Year of the Rabbit
Artist Lily (Yuan-Li) Kao shares her design for the Royal Canadian Mint’s 2023 Lunar New Year coin series.
2023 Pure Silver Rabbit Coin from Lunar Year series. Courtesy the Royal Canadian Mint.
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2023 is the year of the rabbit. A symbol of longevity and peace, the rabbit is tied to the legend of the Jade (Moon) Rabbit in Chinese folklore. Many say you can even spot the shadows of the rabbit on the surface of the moon with the naked eye. There are a few different versions of the legend but according to one story, the rabbit was rewarded with immortality after it selflessly sacrificed itself as food to a man. The Jade Rabbit is known to live in Moon Palace with Chang’e, the goddess of the moon, and is often portrayed pounding the elixir of life on the moon while standing under a cassia tree. The prominence of the rabbit in ancient Asian culture makes it a common motif in traditional artworks.
This year, the Royal Canadian Mint is continuing its 12-year Lunar Year coin series with the launch of another collectible coin. Inspired by the legend of the Jade (Moon) Rabbit, the reverse design by Canadian artist Lily (Yuan-Li) Kao celebrates the Year of the Rabbit with a depiction of the Goddess of the Moon’s furry companion. In her design, the Rabbit can be seen leaping over a crescent moon – making new beginnings.
Kao was born and raised in Taiwan and was inspired to pursue arts after watching her grandfather do Chinese brush painting and calligraphy as a child. When she is not working as an illustrator or graphic designer, on her off days, you will find her working on her paper goods brand LKD (Lily Kao Design).
Image courtesy of Lily Kao
We connected with Kao to learn more.
Foyer: How did you get involved in the 12-year Lunar Year series with the Royal Canadian Mint?
Kao: I was invited to participate in the design competition for the Lunar Year Tiger coin in 2020. Being a Taiwanese-Canadian, Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays celebrated in my family. It was such an exciting moment when I found out that my design was chosen for the fine silver Lunar Year series! I feel truly honoured that I can bring my two cultural backgrounds together and share this special time of the year with others in such a unique form of art.
Foyer: How would you describe your art style?
Kao: Simple, organic and playful.
Foyer: What was your inspiration behind the rabbit design?
Kao: The Chinese folklore of the Jade Rabbit (玉兔) inspired this design. In this rabbit coin, the enchanting legend is portrayed in a dynamic position, leaping over a moon crescent that symbolizes new beginnings and a new cycle. More than just cute and fluffy, the Jade Rabbit is a symbol of selflessness and devotion.
Foyer: What was your design process?
Kao: When approached with the task of bringing the Lunar Year series coins to life, it is important to have an accurate depiction of Chinese culture. The foundation of these designs began with an understanding of Chinese folklore. Once I picked out a cultural reference I wanted to focus on (for the 2020 tiger coin I designed as well, it was the traditional cloth tiger), I sketched out as many ideas as possible inside the shape of a circle. After I had a concept I was happy with, I transferred the drawing to the computer to vectorize the final design.
Foyer: What was it like working with metal as a medium? Did that impact your approach in any way?
Kao: It was an interesting experience because I have to think of the design not just as a 2-D illustration, but as a 3-D engraved coin. The vector illustration was depicted in shades of grey to show the different depths of the design. The final execution of the 3-D rendering was later created by the engraver at the Mint. In addition to the medium, the size of the coin (38 mm) and the shape played a big part in how I designed the coin. It is important to me to make sure that the artwork translates clearly in a small surface area and that it feels organic and flows nicely to the roundness of the coin.