interesting and complex thing to draw, that are always with me, and produce satisfying and attractive imagery. Hands were even in fact the main focus of my medal project last year, looking at the idea of intimacy and touch between two people.

Not only this, but there is the inherent nature of hands that they are very personal and intimate things, which are not just part of our bodies but arguably one of the part we use the most, to interact with the world outside of ourselves. They are renowned for being one of the most expressive parts of the body, ranging from clear exaggerated gestures to very slight and subtle movements and gestures which directly reflect a person’s mood, thoughts and opinions. There is also the matter of relatablility,  in that we all have hands and understand the nature of them, our expressions are not unique but hard wired into the nature of being human, and are common to us all. Because of this, I feel there is a strong potential for using hands as an analogue in my medals. The degree of subtlety in expression is something I feel very strongly about in my work.

With this in mind I drew some hands onto a couple of my medal tests in order to see how the scale would work in terms of the imagery



I used a medium sized and a smaller medal, in order to get an idea of how the scale effects the image. While the larger size allows for a more prominent image, the smaller medal lead to a more simplistic line drawing. I was also attracted to the fact that with the smaller medal, the user was encouraged to hold it closer to their face in order to examine the image, which is a level of intimacy between object and person that I appreciate and would like to encourage. Even with this simple open palm image, which was not representational of any topic or idea, simply acting as an example of hand imagery on the medal, is very satisfying in itself.

hands holding

Thinking about using hands as a motif, and also of the idea of loss, I did some sketches to potentially represent it. A potent recent loss in my life is that of my dog, whom we had to give away to thankfully a loving home due to my mother having a debilitating stroke in the past year and being unable to adequately look after the dog, and I myself being unable to look after her due to not only due to the no pet policy of my flat, but the time and long term practicalities. While it may sound trite to say, I loved my dog very dearly and feel the void left in her absence quite profusely, and found the ordeal of having to re-home her very distressing. She was even the focus of my final major project on my foundation course where I painted a series of portraits of her illustrating the warm and loving relationship between myself and her.

Painting of my dog, acrylic on board

Painting of my dog, acrylic on board

In the sketches above, I am representing the transition between the state of having, and then subsequent loss, which is something which I would then look to repeat across the series of medals. This could be shown in a manner of ways, and would very heavily rely on the interplay between front and obverse sides as I have previously expressed is an important part of the medal design for me. Perhaps rather than having the subject, and loss, on the front and obverse of a single medal, it should instead transfer onto the next medal. This means that the set inherently has a reason to be viewed as part of a whole, as a continuing narrative, rather than simply a series of separate pieces which are made in a set. This is an idea I strongly feel has a lot of potential, and which I will likely look at developing.

Some of the issues I have with these designs however, is the question of subtlety. At the beginning of this post when talking about the initial idea in which to use hands as subject matter, I spoke of their strength in being able to very subtly show emotion and expression. However, when an object is thrown into the design, it forces the hand to become much more a matter of function in holding the object. While it can certainly be argued that the way in which we hold an object can indicate to an outsider your feelings about said object, the degree of care and tenderness you show towards an object it certainly is not coming across here. As it stands, the message currently strikes me as being extremely basic and limited, as “I had a dog and now I don’t and it is sad”. It is precisely what I do not want my work to be about, self indulgent pity which I spoke about in a previous post in relation to my life. This is the main issue with tackling the subject of loss, in doing so in terms of showing self development and change rather than self pity and attention seeking.


Despite this I do still think there is potential for subtlety here, it is simply a matter of working on and refining my ideas and imagery. Here are some designs which I do feel have worked well, of my hand holding my set of keys. You may not notice upon first glance, but the set of keys which I am holding in each hand is slightly different. In the left hand I am holding the key for my family home, and on the reverse I am holding the same set of keys but with the key to the flat where I am living currently in my hand. I think this works very well, representing the change and separation in my life between myself and home, independence and growth.

Medal Designs – Problems with imagery/Lack of fixed themes

As mentioned in many previous posts, I have been having a lot of trouble when it comes to what imagery to use on my medals. I have previously thought about using flowers, reflecting the common use of flower print in ceramic blue and white ware. However since deciding that using ceramics in my medal is no longer relevant and deciding to stick purely to using bronze, I have lost the only tangible link to using flowers as imagery in my work. While it would still be feasible and there is a long history of using flowers in art, I still feel that this is not a strong enough link to the message I am trying to express to the viewer, of self development, and that it doesn’t inherently speak of human experience. I worry that when looking at images of flowers upon my medal, the viewer will be drawn more to ideas about nature than of the human. While this is not to say it could not be achieved, it is not a medium that speaks to me personally as I have no particular interest in flowers. Not only this but there still lies the matter of all the questions raised when I first thought about using flowers as a motif, such as which flowers do I use to represent the self, and why? Would it be based on British folklore, or depictions of flowers in classical paintings? These issues certainly seem to be outweighing the positives which consist of “it could potentially be used as an effective analogue”, when arguably almost anything has the potential to be used as an effective metaphor when used in a sensitive and considered manner by the artist, and ideally I would like a stronger starting point than this for the center point of my medals.

Another early idea of imagery that I considered was using rope or thread. While this does have the potential of being a sensitive representation of different states of being, looking at the notion of strength versus fragility, of a winding and changing narrative, there is something about it which doesn’t sit entirely well with me. Although I cannot put my finger on precisely what this is, the fact that I am not looking at this idea and feeling confident or enthusiastic about it, even in the early stages of conception, is a red flag for me that it is not the strongest or most fitting imagery that I could use. Not only that, but the fact that I distinctly have no excitement or enthusiasm for the subject matter means that it is not the correct imagery to be using, as if I am to continue with this project successfully I want to have at least some degree of interest and investment in what I am creating, other than wanting to pass the year. On reflection, without the link into ceramic blue and white ware the idea of using rope or thread is most likely stronger and more fitting than that of using flowers, however at this point I have effectively ruled out both of these as ideas, although I may keep the idea of rope/thread in the back of my mind as a backup plan for lack of having any better ideas.

While I am looking at expressing the notion of the development of self and reflecting upon different stages and experiences throughout life, this has to be ultimately based on my own experience, as I by nature have never experienced the world through the eyes of anyone other than myself. Although I can attempt to extrapolate my own experience in a way that is applicable to the human experience in general, and therefore broadly fit the everyman, I can only do this from the viewpoint of my own life. Because of this, I feel it is important that the medal does also speak of me, and to myself and my experiences in some respect.

With this in mind I tried to think of imagery that not only was relevant to my life, but given that it is going to be the motif used across the set of medals: the constant in the midst of change, it should be something that has remained constant throughout my own changing life. However, there are very few things in my life which have remained unchanged, which was in fact the original basis for the concept behind my medals. There are a few things that have remained “fixed” in some sense, are not areas I wish to explore or make the focus of the medals.

The first of these “fixed” points is the fact that I have always lived in Cardiff. There are many problems with this concept, first and foremost is that I do not want my medals to speak primarily of place. While place may be relevant in specific circumstances, and with certain links in my life, especially the notion of “home”, Cardiff as a whole does not feel particularly relevant to me. Unlike some, I do not feel a strong tie or bond to the city I have grown up with, and while I have a fondness and familiarity, it is also a place I wish to escape from and am beginning to feel trapped by. This in itself could be an interesting topic for an artist to explore, but does not strongly tie (for me personally) in to the topic of growth and self development, and my anxiety about my ties to Cardiff relate largely to my relationship with my mother. Not only do I feel exploration of “Cardiff” is not relevant conceptually to my piece, I feel the imagery does not lend to the piece either. When looking at the notion of the city, I quite naturally begin to think on a broader scale; iconic buildings such as the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff Castle, objects on an architectural scale. This completely contradicts the notion I am looking at which is of the personal, the interpersonal and the phenomenological, and as with many of the other ideas which I have refuted using in my piece, I feel detracts from the strength of the message. Although I could use place on a much smaller scale, perhaps in relating to the home (family home, streets in the village I grew up in, bedroom, where I am living now and have lived in the past year, new streets travelled) if the theme is “Cardiff” there is little to know way of indicating that all of these images are in fact in Cardiff, and could just as easily be anywhere in Britain or elsewhere. Without prior information, the reader would be unable to make any clear reading of these images and their significance or relation to myself. Not only this, but it then is likely to make the medals unrelatable to the viewer as they not only have no context, but these places are clearly unrelated to themselves. Rather than being able to view each, or the set of medals as the experience of another (as discussed previously, I can ultimately only express my own world view) which they can then use as a point of reference to understand, to connect with personally and to reflect on, it is likely that it will be purely identified as “the other” (i.e. “doesn’t relate to me”) and dismissed. And so in terms of both context and imagery, Cardiff is an unsuitable motif.

The second “fixed” part of my life, is my mother. The reason I use the term “fixed”, rather than simply saying fixed, is because while my mother has always been present in my life our relationship has been an erratic and tumultuous one and she is not the pillar in my life that may be expected. Although this has certainly been a driving and determining factor in my life, which has dictated much of my experience and I am sure my outlook on the world, I do not think it is my defining factor of “self”. I would certainly like to think that I am more than simply a product of my negative experiences, and certainly do not take the woe-is-me attitude of the suffering artist; rather that these are simply aspects of my life, along with many others, all of which I have used as a platform to grow and develop. Because of this, I explicitly do not want my piece to be centered around my relationship with my mother, not to mention I have no idea how this would tie into a visual motif that would remain consistent across the medals.

Other than these things, nothing else comes to mind that has been a constant in my life. There is no one object I have carried with me, very few interests that I have kept throughout my life into the present day except perhaps my love of the Pokemon franchise. While part of me does think it would certainly be very amusing and enjoyable at the least to have a professional piece of work featuring Pokemon, in realistic terms it is not suitable to my piece in any sense. While there have been artists who use Pokemon and video games in their work, usually the earlier games produced in the 90s, to talk about culture, nostalgia and childhood, these are not themes that I want to be the focus of my work; although I am not ruling them out as subject matter that may be touched upon in the set. My enjoyment and passion for art is another running theme throughout my life, but I can’t see a way in which that itself becomes the imagery used to represent states of being and experience, rather than being the subject matter itself.

This problem of finding a fixed factor in my life which I can then use as a narrative carrier in the form of continuing imagery is the main problem I am facing with the project currently, and if I do not overcome it soon I could be in real trouble. Without a clear idea of imagery, it is becoming increasingly difficult to work with designs as there are certain limits to working in hypotheticals as I have been doing up until this point. Not only this, but the motif will surely inform the nature of the design, with certain formats and elements perhaps being more suited to particular motifs than others. I aim to dedicate all of my time in the coming week to resolving this issue.

Medal Process – Why no bronze for Formative

Initially when we were told at the beginning of the term that we will be having a formative assessment before we break up for the Christmas holidays, and that we will be expected to have a finished piece to show, when asked what I would be presenting my response was that I would have one medal finished by Christmas. I had decided from quite an early point in the project that I was aiming to create a set of medals for my final piece, most likely 5 (it is widely held that when creating multiples they work more effectively in groups of odd numbers), which would come together as a group to create the final piece but equally would stand on their merits as individual objects. Because of this, it made sense to aim to have one completed bronze medal out of the set prepared for Christmas.

However, I found that designing the medals took much longer than I had anticipated. Having done bronze casting in both the first and second year, especially last year during the BAMS project, I am very aware of what a long and involved process creating a bronze medal is, from conception to completion. Given that I have barely conceived a clear idea of the design of the final medals themselves, it seems over ambitious to aim to have a bronze medal for the Christmas assessment.

While I could potentially still get a bronze out for the Christmas assessment, it would take an awful lot of time and energy to be invested into the process, and I would need to start now which would mean working with a design that was nowhere near up to the standard I want it to be, and has the potential to change in almost every aspect by the time it gets to the final piece. Although I’m sure that having a bronze medal for Christmas would be of some use, especially in investigating the use of patination, it would be largely the same process I went through last year and so very little new would be learned from it.

In light of this, I feel that a much more achievable goal is to have a pewter cast of a medal for the Christmas assessment, as this only involves having a sculpted version of the medal (in wax or clay), then casting that into silicone and from that pouring in the pewter, which is a much more straight forward process. I will then have a physical and solid representation of the medal, which has more integrity and quiddity than simply a wax or an unglazed clay sculpted version.

Medal design ideas – Interlocking

Another potential design for my medals, is having a series of medals which fit together when laid flat, with an image that transitions across the faces. This would potentially then allow for both sides of the medal to become interchangeable, with any medal in the series being able to be placed either side up, and/or in any order in the series. This brings together the front and reverse sides of the medal, giving them equal purpose and significance, with the ability to mirror or parralel itself. Meanwhile the edge will likely become of less significance, other than the form itself which allows for the medals to fit together.

flower pattern medals 1

The most simplistic version of this idea, of shapes which fit together interchangeably, is octagons. While squares are also possible, I feel like there is something in the nature of a square that makes it less appealing for a medal. Perhaps it it tied to the general notion of medals being round, or perhaps it is that the sequence would be entirely linear with the medals in a completely straight line. With the shape of the octogon, it allows you to create a linear sequence, but with a more fluid shape which adds to the idea of change and interchangeablity. I feel that perhaps people would be less likely to interact with a square and find it more intimidating as it comes with a more definite notion of being fixed in place.

While I do find octogons a very satisfying shape to look at, this is quite clearly the very surface when it comes to shapes which could potentially fit together. In fact, these do not even truly interlock in any way, with each medal being completely independent and moveable, rather than pieces which fit into each other like a jigsaw puzzle. However, this might be very difficult to execute in actuallity, having a set of complex (or at least semi complex) shapes which not only interlock or fit together, but can do so in any order. As far as I can tell, these shapes will either have to be extremely general (such as the octagon), or extremely complex to the point where they do not necessarily resemble anything in particular.

If this is the case, is the shape of the medal going to be distracting to the viewer, and take away from the message? Is it going to become more of a puzzle than a piece of interactive artwork? While it is true that it could potentially be both, I’m not sure I like the idea of the piece becoming puzzle like. I would much prefer it to be intuitive to interact with, and engaging without being challenging in its mechanics. While this might encourage people to engage with the medals and give them a reason to interact with them, pick them up, move them around, I feel that there is a strong potential that the play will draw too much focus from the viewer, and the main message of self reflection in the piece will be lost.

Another question with this design is whether or not the medals will have to be oriented in a particular direction (e.g north). This may well depend on the imagery used on the medal, some motifs may work at various angles, and others may not make any sense being viewed in any other direction to “up”. However if the image is made to be viewable at various different angles, this adds another layer of complexity, not only having the images fit together, in an interchangeable order, with both the front and the reverse sides, but then adding the idea of being able to turn each medal on its axis. I think this is most likely vastly overcomplicating things, and the design is ambitious enough to execute as it is, without adding these extra restrictions.

Not only this, but it is very difficult to talk in terms of design without having any clear motif to work with, and having to talk purely in the abstract. Hopefully once I settle on this it will then help to inform the design, but there is the question of whether the design should inform the motif or the motif inform the design. Should I try to settle on a motif by looking at whether it fits with this idea of being transitioning and interchangeable, or should I choose a motif first and have that inform the design and layout of the medals themselves? This is a difficult question to answer at the moment, but ideally when I am more clear on the aspect of motifs they can then reach a point of synergy where they are drawing from and informing each other.

Medal ideas – Blue Flower pattern

As I am looking at using the combination of bronze and ceramic in my medals, it seems fitting to investigate using the traditional imagery of blue flower print as a form of narrative. It has been suggested to me that I incorporate my drawing skills into my work with the medals this year, something which I have largely avoided up until this point and have kept the drawings purely in the form of sketchbook work as a means of planning ideas. Because of this I feel it is very likely that my medals will be illustrated in some form, and the combination of ceramic and bronze offers a good platform in which to do so, with the ceramic surface being prime for painting upon and exploring fine brush work.

While I certainly have an appreciation of ceramics, I have never done a huge amount of research into the area, and when I have it has been geared mostly towards individual artists, most of whom create sculptural work. However despite this, when thinking about illustrated ceramics the first image that comes to mind is the classic imagery of blue and white flower patterns on tableware, such as plates.

blue and white plates

An example of blue and white flower pattern on plates, sold here

blue and white flower pattern

classic pattern on fabric, sold here

With this in mind, I did a water colour sketch of a flower pattern, which I translated into blue and white, as a visual reference for myself.

flower pattern


In terms of imagery, I feel that flower pattern could be promising. One matter which I am certain of in my medal design which I am aspiring to, is that I do not want the imagery to be literal. The subject matter which I am trying to depict are the various different stages, states of being, elements of personality and experience that are formed throughout life. These are often formed gradually, changing from one state to another, reverting to earlier stages, mirroring and reflecting back and forth in an ever changing development. Because of this, I want my imagery to be something which is changeable and can transition and change across the medal or series of medals. I would like these images to be able to be interchanged in order to create different images or narratives (as discussed briefly in an earlier post) but carry a running theme or image throughout as a narrative carrier. However, in order to do this transitioning imagery I feel that the subject has to be something relatively ambiguous and fluid, with various different states of being which can be naturally interchanged.

In these terms, flowers could potentially work well. They have a range of states which can be used as an analogy for states of well-being in a person; budding, closed, flowering, blooming, wilting, etc which quite intuitively can be related to emotional states such as fragility, confidence, strength, personal growth, triumph and loss. Not only this but there is already a large wealth of history of flowers being used as symbols in art to represent a variety of subject matter. This combined with the tradition of blue and white flower print in ceramics could be an interesting avenue to explore, taking traditional decorative imagery and applying a deeper level of meaning and symbolism in order to change its function from decoration to narrative. I can also see the pattern transitioning well, having blooming and wilting flowers next to each other in a sequence that can be arranged in any sequence while still looking seamless and fluid.

BAMS – Medal project – Idea sketches

I have decided that my medals will be designed around capturing the idea of intimacy between two people. This is a subject that I have approached in the past on my foundation and seems to drive a lot of my work, as it is something that I feel is very powerful and that I want to share with people. When I say the word “intimacy”, this does not refer to sexuality, and none of my work is related to sexuality, but merely the closeness and warmth shared through a connection between two people or beings.

With this in mind, I’m looking at the idea of having two medals which fit together in order to touch. Each medal is concave, with the inside surface on one medal being the palm of a hand, and inside the other outreaching fingers, so that when they are closed the fingers rest touching the palm, yet this cannot be seen by the viewer.

Scan 4 copy

Scan 5

I am also considering the use of text on the outside of the medals as currently the surface would be blank. However this brings up the problem of what to write. There’s a fine line between being meaningful and being pretentious, as well as the question of whether to use my own words or to take an extract from a book or a famous quote. I am also considering documenting things said during these close moments that I experience with other people, however with that being my agenda it does have the danger of me engineering situations and it no longer being organic.