Joel Iskowitz: How To Design A Coin

Joel Iskowitz: How To Design A Coin

Joel Iskowitz

Joel Iskowitz is an accomplished painter and one of the most prolific designers of coins and medals in the U.S. Mint. While his designs for the U.S. Mint only began in 2005, he has already been involved with an astonishing 50 U.S. coin and medals – and that number is growing rapidly. Iskowitz also is one of few people who hold the honor of having his art hang in the Capitol, White House, and Pentagon all at the same time. As an artist, Iskowitz can be defined as an artist who pursues accuracy to an incredible degree and possesses incredible capacity for being able to summarize accomplishments with only a handful of designs. Over the past few months, Iskowitz has been working closely with Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), a third-party rare coin certification, where he has agreed to individually sign labels of exceptional coins as a guaranty of their excellence on behalf of the organization.

Iskowitz’s Meteoric Rise in Coin Design

Iskowitz’s career in coin design began when he was accepted into the US Mint Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) in 2005, a relatively new program who’s goal is to attract new talent and diversity to the US Mint. While Iskowitz’s tenure in the US Mint has not been long, his designs have spanned across a tremendous number of coins and medals far in excess of the average designer. To date, Iskowitz has over twenty US mint coins, which include four reverses for the America is Beautiful quarter series, five reverses for the American Platinum, four Presidential Dollar obverses, seven commemorative coins, and 11 obverses or reverses for the First Spouse series. Iskowitz also helped design a number of U.S. commemorative coins as well as six recent Congressional Gold Medals. His eye for design was recognized at an international level when he designed the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for British Commonwealth coinage – of which he is the only American to hold the honor.

Iskowitz’s Coin Design Philosophy

To the average person, the figures and shapes on coins are almost background noise – it makes it easy to differentiate one coin from another but very few people actually take the time to examine and appreciate the coins themselves. Iskowitz is not the average person. His approach to coin design is astonishingly in-depth, where he seeks to bring the accomplishments of his subject to life in his designs. In order to get a complete understanding of his subject’s achievements and bring to life the narratives surrounding the subject, Iskowitz takes a meticulous, stepped approach to each new design.

How to Design A Coin

Iskowitz has stated that while no project is the same, he takes a similar set of steps to research all aspects of the subject before even starting the design. His first step is to read and understand the legislation that authorizes a new design and the subject it’s focused on. The goal is to see the window from which Congress is viewing the subject, so that he can orient himself so that he designs something in line with their vision. Most importantly, he seeks to understand exactly why the honor is being given to the subject of the design. Following that, Iskowitz looks to make a first hand connection with his subject, which often translates into travel to the location of the subject. He talks with people associated with the subject, examines the subject or event in person, and takes meticulous notes about all aspects of the subject. To guarantee authenticity and accuracy, he often visits the National Archives to pour over literature and images. In short, Iskowitz looks to gain a complete and comprehensive understanding of the subject before even beginning his design. Iskowitz’s obsession with accuracy is clear when looking at his designs. For him, the artistic touch in the process is when the montage is assembled of all the different parts, but the individual rendering of each design much be perfect. For example, Iskowitz’s process when creating the New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal exemplifies his attention to detail. The medal honors the journey of the Friendship 7 capsule along with the astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and John Glenn, and Iskowitz was able to catch everything down to the last detail. He examined mission notes from John Glenn’s mission in order to correctly capture the direction and orientation of the capsule when it was orbiting around earth. His medal received recognition from the acclaimed International Design Awards.

International Recognition and Painting Excellence

Due to his impressive design credits for the U.S. Mint, Iskowitz has been spoken publicly about coin design all around the U.S. and on television. His excellence has also been recognized internationally, he has helped design coins and medals around the world and his numismatic artwork is on permanent display in the Smithsonian. Coin design is not the only artistic focus that defined Iskowitz. He is an accomplished painter, where his work has been displayed in major museums around the world, such as the Kennedy Space Center, the Historical Museum of Carentan, France, and the US Air Force Art Collection. Iskowitz’s art has also been requested around the world in the form of stamps, where he has designed more than 2,000 stamps for 40 nations. Iskowitz’s appreciation and passion for coin design becomes clear when looking at a quote from his 2015 lecture at the Museum of American Finance: “How fascinating that this art moves among the people, compared to art that’s in a museum where people go and visit. My art visits the people and there’s no telling how it will move around. So it’s really a very vital form of communication. Each coin and medal is a repository of the history of any given culture or era. It’s also an ambassador in a way, because it carries a message and shows a culture’s finest or most moving moments.”

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