Scotland’s new £20 note is canvas for beautiful fauna illustration

The third new banknote to come out of the Fabric of Nature series features red squirrels whose fur transforms under UV light.

11 March 2020


Where else can a creative say their work has likely been seen, and held, by much of their country’s population than on a banknote? A truly unique and no doubt high-pressure project to redesign Scotland’s cash saw a collective of Scottish creative studios and agencies work with the public to imbed the national identity within the artwork, the most recent of which was put into circulation last week – the new polymer Red Squirrel £20 note.

Design and branding studio O Street was enlisted by the Royal Bank of Scotland to lead the graphic design process, which in turn collaborated with Nile HQ on service design, Stuco and Timorous Beasties on illustration, and dozens of other experts in colour, textile design, photography and calligraphy, to bring the complex combination of imagery together, not to mention currency printers De La Rue which oversaw the design process and printed the final notes. The first of the so-called Fabric of Nature design series was the £5 note, released in 2016, which depicted two mackerel swimming in mirror image of one another accompanied by an excerpt from Sorley MacLean's poem The Choice. According to Timorous Beasties, the final design concept was landed on after a series of workshops and surveys with the Scottish public, settling on “more ordinary aspects of Scottish identity including otters, midges, mackerel and tweed”.

O Street adds that the designs set out to be “pocket size works of art… full of meaning and part of a family narrative to celebrate the people, achievements and nature of Scotland”. The otters, again two swimming together, feature on the £10 note along with an excerpt from Norman MacCaig's poem Moorings. And the new £20 features two of the country’s native red squirrels on a tree branch, alongside an excerpt from Mark Alexander Boyd’s poem, Cupid and Venus. Under UV light, sections of the squirrels’ heavily textured fur and bushy tail highlight in brilliant green and orange – part of the in-depth research and development of colour schemes and bespoke tweed patterns for each note, reflecting its denomination colour. The poetry was chosen to connect the type of landscape and animals represented on each design.

Also, all three notes feature pioneering women of Scottish history: a portrait of Scottish author Nan Shepherd on the £5; scientist Mary Somerville on the £10; and tearoom entrepreneur and Mackintosh collaborator Kate Cranston on the £20.

Neil Wallace, director of O Street, said in a statement: “The ubiquitous banknote is something which millions of folk have in their pocket. Creating these took inspiration from the people of Scotland, advice from our peers and beautiful illustrations from Stuco and Timorous Beasties. Truly a designer’s dream job.”

GalleryO Street, Timorous Beasties, Stuco, Nile HQ and De La Rue: Scottish £20 banknote for RBS

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

After five years as It’s Nice That’s news editor, Jenny became online editor in June 2021, overseeing the website’s daily editorial output.

Jenny is currently on maternity leave.

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