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Two new coin designs featuring Canadian icons: Maple leaves and Beaver

December 10, 2013

The Royal Canadian Mint recently released two silver collector coins engraved with my illustration of a bouquet of maple leaves and of a swimming beaver.

The former, which shows a hand holding leaves of three species of maple in autumn color, is part of the Mint’s 2013 O Canada series and is the only colored coin in that series:

1/2 oz. Fine Silver Coin - Maple Leaf (2013) - designed by Emily S. Damstra

1/2 oz. Fine Silver Coin – Maple Leaf (2013) – designed by Emily S. Damstra

The swimming beaver coin is the Mint’s second 5 oz. beaver coin; you can see the first here. I like designing for such a large coin (65 mm) because it allows me to tell a more detailed story about the subject. In this case, I chose to illustrate an aspect of the beaver’s life that I find especially interesting: The beaver is bringing an aspen branch down to the bottom of its pond to store it in advance of winter. The reason a beaver constructs dams is to create a pond deep enough that it won’t completely freeze in the winter, allowing the beaver safe and easy access to food the animal has cached.

5 oz. Fine Silver Coin - Swimming Beaver - designed by Emily S. Damstra

5 oz. Fine Silver Coin – Swimming Beaver – designed by Emily S. Damstra

I really like how the Mint used different finishes on this coin to make the foreground elements contrast with the background (though it’s a bit hard to tell from my mediocre photograph of the coin).

This is my 5th numismatic design that includes a water line with elements of the illustration above and below water. (The others are the Memphré, Mishepishu, a Polar Bear, and an Iceberg with whales). I didn’t plan to create a body of work with that element in common – it just happened that way! I suppose I find the water line to be a useful device for telling a story, creating an interesting composition, and showing a unique perspective.

Eastern Bumblebee

November 20, 2013

Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to paint a variety of animals for interpretive signs at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Below is my most recent illustration for that client:  An Eastern Bumblebee worker.

Illustration of Eastern Bumblebee, Bombus impatiens, © Emily S. Damstra

Illustration of Eastern Bumblebee, Bombus impatiens, © Emily S. Damstra

Fortuitously, the Eastern Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) is a local species and my client gave me this assignment during a season (August) when I would be able to easily find some specimens. Though I’m certainly no bee expert, it wasn’t difficult to figure out how to distinguish the Eastern Bumblebee from other local species. A bit of research also informed me that I could easily spot a worker bee (as opposed to a male or a queen) by looking for the balls of pollen the workers store in the “baskets” on their hind legs. I netted a few, put them in the freezer, and then carefully mounted them in relatively life-like positions using pins to hold each leg in place while the bees dried. With the help of a macro lens and a microscope, I was able to see the bees in great detail. After I finished the illustration, I properly labeled the specimens and they now reside in my small insect collection.

To be able to closely examine and manipulate my subject is a real treat and not something I can do with, for example, a polar bear, an ancient village, or a placoderm!

I used gouache to paint this bee.

Bighorn Sheep in Gold and Platinum

September 23, 2013
0.5 g Pure Gold Coin - Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep designed by Emily S. Damstra

0.5 g Pure Gold Coin – Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep designed by Emily S. Damstra

This very small (11 mm) gold coin featuring my illustration of a Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep is now available at the Royal Canadian Mint’s website. This design is the third in the series. The first was the snarling cougar that I designed a couple years ago, and the second is a lovely hummingbird.

Also available is the larger, more expensive platinum version shown below, though it is a very limited mintage. (Click here to see it at the Mint’s website). It’s much easier to see the details of the fur and horn texture here.

1 oz Fine Platinum Coin - Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep - designed by Emily S. Damstra

1 oz Fine Platinum Coin – Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep – designed by Emily S. Damstra

Sincere thanks to Colonial Acres Coins, who once again kindly allowed me to photograph their merchandise.

 

SONSI’s 2013 Presentation Day

September 19, 2013
2013PresentationDay_poster_low_res

Click poster to enlarge

I’ll be participating in this event next month; you’re invited! Visit sonsi.ca for more details.

My first philatelic illustrations

September 10, 2013

Earlier this year I was invited by the United Nations Postal Administration to illustrate a set of four stamps for their Endangered Species series. Recently, they sent me this image showing how my illustrations will appear in the set:

Illustrations by Emily S. Damstra, © United Nations Postal Administration   (click image to enlarge)

Illustrations by Emily S. Damstra, © United Nations Postal Administration (click image to enlarge)

The theme for this set is nocturnal animals. Clockwise from top left: Banded Civet (Hemigalus derbyanus), Pharoah Eagle Owl (Bubo ascalaphus), Long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus sp.), and Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang).

I decided on a format of showing each animal’s head in full color and in the background the whole animal in its habitat at night. I created these illustrations using graphite with digital color.

Evidently the UN is the only organization in the world that is neither a country nor a territory that is permitted to issue postage stamps. It is also the only entity to issue stamps in three different currencies – US dollars, Swiss francs, and Euros. The stamps can only be used for postage if mailed from UN Headquarters in New York City, Geneva, or Vienna (depending upon the currency). More information about the UNPA is here at their website.

This set of stamps will be available (according the UNPA website) in October 2013. Try this link in October to find them.

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*Update Oct. 11, 2013*

The stamps are now available and may be ordered here.

Icebergs are Awe-inspiring and Troublesome subjects

August 9, 2013
$20 for $20 Fine Silver Coin - Iceberg and Whale (2013) designed by Emily S. Damstra

$20 for $20 Fine Silver Coin – Iceberg and Whale (2013) designed by Emily S. Damstra

The photo above shows my most recent coin design for the Royal Canadian Mint – Two humpback whales (mother and calf) swimming near a large iceberg. While doing research for this illustration, I realized that Newfoundland’s and Labrador’s Iceberg Alley is a place I am very interested in visiting. I admired many photographs of beautiful icebergs in all shapes and sizes, but I’m sure seeing them in person would inspire an even deeper awe.

Another thing I realized while working on this illustration is that I find it very difficult to draw objects that don’t have a symmetry of some sort. Present me with a scaly fish, a complex flower, or a spiny sea urchin and I will at least know how to begin illustrating it. Ask me to render a pile of dirt, a mass of leaf litter, or in this case an iceberg, and I feel like someone who’s never before put pencil to paper. One might think that representing something irregular like an iceberg would be easy since no two are alike, but I’m quite sure I spent a lot more time fiddling with the shape and textures of the iceberg than I did with the whales.

See a nicer image and the coin’s full specs at the Mint’s website here.

Gold Starfish and Silver Niagara Falls

July 9, 2013
1/25 oz Pure Gold Coin - Starfish - illustrated by Emily S. Damstra

1/25 oz Pure Gold Coin – Starfish – illustrated by Emily S. Damstra

When the Royal Canadian Mint invited me to submit a design for the first coin in a new series of Sea Creatures coins, I was thrilled at the chance to illustrate a sea star. I have a real affinity for invertebrates; indeed my favorite animal group is the one containing the sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, sea lilies, etc. — the Phylum Echinodermata (which means “spiny skin”). The beautiful and intricate forms of the animals in this group really appeal to me. The Class names in this Phylum are just as wonderful as the animals themselves: Ophiuroidea, Holothuroidea, Edrioasteroidea, Blastoidea, and Echinoidea, for example. Fossil echinoderms, especially from the Devonian and Mississippian ages, may be the most beautiful animals that ever lived (in my humble opinion). I could go on, but for now that’s enough of me waxing on about echinoderms.

The Mint released the coin with my starfish illustration this week and I am so pleased with how it turned out. The Mint’s engravers did a superb job capturing the fine details of this sea star, including its minute spots and the individual tube feet that are visible on the undersides of the curved-back tips of the arms. For a 13.92 mm diameter coin, the level of detail is remarkable.

This species – the Leather Star (Dermasterias imbricata) – lives on the west coast of North America. You can find more information about the coin at the Mint’s website here.

1/2 oz Fine Silver Coin - Niagara Falls (2013) - illustrated by Emily S. Damstra

1/2 oz Fine Silver Coin – Niagara Falls (2013) – illustrated by Emily S. Damstra

Along with the sea star, the Mint just released this coin with my illustration of Niagara Falls. Last summer I drove to Niagara Falls for this assignment and did all the touristy things so I could see and photograph the Falls from all different angles. It seemed there were gulls and tourists everywhere so I decided to include both in the design I submitted. This is a view from the base of Horseshoe Falls. You can find the full specs on the coin at the Mint’s website here.

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