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 design ideas – Transitioning image

I have spoken in my past couple of previous posts looking at medal design ideas about the idea of having a transitioning image. However, I have been unable to illustrate this clearly without an image or motif to work with. Despite this, I think in image I have had in the back of my mind as a reference and basis for my ideas is a piece by M. C. Escher


“Sky and Water” M. C. Escher

With this in mind, I tried to apply this to my medal designs as a reference to how my designs might work

escher fish transitions

As shown here, I envisage the imagery spreading across the surface of the medal, from one side to another, with the picture gradually changing. While each medal’s image might be quite distinct on its own (in this example, either of fish or of birds), when put together the overlap becomes much more obvious and shows a more subtle pattern emerging that might not be noticable at any given moment in time. In this way, I feel it is representative of the human being; at any one point in time a person may present themselves in a certain manner, their personality and their well-being. However, when looking back at points in their past (recent or much further) they may be near unrecognisable, as well as many transient phases in between these points.

fish medals

I then started thinking in terms of how this design would be applied practically, in terms of combining bronze and ceramic. The most practical solution I could think of was to have a bronze base for the medals, which then has the thinner porcelain layer embedded into the surface. This allows for each surface to have a combination of bronze and ceramic, as well as the oppotunity for the variety of textures between the two surfaces, and the ability to paint the ceramic with glaze. However, it does bring into question the aesthetic of the edge. Will it become very thick? Will it be visually unappealing having the ceramic cut into the surface of the bronze? Perhaps this could be covered up, with a ringed edge; but does this barrier then separate each medal from the next too obviously? Is the edge simply ignored, and acts as a means to an end for a practical purpose? These are all questions to contemplate, and that will hopefully become clearer as time goes on.