Home > Uncategorized > Mind-blowing artwork in your pocket

Mind-blowing artwork in your pocket

March 30, 2010

Bas-relief sculpture is the art of suggesting three-dimensionality in a pretty-much-flat surface.  Yesterday I noticed an example that really knocked my socks off.  I was waiting for a system to boot up and idly looking at coins in my pocket.

On campus there’s a sculpture of Abe Lincoln that looks pretty darn good and it’s only about two inches deep.  At about eighteen inches that’s a width-to-depth ratio of 9 to 1. 

But looking at this nickel I couldn’t help admiring how the image worked and got to wondering how deep it is. So I got out a micrometer and adapted it to measure small areas, and took measurements.  High spots – the arch of the eye, the cheekbone, ridge of the nose, etc.  And low spots – it dips just off the eye, just under the nose and chin.

From my photo album; Notes

Ready?  This portrait of Thomas Jefferson is 135 times as wide as it is deep.  None of these features is more than six thousandths of an inch above its surroundings.  I don’t know what figure I was expecting, but it wasn’t that small. For comparison, a sheet of standard copy paper is just under five thousandths thick.  An index card, ten thousandths. 

Damn.  Getting from artistic concept to finished die is NOT an automated process by any stretch.  My humble admiration to the artists and engravers

(Click through to the album, and click the magnifying glass icon for a closer look.  Specially note the detail around the eyes, and the rendering of the facial muscles.)

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Karen
    March 30, 2010 at 21:33 | #1

    “Deeply struck” coins, which have closer to the ratios you were expecting, wear very badly (all the sharp edges knock off quickly) and often strike poorly (because it takes so much force to deeply indent a planchet).  So coin engravers have become masters of shallow relief.

  2. April 1, 2010 at 13:17 | #2

    What amazes me is that they don’t just make a couple of these coins – they make millions of them. Modern machine tools can be very precise. They can make small numbers of things very precisely. Coins, though need to be made in many identical molds, each of which must be used thousands of times, if not tens of thousands.

  3. April 3, 2010 at 20:31 | #3

    I can’t wait for the day they offshore the production of US coins to China.

Comments are closed.