In 2018, I was invited by The Royal Mint to submit artwork for the 2021 H.G. Wells commemorative coin design competition and entered several drawings depicting emblems of Well’s vision and his best known works. After being shortlisted and reviewed by The Royal Mint Advisory Committee, my design won the competition and now appears on the reverse of the 2021 £2 coin.
Upon The Royal Mint’s unveiling of the new design in early 2021, a great deal of controversy erupted over alleged “errors” in the design that were reported by the likes of The New York Times, The Guardian, and CNN in today’s typical one-sided and sensationalist fashion. I felt it would be helpful to answer the question asked by H.G. Wells fans around the world: “What were you thinking?!?” So here are some highlights of this specific coin design challenge and my creative process.
From the Royal Mint
“The Royal Mint works with leading designers around the world to create art on the unique canvas of a coin—we encourage them to be creative and distinct in their response to the brief. When developing a design for the HG Wells coin we asked artists to consider his life and his work, ensuring the coin would be instantly recognisable and make best use of the space on a £2. The H.G. Wells coin features an interpretation of the various machines in War of the Worlds, an invisible man wearing a Victorian top hat to signify the era, and a clock representing The Time Machine. The quote “Good books are the warehouses of ideas” is widely associated with HG Wells, and features on the edge inscription.”
The Royal Mint Advisory Committee
• All themes considered for Royal Mint coins go through a planning and design selection process governed by an independent panel known as The Royal Mint Advisory Committee (RMAC).
• Members of the RMAC include experts in art, heraldry, typography, sculpture, history and numismatics, as well as historical and design experts from The Royal Mint.
• As with all coins, the HG Wells coin was subject to external review by the RMAC.
My research began with reading excepts and reviewing artist’s interpretations of Wells’ stories. As with all of my coin and medal designs, I was determined not to copy any existing image but create completely original artwork. Since the topic was science fiction and open to interpretation, I relied primarily on my own imagination for design inspiration; much of which was formed during my childhood. I also wanted this design to be simple so it would inspire the imaginations of children, just as I was inspired.
The War of the Worlds
For more than a century the scenes from The War of the Worlds have been imagined in many different ways and I also wanted to create a new artistic interpretation that was original and contemporary. My design was inspired by the variety of machines illustrated in books and in cinema—including tripods and handling machines which have five jointed legs and multiple appendages. As a child, they reminded me of jellyfish and spider-like robots, so I wanted to distill those impressions into one machine.
My initial sketches showed a crablike image with legs and multiple swirling appendages, but it appeared too confusing for a coin design. The subject needed to coordinate with the rest of the composition, so I minimized the machine by reducing the number of appendages and created one arm curling out of the frame for dynamism. This design was was not meant to be a literal reference to the original script but was purposely created to be unique and representative. As the artist, designing a war machine with four appendages was my deliberate choice which represents a fictional construct as I imagine it and tells the story as I would tell it as coin designer. Note these other examples of imaginative and derivative depictions of H.G. Well’s machines…
My decision to also go off script was intentional because it’s what creative people do… I’m in good company.
The Invisible Man
As the design evolved, I integrating the machine image with the figure of The Invisible Man. I had considered descriptions of his head being wrapped in bandages, but drawing a mummy-like face did not make the figure appear invisible on a small coin. Instead, I depicted a void between the torso and the hat was a more convincing design solution. The Royal Mint team and I discussed several styles of hats for The Invisible Man, including the wide-brimmed hat mentioned in his original work, and determined that the old Victorian top-hat was the best stylistic contrast to the futuristic machine in the background (see sketches above). Just as Wells himself veered from his original script with his sketch of the invisible man wearing a top-hat, I embellished on the narrative in a way to create a more interesting coin design…
The flamboyant top-hat also made a more playful statement than my original concept and clearly identified the time period of the original story.
The Time Machine
I wanted to represent H.G. Wells not only as a science fiction writer, but also as a futurist. While reviewed my drawings, I determined that the contrast between the futuristic machine and the Victorian figure could suggest different periods in history, and could also allude to The Time Machine. The circular nature of the canvas would easily accommodate a Roman numeral clock without cluttering the design, so I incorporated the upper half of a clock face around the rim to complete the composition.
The final design unifies elements of multiple stories into one symbolic graphic that is emblematic of H.G. Wells’ best known works.
The Father of Science Fiction
The writings of H.G. Wells are being interpreted and adapted for the enjoyment of modern audiences in ever more imaginative ways. Known as ‘The Father of Science Fiction’, he helped originate the genre and inspired generations of new authors to create even more fantastic stories. His life and work inspired me to create a design that will help reflect his vision and spur more innovation from the science fiction creators of the future.
I was very excited to win this completion as it is my second coin design sculpted and produced by the Royal Mint. As an American, I am honored to be included among The Royal Mint’s winning designers and am very happy that my H.G. Wells design will document the legacy of this extraordinary visionary for many years to come.