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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Playing Cards

I didn't mention these in the last post about the film Borderlines, because I spent so much time making them I thought they deserved a little special attention.

From the second I read the script and saw the story of the film revolved around a game of poker, I knew I finally had an excuse to make an awesome deck of cards. From a little experience of doing block printing in highschool I had an idea of what I was getting into.

There are 52 cards in the standard American deck consisting of four suits, ordered according to power: spade, heart, club, and diamond. This meant I would need to make a stamp for each suit (one large, one small of each), numbers 2-10, and sixteen royalty cards, as well as the ornate ace of spades, and a large stamp for the back of each card. The time period that these cards were supposed to be made was around 1886. In this era cards were actually becoming quite popular due to advances in printing technology. I decided to give my cards an extra, hand crafted feel anyway.

Causes inky fingers!

Starting with a stack of 4"x3" cards cut from bristol board, I clamped them into a stack and rounded the edges using my trusty dremel saving a lot of trouble. Next I let batches of the cards soak for about 2 minutes in a bath of 6 tea bags, aging them a nice golden brown.
With a slab of rubber and a carving tool loaned to me by Spenser left over from our highschool block printing class of 2002. I cut out the stamps I would need keeping in mind that each symbol I carved needed to be done backwards to it would print the right way round.

After a lot of stamping and inky fingers, I had the 36 cards all laid out, as well as the ace of spaced emblazoned with a skull emblem I designed and drew with a dip pen and ink (which was extremely satisfying).

Doom-faced Ace.

Next, I took some time to plot out the face cards. I decided to include one of my page of doodles where I plotted out the symbological significance of the Kings. Without boring you with the details of my over-active imagination, the kings represent a re-imagined version of the Four Apocalyptic Riders (where I've been lead to imagine there would actually be five) and what they represent. Therefore in each card I included subtle symbolic references to their significance.

Mmm, symbolism.

I didn't have the rubber (or the patience) to carve a stamp for each card, and since I would only need one stamp per card it seemed better to hand draw them with my shiny new dip pen.

As you may or may not know, commonly used playing cards are ambigrams, meaning they look them same upside down as they do rightside up. Going farther with my symbology with the cards, I decided to include subtle differences between the two sides, which would give clues about the dual nature of each personage and what they represent.


Going farther with this idea, I made a letter ambigram for the back of the cards as well, which would be a word that would specify which way the view was looking at the card, positive or negative. The words I chose were Alpha, and Omega. Here is the ambigram done with the dip pen:


And here is a photo of the final print done with the carved stamp and an ink pad:


After the designing came the long process of inking the sixteen royalty cards. There are subtle differences in each of the royal families, and clues as to what they represent if you care to drive yourself mad staring at them. I'm especially pleased with the gold ink I found to do the crowns and symbols.


It took awhile but it was a lot of fun, and now I've got a full set of kickass playing cards so call me up if you want to play some texas hold'em. I've got some handmade poker chips to go along.

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