Author Topic: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer  (Read 11278 times)

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Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« on: July 31, 2014, 07:20:18 PM »

MATT BONACCORSI

Matt's website can be found at mavericknumismatics.com.

 
« Last Edit: July 14, 2017, 04:19:46 PM by <k> »
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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2014, 07:21:55 PM »
My thanks to Matt, who recently agreed to be interviewed via email.



Q. Hello Matt, and thank you for agreeing to do an interview for The World of Coins Forum. You have had a very wide-ranging career, but to start us off, could you give us a brief overview of your biographical details?

A. I’m 41 - born in November 1972. I was born in Manchester, but moved around a lot, as my dad was a prison governor. I studied in Loughborough (more detail below), and moved to Cardiff in 1996, to take up the job at the Royal Mint. I spent a year in London after leaving the Mint, and then moved back to go freelance just before my son was born in 2012.

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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2014, 07:22:41 PM »
Q. You look every inch the artist, and for an Englishman you have a very exotic surname. Where did your ancestors come from, and are there any artistic antecedents in your heritage?

A. I’m from exotic Manchester, but my grandfather came from a small village in northern Italy, where my surname is pretty common. Apparently, the name translates as ‘Goodwin’, or ‘God’s speed’, and was ‘given’ to a clan after their timely intervention in a battle (I think this would have been around the time of Machiavelli). Most of my family has passed away, so the majority of the history is lost, but my sister travelled to the village some years ago, and got some funny looks when she asked if anyone knew Celestino Bonaccorsi (my grandfather), as about half the village went by that name!

My grandfather settled in Scotland and stayed there all his life. His wife's family were silver polishers and metal smiths, going back several generations, so you could say that there’s something in the blood!
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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #3 on: July 31, 2014, 07:23:28 PM »
Q. When did you first discover your artistic talent? Did you always know it was your vocation, or did you have other interests in your youth or childhood?

A. To be honest, I was never really very good at anything else (of course, it’s arguable that I’m any good at this!). Drawing was always my main hobby, and it never really occurred to me that I would want to do anything else (apart from astronaut and Jedi, obviously). My dad was a voracious hobbyist, and always had a painting or a piece of wood carving on the go, so the creative thing rubbed off on me quite early on.

Illustration was always my main interest, but I struggled with my A-levels, lost motivation and direction, and ended up without a place on any of my chosen courses. I finally landed a place at a tiny art college in Grimsby (I was living in Lincoln at the time), which had a fully equipped jewellery studio. I got hooked on metalwork, and applied to the jewellery degree at Loughborough. As it happened, the course leader, Kate Harrison, was heavily involved with BAMS (British Art Medal Society), and they ran a yearly competition sponsored by the Royal Mint. I came third, and spent the rest of my course making medals.

I met my future wife on the same course. She happened to live in Cardiff, and saw the advert for trainee engravers just after we finished college. A series of happy co-incidences, and nearly 20 years later, I’m still working at it!

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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #4 on: July 31, 2014, 07:24:26 PM »
Q. Do you remember having any heroes as a child? Were any of them artists?

A. I was once at a lecture given by Dick Powell of SeymourPowell, and he said that a designer should have a broad bandwidth of interests and knowledge - not necessarily in huge detail, but enough to make good creative connections and cross-fertilise ideas. I quite like that idea. I get inspired by all kinds of things, from games, to books, to music, to astronomy and maths, mythology and philosophy. They all come into play at different times, although it’s rare to get a design brief that allows for so much in depth research.
So, as far as heroes go - Jim Henson, for being able to inject huge amounts of life and character into 2 or 3 pieces of foam. Christopher Reeve, for being Superman in all senses of the word. Maxfield Parrish, for the way he painted light.

I’m a huge Tom Petty fan. I feel lucky that I’m of the generation that got to have ‘Free Falling’ as part of the soundtrack of my teens. I’m also a big Tom Waits fan. I love the persona that he’s created, and the amount of technical skill that goes into producing the ’20’s hobo’ sound that he creates.

It’s a bit of a cliché, but I’ve always liked Mucha, mainly for his economic line work. I aspire to draw like him, but it’s never going to happen. My drawing is chaos.

I’m also a huge fan of Japanese art and culture. It came on me a little too late in life to up sticks and head off to live there, but it’s a trip that I’d love to make. I love economy of design and information - using simple imagery or patterns to convey multiple messages in consistent symbolism. Of course, design work very seldom turns out like that.
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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #5 on: July 31, 2014, 07:25:37 PM »
Q. Because of my focus on coins, I think of you as an artist and engraver, but your CV suggests you were much more than that. Describe for us your apprenticeship at the Royal Mint and what it involved.

A. I was a trained jeweller and silversmith by the time I got to the Mint. The apprenticeship covered low relief sculpture in plaster, hand engraving (mostly die sinking, but a little line engraving), and the generally unique production methods employed in coin manufacture.
I’ve been very lucky with my time at the mint - as well as the design and modelling work, I also got to move up the ranks and experience the strategic and managerial side of things. When I took over as Chief Engraver, the business was going through a time of change, and the design team was re-structured to make it more efficient and profitable. It’s easy for me as a designer to rant on about design being core to innovative businesses, and to cite Apple and Google as benchmarks, but the simple fact is that those companies control their creative output very carefully.

Design can make or break a product, but it seldom stands at board level with the same gravitas as Marketing or Sales. However, if a salesman fails to meet his financial targets, he invariably gets fired. Does the same happen to coin designers when a product doesn’t capture its audience?

I learned an awful lot about business strategy, as well as process planning at the Mint, and it was those skills, rather than my design training, that got me out of the Mint in the end. It’s very difficult to translate 16 years of niche production experience into something valuable in other industries, but it was the blend of creative thinking and pragmatic process analysis that did it.

After leaving the Mint, I worked for a year as consultant with an innovation forecasting company in London. Lots of my experiences at the mint came in handy, and talking about process through a unique product such as coins actually made it easier for my retail clients to focus on larger principles, as it removed the discussion from their specific industries.

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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2014, 07:26:33 PM »
Q. Many of us have a rather traditionalist view of a mint, but by the time you joined the Royal Mint, it was probably already highly computerised. Were you launched straight into this, or did you spend some time acquiring practice in traditional methods? And how did the work at the Royal Mint match your expectations?

A. The computers came in about 6 weeks after I did, so it was a big part of my training. It was interesting to see how the design and manufacturing process began to shift between old technology and new. Of course, there were many detractors, especially amongst our consumer base, and, to be honest, some of our early computer generated models lacked ‘soul’.

I was trained up across the whole gamut of skills - old and new, and it wasn’t until we went through our major restructure after I became Chief, that we started to kill off some of the traditional processes. It was something that first struck me when I was taking visitors around the department (which I had to do a lot!). I realised that my spiel was geared around the old skills, and that I was very apologetic about our new technology, even though it was doing much more interesting things, and allowing us to realise designs that would have been impossible to create via traditional methods.

All of my work is digitally produced now - although you wouldn’t know it to look at my designs. I use a ‘natural media simulator’ to draw out sketches, so they look and feel like genuine pencil or charcoal drawings. “Why not just use a pencil” is something that I get asked a lot, but I just find that the speed and flexibility of the computer works for me. I can layer up multiple variations of a design in a single file, keep track of every change, and send finished work anywhere in just a few minutes.

Oddly, the 3D software that I use for sculpting is actually more akin to hand modelling than it is to CAD (computer-aided design). It relies heavily on sculpting ‘’by eye”, as it’s not really designed for low relief, but it allows for greater freedom and energy within the sculpture itself. It’s also extremely quick to turnaround models, once the right process is laid out.
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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2014, 07:27:10 PM »
Q. Can you remember the first coins you engraved and/or designed, in the categories of collector coins and circulation coins?

A. The first coins I drew out were for, I think, Oman, or Qatar. They feature a number of boats, and I recall thinking that the customer would never bother to count the number of windows on my rough sketches, which of course they did, and which I had to re-draw before they’d sign them off!

In those days, we had to draw out all the lettering by hand, then use a photocopier to scale it up to fit our sketches. Photocopying the design distorted it massively, so by the time it came to modelling, the sketch was always oval, and very grainy.
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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #8 on: July 31, 2014, 07:29:53 PM »
Q. Of your own coin designs, which are your favourites? And of your non-numismatic art, of which piece are you most proud?

A. To be honest, I don’t really hold any favourites in that way. I enjoy the process, rather than the end product. When I see my complete work on websites, or in the flesh, I’m always just looking at the things that I would have done differently, so I tend to just move on, and avoid beating myself up over things that I can’t change.


NEW ZEALAND, $1 COLLECTOR COIN, 2004.

Having said that, I always liked the way that The Lord of the Rings ‘One Ring’ coin came out. It was a very simple layout, but just seemed to fit together nicely, and the gold plating did wonders for it!


 
« Last Edit: July 09, 2017, 08:58:48 PM by <k> »
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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #9 on: July 31, 2014, 07:32:23 PM »

FALKLANDS ISLANDS, 2 POUND COIN, 2004.

Q. My own favourite of your designs is the Falkland Islands 2 pound coin of 1999, a crown-sized collector coin, which was later reduced in size in 2004, to become the territory’s standard 2 pound circulation coin. The animals around the edge convey a busy sense of activity and the hint that there is much more going on than you can see. How much free rein were you given in developing this design?

A. As I recall, this was designed originally to commemorate the millennium, so the brief was something along the lines of, “commemorate the millennium”…very vague, and quite open. Obviously, the design had to reflect the territory, and with the Falklands being such a small island, flora and fauna was always going to play a part. Luckily, there’s a huge amount of fauna on the island, covering land, sea, and air, which made for quite a nice theme, especially with the sun’s rays signifying the dawn of the new millennium, and how it touched all living things.

I love to take my designs out of the edge of the coin. Most people study the surface of coins closely, so they’re a little like microscopes or portholes, and I like the idea that you’re viewing a portion of something larger. There’s not really much middle ground in that kind of thing. You either keep everything within the border, or you push it outside noticeably. Having a design that just clips outside the coin looks like it’s been measured out wrong!

I didn’t know that it went on to be their standard 2 pound coin. That’s quite a nice thing to know!


 
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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #10 on: July 31, 2014, 07:33:44 PM »
Q. In developing a design, you must satisfy a range of people, from the client to the Royal Mint Advisory Committee. Were there vast differences in the leeway you were allowed, from one project to another? And what are the challenges or frustrations in such work that most outsiders would be unaware of?

A. There are certain challenges to creating design work that are common across all disciplines - not just numismatic design. It’s very common for a client to have no idea of what they want, until they see what they don’t want! I try to combat this by working on lots of thumbnail sketches and talking them through with the client early, just to convey ideas and themes, and only start to refine the actual drawing once the client is happy with the general direction. It creates a lot of work up front, but prevents last minute changes to fully rendered artwork (or worse, designs that have been modelled up), which is much more disruptive.

The internet, whilst a great resource, can also be one of the biggest headaches…the issues surrounding copyright of images freely available on the net are muddy and complex, but the upshot is that using images directly from the internet for coin designs is breaking the copyright of the person who created the original image. When you add those issues to the low resolution of images uploaded to the net, it can make dealing with client briefs quite difficult. Sometimes it’s just impossible to create a physical model from a grainy, blurred photo, and it’s always a case of balancing a desire to help a client achieve their idea, with not undertaking something in the knowledge that it’s never going to look good.

The main difference I find between clients is the amount of intellectual content they look for in their designs. Some clients want very direct, representational designs, which are usually just a case of finding the right imagery and composition. The other end of the scale is where a client has underlying themes that need to run through the design work, or wants to convey something symbolic or allegorical. That’s the kind of design that I enjoy most - finding ways to convey complex themes through very simple designs whilst keeping clarity in the visuals.

There’s a quote by the graphic designer David Carson - “Don’t confuse legibility with communication”, which I think is relevant to so many design briefs. There’s a temptation to oversell the topic of a coin in the commemorative market - i.e. to have the topic clear in the design, then explained in lettering that runs around the design edge, and then explained again on the packaging. Coins have very little space to make their impact, and repetition of the central theme often takes up valuable space that could be used for interesting visuals.
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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #11 on: July 31, 2014, 07:34:28 PM »
Q. During your time at the Royal Mint you must have met a few of their long-time artists. Do you have any particular memories or stories about them?

A. I’m still bound by the Official Secrets Act, so that cuts the number of stories by about 99%!

I was envious of Ian Rank Broadley’s studio, and Stuart Devlin’s library and outdoor pool! But I loved seeing people’s workspaces - especially when they manage to keep them tidy, which I can never seem to do…

I think my favourite story was of a meeting with a gentleman named Ronald Cameron, who was modelling a Britannia design created by artist David Mach. Ronald was actually the sculptor who made the Thunderbirds puppet prototypes, and was responsible for most of the toy soldiers that men of my generation will remember. He was a great modeller with zero ego, and myself and a colleague found ourselves sharing a beer with him one snowy morning in London. He was in the middle of sculpting a life size gorilla, as I recall.

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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #12 on: July 31, 2014, 07:42:57 PM »

DOCTOR WHO MEDAL, ROYAL MINT - DESIGNS BY MATT BONACCORSI.

Q. You were involved in the design projects involving two “cults”: the medals celebrating Doctor Who and New Zealand’s series of “Hobbit” collector coins. Please tell us a little about your experience of these, and whether you are actually a fan of either.

A. Both great series, largely because of the huge range of visual imagery, and especially because all of that imagery came in giant, high res Photoshop files! Although the use of imagery is tightly controlled due to branding guidelines, it actually makes the design process easier, because every image comes pre-approved. This was especially true with Lord of the Rings, as they just send us advance copies of the films, and told us we could use any stills we wanted, provided that we didn’t breach certain specific guidelines.





NEW ZEALAND, 10 DOLLAR COLLECTOR COIN OF FRODO, 2004, BY MATT BONACCORSI.

It’s impossible not to get drawn into the stories when designing things like this, and nearly always results in better designs. I was never a big LOTR fan specifically, but I played Dungeons and Dragons constantly as a teenager, and I’ve always been a fan of fantasy and myth, so it was right up my alley.

As an actual project, it was pretty heavy going. I was handling all the design work myself, and every design had to go through a 3 stage approval process – New Zealand Post, who were issuing the coins, New Line Cinema’s licensing team in New Zealand, and finally, New Line Cinema themselves in New York. We set up a dedicated web site, so that images could be loaded up and viewed at any time, just to try and cope with the 24 hour international time gap between the three parties.

The Mint put together a high end computer that I took home on loan, so I could model up the backgrounds to each coin in my spare time. It was one of the first series that we produced in the Mint that had an extensive amount of digital modelling in each coin. It was all quite basic, and perhaps lacked finesse, but it cut the timescales down massively.

I went to the launch of the series at the Baltimore ANA, but, due to some unfortunate licensing issues, we had to take down all the coins on display, just hours before the launch. Those are the surreal moments that I always remember - standing at a coin launch with not a coin in sight, while our hired ‘Wizard’ wandered around aimlessly in a purple cloak and pointy hat…




DOCTOR WHO MEDAL - DESIGNS BY MATT BONACCORSI.

Doctor Who was less hectic, but just felt like a home from home, as my wife was working on the series at the time. She’s a costume designer, and worked as supervisor on the show for about 5 or 6 years. It’s filmed just up the road from where I live, so it was always going to be a great project to have in the Mint.

I had a great idea for a series of ‘regeneration’ coins, using a trick to make 2 portraits of successive Doctors blend into each other when a coin was spun, but sadly, there are all kinds of issues over who owns what rights on legacy Doctor Who content. Next anniversary, maybe??

I think that populist series like LOTR and Doctor Who are great news for the coin industry. They’re perhaps not strictly ‘numismatic’, but they do inspire new collectors, or draw in people who collect other things, and that keeps the hobby alive.



 
 
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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #13 on: July 31, 2014, 07:44:02 PM »
Q. Your period as designer and team leader at the Royal Mint (1996-2004) coincided with several changes and innovations. Amongst other things, the scope and style of the UK’s collector coins became wider and more adventurous. Which particular innovations do you remember, and to what extent were you involved in them?

A. The main change at the Mint through those years was, of course, the move from Janvier pantograph technology to CNC technology for creating models and tooling. It opened up so many new avenues in terms of what could be physically and commercially achieved. The learning curve was huge, but it completely changed the way that coin tooling was produced. In doing so, it also changed the way that designs were produced, and thusly, the style and content of those designs. Many early computer generated designs were very simple, geometric and ‘2D’. This coincided with the introduction of the circulation two pound coin in the UK, which, for some reason, always extracted unusual and innovative design choices from the Royal Mint Advisory Committee.

The other major shift in the way the Mint operated was the return of Hong Kong to China in 1999. The market for collectable UK coins in Hong Kong had always been huge, and the drop in revenue for the Mint over the subsequent years showed the impact of the change in that market. There was also a general shift in the commemorative coin market around that time, and the industry suddenly seemed to get much more competitive. This pushed us to find faster ways to produce designs and tooling, and so we were constantly pushing the boundaries of what the computer design and CNC software could do for us.

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Re: Matt Bonaccorsi, Coin Designer
« Reply #14 on: July 31, 2014, 07:44:54 PM »
Q. From 2004 to 2007 you were Chief Engraver at the Royal Mint. What did this entail, and to what extent were you still involved in hands-on engraving?

A. That was an odd period for us in the design team. A decision was made to split the Chief Engraver role into two. I took on the title of Chief Engraver, and ran the internal design team, along with a group of toolmakers dedicated to building the prototype tooling for initial coin trials of every product we made. The then Chief Engraver was given control of the organisation and commissioning of design only. At that time, much of the design work was going out to freelance artists, so separating the head of design from the internal design team didn’t seem THAT odd...

The idea behind this was to try and smooth out the huge workload of tooling and design that was crushing the team. At that time, it was taking us nearly 4 months to go from approved design to sample coin, which was untenable. We were also only completing around 25% of our scheduled work in any given month.

After taking on the role of Chief, I worked with a team to introduce lean manufacturing principles into the design and tooling process. After a lot of sweat and a few tears, we achieved a lead time from approved design to sample coin of only 4 weeks - a quarter of what it had been previously. After our 3rd or 4th year, we were also hitting an average target of 97% completion of scheduled work in any given month. It was a great time for the team, although a tough one, but by the time I left the Mint, they were one of the most consistently successful departments in the business, and I’m ferociously proud of that.

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