I recently worked on a wonderful project with The Royal Mint Museum as part of their Remembering Decimalisation activities. A great, creative way to engage a younger audience, the Museum ran a competition for year five and year six primary school children in Wales to write a short-story on this theme with the prize including – happily for me – accompanying illustrations!
The Children’s Laureate Wales Eloise Williams chose the winning story, ‘The life of a shilling’ by Rhys Davies, and the lovely team at the Museum soon sent over the text for me to get started.
The story is a thoughtful and sweet-natured journey from the shilling’s creation at the Royal Mint in 1935, to usefulness, obscurity and back to desirability in the present day. Rhys’s vivid imagery and circular narrative immediately gave me a way into the illustrations, and I thought a less formal layout with vignettes dotted around the text would work best. A messy output below, but the first and important iteration!
The story would be published in various places, so I considered how the text and illustrations could work together on the page, and what kind of control over the format would be possible. Given the nature of the story and the competition I wanted to include references to Wales, a younger audience and decimalisation – and of course the ‘old shilling itself’ required a proper portrait. Here’s my second iteration, with the choice of imagery becoming clearer, and including a reference to my grandpa’s coin purse which suddenly came to mind!
I got my concept together around a quick, indicative layout of the story text in Illustrator, but I hoped the Museum’s graphic designer would be able to add some much-needed polish! Thankfully this suggestion and the concept roughs below were well received by the team, and kindly put in train:
I decided on coloured pencils for the finished drawings, possibly with a watercolour wash. I thought this would be perfect for the nature and period of the story and to convey the sense of ‘little memories’ in the life of the coin. Last year I got a complete set of Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils, having been eyeing them for a while. They are by far the best I have used, with oily, buildable colour, amazing translucency in the lighter colours and proper depth and denseness in the darker. I gathered my references, materials, music source and refreshments, and hunkered down…
Bringing it all together
I started drawing on heavy Bockingford paper with a view to the watercolour wash but changed my mind early on, as the pencils were such a standout. It turned out to be a lucky discovery as the paper gave a good, stable surface with some texture that was very forgiving. The drawings were time-intensive but absorbing and rewarding, despite the usual late night minor panics! I got to know my old Epson scanner better, prepared the files and sent them over to the team and the graphic designer. I was so pleased with the end result and proud to be a small part of this joyful competition, including the very special virtual presentation to the winner at his school. Have a look at the individual illustrations in my portfolio but here is the finished product, and the wonderful layout courtesy of Nigel at Tuch: