PORTRAIT RELIEF, lecture at the FIDEM Congress, Sofia 2014. Published in Medailles 2014.

Makingportrait medals has been the most enjoyable object for me:

it is challenging and almost an obsession for me to create the face of a human being. It tells so much and gives place for many dimensions of expression. It must be the most interesting work of an artist of my opinion.


•     The portrait is an expression in four dimensions

•     The forth dimension is the personality of the person

•     There will always be an interpretation of the personality

•     The artist will actually sign in for the fifth dimension since the personal style and the subjective impression of her will influence on the artwork.

During this congress we have seen and heard many interesting lectures about the history ofthe medal. We have seen how the expression and style of art has changed from the antique, where the naturalistic and very skilled period was ruling through the middle age where all the previous knowledge seemed to be forgotten, and later when the renaissance and the academic period took over. I will not say that the byzantine, the folk migration and the middle age were artistically bad periods, by no means NO, but the knowledge of the sculpting and painting in the Antique seemed to be completely forgotten. That is amazing. The rules for acceptance and artistic freedom have been rather strict through all ages, due to much more authoritarian societies and demanding from the emperors during the time. Look to the ancient coins from the antique how nice they are, with strong portraits of very high relief, more than we can dream of today, with artistic power and beauty. How come we lost this skill for so many hundreds of years? The first coins in the middle age were primitive and badly cut by unskilled craftsmen; I speak now first of all for the tradition of the northern Europe where it took its time to develop the skill of coining. It reminds us of how fragile it is to throw the education away and think that we do not need to know the skills to make art. Modern art must stay on the basics of the history, the understanding of the society and the tradition we come from, if not it will fall apart and be uninteresting for the future.

During the last 10 -15 years, the computer has come more and more into the machinery park of the Mints all over the world. It is “so to speak” an option of believe that the computer can solve all problems and development of the companies. In a way it’s true, we have changed our way of developing and our way of working all through, and we DO save a lot of time and increase the quantity a lot by using computers. I have used the 3d program of making medals for about10-15 years as well. I love the way it has made it possible to make nice models perfectly in a short time.

On technical motifs from buildings, bridges, trains, ships and so on, the computer does it much better and quicker than my hands, as long as the demand is to reproduce the design “in a proper” way with all details included. But, there is a but, since the market has got these nice designs, cheaper and cheaper, there has been a demand for more of this kind of design, and now we are asked to make even portraits, human figures in all positions, animals etc. in the same way.

I have always said it’s possible to do everything on the computer, that is actually true, but to do it in the nice quality that both you and I will be satisfied of; I have still not managed to do it so quickly that it is acceptable for the client who want it, for the same low piece as they pay for the other computerized models.

May be I am old fashioned, but I have really tried. I use Type 3 and ArtCam both 3Dprograms, and to obtain the good portrait in these programs I am not satisfied with the result. I still mean I can do it much better and quicker directly in plasticin and plaster by hand. In a way I can manage reasonably well on a profile portrait, since it has less need for perspective, but the three quarter profile and in front is not good to my opinion.


I have tried to find a third way of making portraits in 2D like this

the personality and the soul of the person can be described in the lines of the face.

Since this is my lecture about developing a portrait in the old fashioned way, I will continue explaining why I want to do by hand. Never the less the principle of building the shapes is equal even for making it on the computer.

I mean a human being is much more than a shape; the human figure, and here the portrait is a description of life, of a soul, and the communication between the creator and the public.

I am employed at a Mint, and have been there for many years, so for me it has been necessary to accept the demands for making traditionally and proper designs for the clients. And the royalties are no exception. The monarchs are the head of the country: meaning that as designer, I have to represent the nation and the opinion of the society; the monarchs are the representatives of the country and must be respected so. Fortunately we have simpatico royalties, so it’s not a problem. The portrait artist will give the interpretation of the knowledge of the person.

The Royalties are popular on both coins and medals
Profile is the easiest way to create the artwork.

Usually the only basics for creation are photos. It should be as many photos as possible to get the good understanding of the physical and mental dimensions of the person.

¾ profile is more complicated to create. To obtain the 3D impression; the angles of all shapes should reflect the light systematically in order to give the logical and consequent creation.

‍The relief is modelled in clay on a table of glass. The clay is rather hard; the best tools for it are in steel.
My tools are handmade from old files.
‍ ‍When finished with the positive plasticine I take a plaster cast.
The finished plaster in positive is ready for scanning and tooling.

The lettering and easy details are engraved  directly in the negative plaster. No undercut or straight sharp edges.

I use to take photos from different angles during the modelling to control that the angles, perspective and details are nice.

Smiling with teeth revealed is very risky. Most artists try to avoid it for good reasons.

Sometimes the client insists to have the full smile, and I give in for the temptation to try.

Humans from the Medieval age are not depicted on photos or paintings, so the freedom of the artist is wide. I sometimes use the face of real persons.

I have shown some examples and explained some advises here. That does not mean I have the true story about how to make a portrait. The truth has many ways and answers. Young people  want to find their new, personal expression and invent some news. That is a good way of thinking.

The most important dimension: experience, knowledge and education must be in the basis of all. As human beings we have developed our mankind to an incredibly high level. Only because we have a complex and verbal language makes it possible to teach each other and educate each other with our experience and skill.  We can look upon it like making an airplane, it is so complex that there is no single person who knows how to do it. The knowledge of it is a combination of the skill and education of many competent people. This can only be done by human beings due to our language and collective tradition and because we are open to share our knowledge and learn from each other. I think we can translate this theory on contemporary art:  by respecting the skill, knowledge, the history and understanding of the present, we are able to create the future.