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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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BAMS – Medal project – Completed photos

To watch the video that goes with these medals, click here
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After many trials and tribulations, my pair of medals is finally completed. During the process I have had many problems and often doubted the design as being unclear or unrepresentative of the notion of intimacy that I’m trying to convey. However, now that they are finished and displayed I think that they do in fact convey this in the way that I imagined they would at the beginning of the design process. I think perhaps part of the problem was due to the nature of sketches being inherently different to the final product in that while they might be accurate representations of the object they are missing something inherent about the quality of an object itself. I think it is perhaps one of the reasons that those I asked had such a difficult time understanding what my medals were trying to express when just looking at sketches and prototypes, as they could not fully visualise the finished outcome in the way that I was.

Another aspect of the physical medals is their display. I had always envisioned the display of the medals as standing side by side.

medals - pair frontWhile I do like this display, and especially the way in which the two hands lean towards each other, it makes it difficult to display the reverse of the medals and that they are meant to be reflections of one another. When taking photographs of the medal (seen at the top of this post) and playing around with display and composition, I placed the medals so that they were standing opposite one another.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI find that this display is much stronger, as not only does it demonstrate the fact that the medals are a pair, it also shows the notion of touch in a much clearer manner. The distance between them not only allows you to see the reverse side, which is then more distinguishable as being made by the hand on the opposite medal, but it also creates a tension, a sense of longing. One of the problems I have been having with the designs and throughout the process was the issue of people not understanding that the imprint on the reverse of one medal, was made by the hand of the other. With this display, when looking at the male hand they are then only able to see the male imprint on the reverse of the opposite medal, and vice versa, and when viewed in this way it is more identifiable that the imprint was made by that set of fingers. I also think with this in mind it is then also more recognisable that the imprint on the reverse is also reflected in the polish on the fingers.

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The polish itself works very well in my opinion, with it being clear yet not strikingly obvious. While it doesn’t necessarily perfectly mimic the exact size and shape of the pattern of the reverse, I do not feel this is a problem as both sides cannot be viewed at once to compare against. I am glad in reflection that I chose to make the “touched” areas polished on top of the patinated hand, rather than patinated on top of a polished hand. I certainly think that the bright shine represents the tingling sensation on the skin much more accurately than the patination.


BAMS – Medal project – Second Patina

After my first patination I found that quite a lot of the patina had washed off, and while the polish on the fingers was visible, it was not as clear and distinct as I would have liked. As well as this, many areas on the edge of the ring were blotchy and unpatinated, and I felt it was necessary to attempt a second round of patinating.

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Once again the medals came out very dark, but I was careful not to spray the patina in a way that pools onto the fingers and covers the skin pattern, and made sure not to wash any of it off the fingers.

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Once again I scrubbed  the patina off the flat surface of the medals with an abrasive rag and water

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThis time I polished the fingers far more carefully, making sure to take as much time as I needed, and I think this definitely paid off. The contrast between the patina and the polish is much clearer, and I feel it is more recognisable as a reflection of the reverse of the medal. The contrast between light and dark also makes it more clear that the polished areas are of particular importance, whereas before it was easy to mistake it as unintentional.

 


BAMS – Medal project – Patinating

The final step in finishing my medals is to patina them, in order to make the fingers and imprints distinctive from the surface of the medal and to show the touch pattern on top of the fingers through polish.

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Myself in action in the forge

 

 

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The first step is to heat up the medals using the blow torch, making sure to turn it so that the heat spreads evenly and keeping in mind that the thinner areas will heat faster. The bronze should be hot, but it is important not to heat it too much otherwise the surface can burn, which is the last thing we want.

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Then it’s a matter of spraying on the patina, which is essentially just a specific acid, onto the surface of the bronze. It should be hot enough that the patina sizzles when it hits the surface.

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Keep repeating this process of heating and spraying until the surface is evenly covered and the colour you want it

patinating the back of the medal

patinating the back of the medal


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This is how the medals turned out after having patinated them. There was certainly a lot of tidying up to do

Running them under cold water allowed me to clean them up, and as far as I’m aware is also important in setting the patina. However I was surprised at just how easily I could rub the patina off the surface of the medal with just a rag and water. I’m not sure whether or not this is a matter of me not having heated the bronze up enough when applying the patina, or simply just the way in which the patina works, but in attempting to remove some of the excess which was blocking out the detail of the cast skin, I found the majority of the patina came away with ease.

It seems as if the patina especially struggled to stick to the surface of the nails, which are smooth, and this came off without me even directly trying to clean them. However I took advantage of this quality and cleaned the surfaces of the medal with a wet rag, leaving the edges and indents patinated.

After doing some more rigorous polishing and cleaning, this is the result. I also attempted to polish into the areas of the fingers reflecting the pattern of the imprint on the back, as represented in my sketches, but I found that the markings were extremely indistinct. I think this is largely due to the amount of patina which was inadvertently cleaned off of the fingers, leaving some areas already looking relatively polished where they should not be, making it unclear that only a specific pattern of areas should be polished on the fingers. As well as this, there are areas on the edge of the medal which are blotchy or where the patina has rubbed off, again making it not distinctly a different colour from the polished surfaces on the front and back. I think the answer to this is to patinate them a second time, which I aim to do tomorrow. I would have done this today, but unfortunately the technician had locked away the acid before he left reasonably early in the day, but there should be time to do this.


BAMS – Medal project – Welding and yet more filing

While I was largely happy with my medals and their finish, there were areas on both the male and female medals where the bronze had left an obvious gap on the fingers, and holes on the bottom of the medals although this was not such a problem as it’s the area which they stand upon.

the middle of the third finger has a large gap in it's side

the middle of the third finger has a large gap in it’s side

as well as the bottom of the middle finger

as well as the bottom of the middle finger

I was told this could be easily fixed by welding a thin rod of bronze, melting it into the gaps, and that it could be made to look completely invisible that there was ever a gap in the first place. However, after welding into these gaps, I was slightly horrified that I had done more harm than good.

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My beautiful medals which I had spent so long getting near perfect and polished, were not only once again filthy, but had giant tumours which covered far more than the small areas which had gaps. With it being far too late to turn back, and my “back up medals” having so many problems in themselves with their malformed fingertips, all I could do was press forwards. Thankfully, after some very careful use of the dremel, I manage to remove the large lumps on the fingers, but this did still leave me with large areas which were completely lacking in the detail of the skin as it had been completely covered by the welding. As well as this, during the process of filing down the excess I also had a few slips of the hand (especially on the male medal), which left me once again horrified that I had effectively ruined my medals.

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Again, with no choice but to press on, and using a smaller and more precise dremel, I managed to work in some skin detail into the smooth surfaces. While it is obviously far from the ideal of the cast skin, I think given the small sections, and especially once the fingers have been patinated it will be reasonably difficult to notice, and I think I’ve done a pretty accurate job at mimicking the skin pattern.

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After having finally fixed up the issues with the fingers, it was now a matter of once again cleaning up the surfaces as they had become dirty and discoloured from the welding process. As well as on the fingers, there were also large lumps of bronze on the bottom of the medals to cover up the holes. After filing these down, it then gave me a good opportunity to work on the edge of the medals as they were both looking a bit rough after having to grind them down in order to make both medals the same size.

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male hand medal

female hand medal

female hand medal

While I potentially could have tried welding in order to make the base of the male medal an even thickness as it should be, and matching the female hand medal, I am still very concerned with doing more harm than good, and potentially spoiling the medals beyond repair. While as it is, with the thinness of the edge towards the fingers isn’t ideal, I think it’s not so noticeable that it detracts from the medal itself.

These are how the medals are looking currently, not quite finished, but getting there!

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BAMS – Medal project – Medal video

This video is made to be played when viewing my medals, click here to view the finished medals

 

As part of our brief for our BAMS project, we have to create two medals, one of which has an element of “new technologies” incorporated into it. Rather than making two separate medals which have separate ideas behind them, I felt very strongly that I wanted to make a pair of medals. After having discussed it with my tutors I was told that this would be allowed for the brief, and I will incorporate the “new technologies” in the form of augmented reality for use on both the medals. I plan to use the software Aurasma in order to overlay this video, when scanning either the male or female hand medal.

The video is of both mine, and my friend Ambrose’s hand (which are the male and female hands on my medals) caressing each other. This is the gesture which the medals aim to represent, although in reflection I do not think that the medals themselves are immediately clear enough to the viewer. While there is nothing that I can do to change the design at this stage, I hope that by overlaying the video it will then be clearer to the viewer what I’m trying to express. One of my main problems when designing the medals themselves was the issue of trying to capture that gesture of touch, and especially when relying on another person to make the imprint (Ambrose’s imprint on the back of the female hand medal) which I don’t think he entirely understood what he was supposed to be doing. In retrospect, I think if I had filmed this video at the beginning of the medal process before casting the imprints, it would have been much clearer to Ambrose what I was trying to capture, as well as clearer to myself precisely what gestures I was trying to express, and this likely would have resulted in a much stronger and clearer design of the medals. Unfortunately I left it until this point as I viewed it as being much lower priority than the process of making the medals themselves, and didn’t realise the extent to which it could inform my design as I already had a design clear in my head.

In terms of the video itself, I am largely happy with it, although I did run into a few difficulties. One of my main issues, is that the lighting on the hands in the majority of the shots is very dark. Unfortunately, this is something I had little control over due to where we were filming, with the light only stretching to a set position, and the camera only being able to move so close to the table. In order to keep the hands in shot without using the zoom on the camera (which I didn’t want to do as the camera lost focus and detail), the light always ended up behind the hands leaving them in shadow. However, while it isn’t what I intended I think it may in some ways be a happy accident, as the contrasting lighting does set a very particular mood which makes the hands seem more exceptional.

Another issue was the quality of my camera, which while functional, is only a small handheld with no manual focus control and because of this there are several points in the footage where the camera automatically changes its focus. If I were to film this again under ideal conditions I would try to book out a more professional camera from the university, and have a third person present during the filming to control and adjust the focus of the camera. Unfortunately due to time constraints and availability of my friend Ambrose this is not possible, but I do not think that the quality of the video is so poor that it needs to be redone completely.

The last major difficulty, after the footage itself, was the matter of trying to find a music track which matched the tone of the video that I envisaged. In my previous videos that I have made for my Interaction Design project, I was lucky enough that the video editing software I was using (iMovie) had not one but two music tracks which perfectly matched the tone I was looking for. This time however I had no such luck, and none of the tracks were anything close to the tone I was looking for. This led me to looking on various websites for copyright free music which I would be allowed to use in my video. After listening to at least 50 tracks, I finally found one which was along the lines of what I was looking for, only to find it would cost me £52 to purchase. While I am not adverse to paying for content, I was expecting possibly a few pounds, maybe £5 maximum, as you would pay for any song on iTunes, and needless to say £52 was far above my budget. So, beginning my search again I then managed to find a website which provided free music, as long as credit is given to the artist (www.bensound.com). I was looking for a piece of music with a very slow and gentle rhythm, with a reflective mood, but all of the tracks I had heard up until this point were very upbeat and uplifting even if they were slow and gentle. While the video is showing a series of tender moments, I didn’t feel like a “happy” tone was appropriate. Rather than trying to make something heart warming, I wanted instead for the video to be emphasising the importance of the gesture and touch, which I feel the very slow pace and minimal nature of the music does well.

Another thing I would possibly have liked to of done, is possibly make two separate videos, for both the male and the female hand medal. The female medal video showing largely gestures where Ambrose’s hand is caressing mine, and vice versa for the male medal. However, I’m not sure how well this would work in practice, as I think if I were to set out to film shots where “I am caressing your hand” or “you are caressing my hand” it would potentially be much less organic, with one hand being largely static and not knowing how to respond, rather than the current interplay between one hand touching and the other reciprocating. I could perhaps look at re-editing the footage that I have in order to make two videos in this manner, but I expect that it would become a sequence of very short cuts between takes, trying to show only one hand’s caress and edit out the response. This would likely make the footage much more fast paced than I would like, which would throw off the whole tempo and tone of the video, so for now at least I think it is better to keep it as one video for the both medals.

As to what exactly will be the trigger image for the medals when using aurasma, I am not entirely sure yet. I am currently torn between using the front and reverse of both medals, or using just the front sides. While the front and back of both medals are relevant to the video, and are representations of touch between the two hands, I feel as if having four images to trigger one video may seem like over kill? and that users would then be expecting at least some variation in the video depending on what they scan. However my issue with only using the front sides (choosing the front as the medals will be displayed forwards facing, and viewers are most likely to scan the front unless otherwise specified) is that people might be disappointed that nothing happens when scanning the back side, and there is no reason for it to only bring up the video specifically when looking at the front of the medals. At this point I am leaning towards using both sides of both medals, but that may change in discussion with others and in practice once I have the aurasma working and can get a feel for it with the medals.


BAMS – Medal project – Updated medal colour designs

Ever since I began designing this pair of medals, the design has remained largely unchanged and I have been fairly set on what colouring I want to use for them. However, now that I have the physical objects in my hands it has made me look at the designs in a completely different light and adapt them to the objects themselves. I realised that until this point, I have given very little consideration to the edge of the medal, and have completely failed to include it in almost all of my designs. However, looking at the medals now, and then looking at my previous designs in terms of colouring, I run into a few problems.

colour medals f

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I had originally planned for the front side of the medal to be entirely patinated, aside from the touch marks on top of the fingers, and the reverse to be entirely polished aside from the imprints of the touch marks. However, in this case what am I to do with the edge? If I leave it polished, or patina it, either way it will end up matching one of the sides, which doesn’t seem right to me as I want the edge to be more of a separate space rather than an extension of the front or back side. I think the reason I had not considered this so much was in the back of my mind I was still playing with the idea of making a ring of a separate colour which would trim the edge, but the reality is that I’m not going to have enough time to do that without a very clear idea of what I’m doing first.

With this new problem in mind, I went back to the sketchbook to try and figure it out.

recolour medals f

recolour medals m

With this new design, the two flat surfaces on both the front and the back are the same patinated colour, with the edge and hand itself being polished. I think this works better than the original design, as it contrasts the hand against the surface it sits on, as well as taking into account that the fingers seem to grow out of the edge of the medal when looking at the physical objects

female hand medalAnother thing I was considering with this design is that it is more reflective of the nature of bronze itself. The surface is naturally a dark brown colour when it comes out of the casting process, and the shiny golden colour is only revealed after the surface layer is filed or polished away, yet this can be spoiled and become discoloured over time and handling due to the oil residue of human fingers corroding the surface. Looking at this in terms of the design of the medal, the imprints on the reverse side of the medal are left polished as the surface has been seemingly scraped away like butter, and the polished surface of the fingers has been discoloured where the trace of a touch from another person’s fingertips has been left.

My only issue is that, while this is more representative of the material itself, I’m not sure that it is representative of human skin. The reason that I had always designed the fingers themselves as being discoloured, with the polished touch pattern on their surface was because I felt that the polished surface was more indicative of the light, tingling sensation that remains on your skin after a light touch running across it. As well as this, after having worked on polishing and cleaning my medals for some time now, I do very much like the high polished smooth surfaces, and feel that it would be a shame for them to be made dull and discoloured.

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Another option is to reverse this new colouring design, and have it more like the medals are now, with polished surfaces, patinated imprints and fingers, with polished touch marks on the fingers, and patinated edge. While this hasn’t been a deliberate design for the medals as I’ve been working on them, and has purely been a matter of trying to clean and remove the imperfections on the surfaces, I think it works well and still brings together all the elements from the newer design, unifying the surfaces and making the edge a more distinct space.

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