The Royal Mint’s Shēngxiào Collection celebrates the lunar calendar through beautifully designed commemorative coins. With each coin dedicated to a different zodiac animal, this East-Asian inspired series has become a hugely popular annual release, showcasing a wonderful cultural infusion of designs.
This year is no different. Continuing the series, 2021 marks the historic Lunar Year of the Ox – one of the most beloved and respected creatures in Chinese culture. Hailed for its hard work and diligence in the field, the ox is highly respected in China and these industrious traits are also subsequently associated with those born under the ox sign.
Considering the subject matter at hand, it’s only fitting that the coin itself was the result of significant hard work and diligence on the part of the coin’s designer, Harry Brockway. For followers of the lunar series, that name may be familiar as Harry was also the man behind the 2019 Lunar Year of the Pig coin.
Outside of The Shēngxiào Collection, Harry has also designed a number of other Royal Mint coins in recent years, including the Christmas Nutcracker 2018 UK £5 Coin and the Remembrance Day 2019 UK £5 Coin. However, his design skills aren’t just reserved for The Royal Mint.
As a talented artist, Harry has also achieved success in a variety of artistic disciplines outside of coin design, including book illustrations and stone sculpture. Harry studied sculpture at Kingston Polytechnic and the Royal Academy Schools in London, whist he also trained as a stonemason at Weymouth College.
Amongst his growing list of accolades, he is also proud member of the Society of Wood Engravers and the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers. As if that wasn’t enough of a foundation, Harry is also based in Glastonbury, an area known for its artistry and historical spirituality. Suffice to say that Harry came well prepared for the task of the Lunar Year of the Ox design.
Whether he’s creating architectural carvings, ornate stone sculptures or decorative wood engravings, there’s one constant that remains constant throughout Harry’s work – intricacy. This intricacy translates perfectly to coinage and made Harry the perfect man for the task at hand.
With a vast portfolio of artwork and a number of high-profile coin designs, Harry brought a lot of artistic experience to the 2021 Lunar Year of the Ox project. This experience allowed Harry to create a wonderful design that is worthy of one of China’s best-loved animals.
That being said, blending elements of traditional British design with ancient Chinese culture is no easy feat. So, where to begin on such a daunting task? For Harry, it was all a matter of character.
“Besides the ox itself, the Chinese character and the lettering were important elements,” Harry remarked, recounting the origins of his design. “The inclusion of these features in the overall design was an absolute must. The direction the artwork took outside of the Chinese character was a work in progress.”
For inspiration, Harry looked within, recounting his own up-close experiences with oxen whilst travelling in the Asia. “I had recently visited India and witnessed oxen up-close,” Harry recalled. “These oxen were very exotic with their large horns, hump and characteristic dewlap.”
This first-hand experience provided much food for thought for Harry, giving him a rare edge in terms of his connection with the subject matter. This personal encounter allowed for precious context in terms of size and stature of the beast and gave him a unique perspective.
To bolster his design and fully capture the animal’s features in accurate detail, Harry looked to the past to further stimulate his creativity.
“It was important to give an Eastern feel to the design yet with a ‘British twist’. I began by researching eighteenth-century British paintings of prize cattle. These impressive creatures often stand centre stage in an English landscape.”
The research proved to be just the spark Harry needed to help him embark on his winning design. Toying with a variety of elements, including blossom trees and ploughs as part of the design, Harry went through several incarnations of the coin, trialling numerous versions of the ox before landing on his final design.
Exploring the concept of a minimalist setting with a strong focus on the creature itself, Harry was able to refine his design with an emphasis on ‘less is more’. By stripping back the distractions and placing the ox centre stage, Harry’s final design managed to portray the ox in its purest form.
Grazing peacefully in the serene setting of the countryside, Harry’s design manages to portray the ox as an impressive specimen whilst also illustrating its beauty amidst the English backdrop.
“Ultimately, the design process was one of reduction as elements were distilled down to the final design. The finished design retains the impressive bulk of the animals in the paintings yet also depicts the ox as a peaceful creature – strong and powerful but not aggressive in any way.”
Blending an East-Asian institution with the quintessential quaintness of the British landscape, the final artwork effectively merges two worlds on the face of one coin. For anyone celebrating Chinese New Year, the Lunar Year of the Ox coin truly reflects the conscientious nature of the ox, even behind the design.