The Making of the Aspen X Games Medals

Colorado artist Lisa Issenberg Created the 2020 Aspen X Games medals for the winners. Here, she shares her inspiration and process:


The blank canvas waits patiently while the idea board fills with every possible concept that could be incorporated into the design. What does the medal need to express? What specific elements must be included? Who are the recipients? What would sufficiently celebrate the achievement—to match the honor? Should the design slant towards sleek, modern, industrial, or rad? With steel, brass, bronze, aluminum, and pewter as my mediums, the properties and possibilities are vast. 

When I think about what guides my design, I summon my mentors, their styles and philosophies, and the wise words they have shared throughout the years. My professor at Pratt, Irv Tepper, pointed out the five major design aspects of a teacup—the outside shape, the inside shape, the rim, handle, and foot—I never saw a teacup the same way again. Every project is a tea cup. 

My design approach aligns with the physical processes used to craft the awards; I use both industrial methods and handcraft. As a designer, I’ve always been drawn to the perfection of a shape and clean lines allowed by a machine. As an artist, I sink in my hands to bring out the soul… weld, grind, polish, and patina the metal, pound the rivets… each piece slightly different than the next.

I draw inspiration from my heart-pounding influences: Bauhaus form and graphics; Scandinavian minimalism and respect for their natural resources; the theory “truth in materials,” a tenet of modern architecture holding that materials should be used where appropriate, their natural beauty and imperfections revealed; and the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi—the art of imperfection. 

I sketched many versions, honoring this teaching: “There are over 300 ways to design a bottle.  Just keep the pencil moving with wild abandon. No editing yet. The best designs will surface.”

Once a handful of my favorite prototypes were fully developed and refined, I presented them to Brian Kerr, Associate Director of Competition for ESPN X Games, who chose the final design. 

The X Games logo is the most prominent feature, separated and forward in relief, and framed by a second layer. This gives it both heft and a 3D feeling. The final Aspen X Games medal unifies the following details: A perfect circle, Aspen’s iconic Maroon Bells abstracted with artistic license, the logo and simply “ASPEN 2020.” Less is more!  A phrase adopted by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1927 and referenced infinitely. “ASPEN” and “2020” are cut in the geometrically-based classic Futura font (also 1927) and align perpendicularly to balance the off-centered placement of the “X.”

All parts are cut machine-perfect from plates of mild steel, stainless steel and brass. (The metals are 90% recycled content, nested so that waste is minimized, and all waste is recycled.)  I satin-polish all surfaces to reveal polishing lines. The bronze medal requires more elbow and love. It is patina’d, then rubbed back to bring out the sweet balance between deep richness and golden contrast. Then the two layers are riveted together with each discipline hand-engraved on the back. Like a tea cup, every design aspect involves a decision—the thickness and weight of the layers, the rivet material and head style, the knot in the cord. (Thank you to the retired mountaineers, paid in beer, for perfect double fisherman knots. Sorry about the blisters.)

I see my work as a collaboration with the materials. I rely on the metal’s inherent beauty, the juxtaposition of the layers, like the palette of a painting, their texture and lustre. The final piece is a unique work of art that honors the triumph of each recipient, and the lifetime of work it took to get on that podium, something they are proud to display… from podium to Belly Up Aspen to their wall at home.

Lisa Issenberg’s business, Kiitella (Finnish, meaning “to thank, applaud, praise”), specializes in one-of-a-kind awards that celebrate the accomplishments, victories, humanity and philanthropy of her fellow amazing humans.

Issenberg lives in Ridgway, Colorado with her husband and black lab Django, and adventures in the surrounding San Juan mountains.

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