Meet the man behind the Mr Squiggle coin series

Meet the man behind the Mr Squiggle coin series

Designer of the Royal Australian Mint's new Mr Squiggle and Friend coins Tony Dean inside his Bega studio. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

Designer of the Royal Australian Mint's new Mr Squiggle and Friend coins Tony Dean inside his Bega studio. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

Aa

New coins commemorating Mr Squiggle and Friends were designed right here in the Bega Valley.

Aa

The Royal Australian Mint's latest commemorative $2 coins celebrate the 60th anniversary of Mr Squiggle and Friends.

Released in February, the coins feature iconic characters from the show, which aired between 1959 and 1999, including Blackboard, Bill Steamshovel and Gus the Snail.

While the show about a character with a giant pencil for a nose who turns squiggles into works of art was extremely popular across the country, designer Tony Dean grew up in Papua New Guinea without a television, and wasn't aware of its existence until he returned to Australia as a teenager.

"The popularity of Mr Squiggle has surpassed everything I've done before," the 56-year-old, who now lives in Bega, NSW, said.

Rebecca Hetherington at the Royal Australian mint for the launch of the Mr Squiggle exhibition and newly minted two dollar coin on February 27. Picture: Karleen Minney.

Rebecca Hetherington at the Royal Australian mint for the launch of the Mr Squiggle exhibition and newly minted two dollar coin on February 27. Picture: Karleen Minney.

"Many people mention it. It was a much lighter theme because the last few years there's been a lot of centenary commemorations for the First World War.

"At first I didn't think much of it, but I really got into it."

His designs are a tribute to the character's creator Norman Hetherington, and created in collaboration with his daughter Rebecca.

"She was really good to work with. Interesting and a lot of fun," Mr Dean said. "Although the designs were a little bit of a challenge."

Norman Hetherington the man behind Mr Squiggle. Picture: Robert Pearce

Norman Hetherington the man behind Mr Squiggle. Picture: Robert Pearce

Born in Lilyfield in 1921, Mr Hetherington was a teacher, cartoonist, puppeteer, and puppet designer who both operated and did the voice of Mr Squiggle.

It was a family affair with his wife Margaret writing the scripts, and Rebecca co-hosting the show.

In the 1950s he also created Nicky and Noodle for the ABC and Jolly Gene and His Fun Machine for Channel Seven, with Mr Squiggle running for 40 years before it was taken off air in 1999.

He died in Sydney in 2010 following a long illness, leaving behind a legacy of over 70 years of creative work.

Mr Dean's designs were interpreted from a blend of character drawings and stills from from the show captured from YouTube.

He began the designs in Bega in May last year before finishing them at the mint in Canberra, where he works for a regular period each year, over six weeks.

"I usually go up over the winter to stand in for one of their sculptors who lives in Europe," Mr Dean said.

"The majority of people I've worked with are from Eastern Europe, where it is a recognised skill and trade."

Once the design is put to paper and decided on it is carved on plaster, and plasticine is used to sculpt the characters on a larger scale before the design is then digitised.

"Digital is a whole different way of thinking," he said. "For some things it's easier, but for others it's easier with traditional methods.

"There is a lot of digital printing going on but I prefer the traditional method.

"The intensity of working at actual size was taxing, but at the mint I could work on a bigger scale."

He said the most important part of the trade is learning, taking risks and experimenting.

Two $1 coins and a one cent coin, which Mr Dean said is his favourite, are also being sold to collectors.

"I really like copper, and the design of the moon fits the circular format of a coin," he said.

It wasn't his first foray into the world of Australian children's culture after recently designing coins to commemorate the much-loved Mem Fox character Possum Magic.

Tony Dean in his Bega studio. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

Tony Dean in his Bega studio. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

Mr Dean was trained in traditional die-sinker and engraver methods over seven years by Czech sculptor Emil Hafner from the age of just 17, after leaving Eltham High School in Melbourne.

"It's not a recognised trade in Australia," he said. "When I applied I didn't know what a die-sinker was, but I looked it up in the dictionary before the interview.

"I'd left home so I was really lucky."

Chiseling by hand while working under a microscope was a hard task, and Hafner tested the young trainees patience.

CEO of the Royal Australian Mint  Ross MacDiarmid at the February launch of the coins. Picture: Karleen Minney.

CEO of the Royal Australian Mint Ross MacDiarmid at the February launch of the coins. Picture: Karleen Minney.

"In the first week we made a hand engraving tool and he taught me how to just cut straight lines," Mr Dean said.

"After a few weeks of doing that he gave me a piece of steel and a chisel, and after I had finished he would just grind it off and make me do it over and over again.

"I've still got that first carving I did."

He worked for a time with a jewellery manufacturer and a badge and medallion manufacturer, and currently also creates medallions for clients including the CSIRO and various universities.

"I feel really lucky to have a job I enjoy," he said.

Mr Dean's favourite coin in circulation is the 20 cent piece designed by Stuart Devlin (above). Picture: Steven Holland

Mr Dean's favourite coin in circulation is the 20 cent piece designed by Stuart Devlin (above). Picture: Steven Holland

The mint's newer commemorative coins now contain colour dyes printed on their surface, which has added new elements to the design process.

"It's accepted that the ink is going to wear off, especially in the peaks, but will stay longer in the troughs," Mr Dean said.

"You have to think about how it will look when it's worn."

While he has had a hand in many of the mint's newer coin designs, he said the platypus on on the Stuart Devlin designed 20 cent piece is his favourite coin in circulation.

"I like the way the water is interpreted in it. It flows through the field which defies the technical rules of coin design."

Bega District News

Aa