Celebrating Dame Shirley Bassey on a coin called for a design that would be as glamorous as the singer herself. In her first design for coins, Sue Aperghis created a vibrant design that received Dame Shirley’s personal approval.
Sue Aperghis hails from a creative background, having trained as a graphic designer over 30 years ago in Taunton, Devon. Spending the ensuing years in various design companies, mostly in London, she also worked in Belgium for a period. In addition to graphic design, she has a diploma in Historical and Architectural Stone Carving from the City and Guilds of London Art School. During this intense, three-year course, the artist found many of her design skills were transferrable to the craft of stone carving. It was a similar case when The Royal Mint invited her to submit a design for the coin celebrating Dame Shirley, as we found out when we caught up with the designer to discuss her winning design.
After receiving the submission invite, what were you most looking forward to about this project?
“I was really excited; my only design experience in metalwork prior to this coin was for the British Art Medal Society. I had planned to visit The Royal Mint for some work experience but the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to that. Instead, I was given a trial coin design brief to see how I would interpret the design. I took to it quite naturally thanks to my design background, and then a few weeks later I was sent a live brief to design a coin celebrating Dame Shirley Bassey.”
How did it feel when you found out that your design had been chosen to feature on the coin?
“I was in a bit of disbelief at first. I was only able to tell a select few people the news too, which was difficult as I was over the moon to have my design chosen for the coin! It was a great experience working with The Royal Mint’s Product Design team, they always offered great feedback and I really enjoyed the process.”
Are you a fan of Dame Shirley Bassey’s music?
“I respect her voice; it’s just incredible. I remember listening to her music back on TV programmes in the 1980s, especially the Saturday evening entertainment shows. Her stage presence is so powerful; it’s something that no one else has.”
How did you approach the initial design concept?
“My initial concept was very performance-based, where I centred the typography around a stage and microphone. In these initial stages I did, however, incorporate Dame Shirley as a silhouette just to demonstrate how it would strengthen the design. Fortunately, it worked in my favour as when this suggestion went back to The Royal Mint Advisory Committee, they adjusted the brief to allow the introduction of a silhouette. Then I knew I wanted to add sparkle to the design, as the glitz and glamour is what makes Dame Shirley stand out from other performers. I wanted to ensure this design embodied her flamboyant aura, and that it expressed that unique star element that encapsulates Dame Shirley.”
Did you undertake any research for the theme?
“Yes, I undertook hours of research, which involved looking at hundreds of images. This was primarily to gauge Dame Shirley’s body shape and mannerisms so I could create a silhouette that would be recognisable to fans when they looked at the coin. I did a lot of initial sketches at this stage by hand and re-worked them so I could get a feel for intricate details, such as how she positions her hands during her performances.”
Could you talk us through any iterations that led you to the final design?
“My first design used very bold typography and Dame Shirley Bassey was almost a negative space outside the typography. Later on, I swapped the silhouette with the typography so that Dame Shirley literally takes centre stage in the design. I initially used quite flamboyant typography reminiscent of Dame Shirley’s album covers and inspired by the James Bond franchise, given her long-standing association with the franchise and its theme tunes. However, I toned it down and refined it for the final design.
“I worked closely with The Royal Mint’s Product Design team throughout the process, creating multiple drawings before we got the right one. The feedback I received was extremely helpful and thorough, even down to the detail of the fingers I’d drawn for the silhouette.”
Were there any challenges you faced in creating the design?
“Compared with flat graphics, designing for the surface of a coin is a lot more intricate and delicate. It was also tricky trying to portray a music icon in silhouette form; I had to make it quite obvious that it was Dame Shirley Bassey.”
Is there a coin that you would love to design in the future?
“I would love something scientific or inventor-based as you can get really creative with that type of theme. I would also love to work on a coin that celebrates a British artist or designer, as the United Kingdom is a hotbed for creativity. Those sorts of figures and individuals probably aren’t recognised as much as they should be. Someone like Alexander McQueen would be fantastic in terms of celebrating British design talent.”
Designed and made with support from Dame Shirley Bassey
With thanks to Jenny Kern Meredith