|Topic: Pictorial Review: Pagan & Uusi Classic decks (Uusi)|
[b]*** THE UUSI DESIGN STUDIO *** [/b]
[b]Custom Playing Cards With Hand-Drawn Art[/b]
[b][url=http://www.uusi.us]Uusi[/url][/b] is the Chicago-based design studio of artists [url=https://uusi.us/pages/peter-dunham]Peter Dunham[/url] and [url=https://uusi.us/pages/linnea-gits]Linnea Gits[/url]. Launched in 2010, Peter and Linnea describe their studio collaboration as a love for "[i]traditional craftsmanship, material exploration and a search for the essential beauty in every day objects[/i]". They look to combine authenticity and playfulness, while drawing on their wide range of abilities in areas such as fine art, illustration, graphic and interior design, photography and woodworking. With these diverse skills to draw on, they are able to use traditional forms of art and a fusion of styles to create a variety of interesting designs, which includes products ranging from furniture to prints.
When they tried their hand at creative custom playing cards in 2012, the Uusi team was a big success. So began their project of making a series of six decks for which they made a deliberate decision to only use traditional art methods rather than computer generated imagery, being of the conviction that these traditional methods create an emotion or feeling that digital artwork cannot replicate or capture. They've received enormous support from the Kickstarter community in the process, have many loyal followers and have earned numerous awards for their beautiful and artistic custom decks of playing cards. In these articles, I'm covering some of the lovely and original playing cards they have created.
[b]*** THE UUSI DECK SERIES *** [/b]
[b]== Pagan ==[/b]
The [b][url=https://uusi.us/collections/uusi-playing-cards/products/pagan-cream-edition]Pagan deck[/url][/b] is considered to be the fourth deck in Uusi's series, and is an entirely hand-painted deck. Shown here is the Ivory first edition.
The tuck box is unusual in that it has a unique and complicated foil design, that creates a strong sense of earthy elegance and style.
From the outset, we are confronted with a sense of minimalism that is at the same time filled with rich detail and texture, and lavish touches via intricate embossing and gold foil, and an exquisite golden band that wraps all the way around the deck. Of all the Uusi decks, this one is arguably the most ornate and rich-looking, mainly due to the detailed gold foil accents which highlight the thin ribbons of lines on the patterned artwork, for a truly luxurious look.
Uusi deliberately uses different artistic mediums with each deck, to give them all a distinctive and independent look, and with Pagan that artistic medium is a classic: oil paints. Creating this deck required an enormous investment of time, because every court card was an original oil painting.
The thematic inspiration for the Pagan deck comes from the designers' love for the great forests and lakes in parts of Wisconsin and Michigan. To fully appreciate this deck, you need to imagine the smell and silence of the woods, and the primal experience one might have in a wilderness area deep in the forest.
There is a connection here to the historical pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe, where a common world-view was to look at life with a pantheistic, polytheistic, or animistic perspective, and where religion was closely connected with nature. This thinking often came to expression in various cultural festivals, customs, and myths, and is reflected in the personification of forest inhabitants like the ones pictured on the court cards.
The number cards feature ornate hand-painted pips that breathe style and elegance. By now these are becoming a recurring feature on all the Uusi decks, but the hand-painted look doesn't quickly wear out its welcome, and the ornately shaped pips are very endearing, so I'm more than happy that Uusi have stuck to this style.
The signature Ace of Spades sets the tone for the deck by depicting a young tree that has been felled in the forest, and yet continues to grow, capturing the idea of being [i]bowed but unbroken[/i]. The other three Jokers are all encircled with a halo shaped wreath made up of plants and flowers, to give them a truly artistic feel that is consistent with the natural setting of the entire Pagan deck.
As with all the Uusi decks, the Jokers feature original artwork that fits with the deck's personality and feel, and here they depict a `wild' forest inhabitant.
The back design is a borderless hand-painted design, that has been carefully scaled to match the size of the Bee diamond back pattern.
This is deliberately intended to create the illusion of a repeating pattern when the cards are fanned or spread. Unlike the tuck box, the lines don't have gold foil, but it is nonetheless a very royal look, that creates a sense of movement, much like the shifting shadows and moving branches in a forest, which might be difficult to distinguish from one another.
The artwork used for the diptych on the two extra cards is based on the mythological horse called, "Sleipnir" ("Slippy"), which according to Norse legend is an eight legged horse and favorite steed of the Norse god Odin.
This deck has already been the subject of rave reviews in design magazines and online, and the Blue Pagan deck has been nominated for 52 Plus Joker's "Deck of the Year 2017"; while Linnea and Peter have also been nominated in the "Artist of the Year 2017" category for two releases (winners to be announced on 14 October).
[b]== Uusi Classic ==[/b]
After the creation of the burlesque styled [url=https://uusi.us/products/hotcakes-limited-edition-playing-cards]Hotcakes[/url] (not covered in this review) as their fifth deck, the sixth and final deck in Uusi's series was made. The [b][url=https://uusi.us/collections/uusi-playing-cards/products/uusi-classic]Uusi Classic deck[/url][/b] comes in either a red or a blue version, the only difference being the colour of the card backs.
This beautiful deck features stunning hand-painted artwork that was inspired by era of the Renaissance. The word "Renaissance" literally translates from French to English as "rebirth", and Peter and Linnea wanted to complete their series by celebrating the rebirth of the humble playing card, with their own interpretation of a classic style deck. This classic and traditional look that they were striving for is exactly how the tuck box looks, for despite a mono-coloured style it is nonetheless very ornate and stylish.
The court cards feature characters that are intricately detailed and carefully painted, with a strong historical connection that makes you feel as if you just stepped back into time into Europe during the Renaissance.
The number cards also look very stylish, and it's not often that I've seen a deck that stays true to the classic look of the pips, and yet has a very distinct style of its own as this clearly does. The chunky pips are very clear and functional, and unlike some of the other Uusi decks they are not made with a water-colour style, but are a solid and consistent red and black.
As for the characters depicted on the court cards, these are entirely original, rather than just being a variation of standard court cards. All this helps give the Uusi Classic deck a truly unique and fresh look, while still having a classic feel.
The Ace of Spades also has a very elaborate and ornate design. The deck is rounded out with two beautiful Jokers.
The card backs have delicate hand-painted patterns with a somewhat traditional and classic look, giving a sense of sophistication and style. They look especially lovely when fanned or spread. Once again thin borders help enhance the visual impact of fans, and a beige background helps add a sense of aging that fits the Renaissance era that inspired this deck.
Uusi's trademark diptych is used to add some stunning artwork to an already beautiful deck.
The Uusi Classic Playing Cards are indeed a real and rare treasure, and definitely worthy of their place in a collection.
[b]*** CONCLUSIONS *** [/b]
[b]Collaboration[/b]: Some artists I know personally have told me about the challenges and rewards of collaborating with another artist. On the one hand you need to be flexible in working with another person, especially when that person has their own ideas about an artistic piece, and want to develop things in a direction different than what you had in mind. But on the other hand a collaboration gives the opportunity for two heads to produce something that a person on their own wouldn't have come up with. It allows two creative minds to work together and combine their gifts and talents, drawing on a wider range of skills and talents. Clearly Peter and Linnea have found a way to make their collaboration work, and the beautiful results speak for themselves.
[b]Functional[/b]: While I love creative and artistic decks, it's always somewhat of a pity when the creativity gets in the way of a deck's functionality, and as a result it becomes difficult to use when playing card games. The Uusi team are very much aware of this, and so while they want their decks to be artistic, it is equally important to them to ensure that they are playable. For this reason they have gone out of their way to ensure that the pips and indices not only meet high artistic standards, but are easy to read. Furthermore, they have been careful to retain recognizable design elements that have an important place in the history of playing cards, such as the one-eyed Jacks and Suicide King, in order to preserve the connection with a traditional deck. The result is that the Uusi decks are not only beautiful, but eminently recognizable and playable.
[b]Artistic background[/b]: Unlike some card designers, the Uusi team of Peter and Linnea are artists and designers first of all, and that means that they bring to the table very real and also very diverse skills from the world of art and design. For them, the world of design is not a hobby, but part of their real-life work, and they can draw on a wealth of experiences from the design world. This has helped them come up with fresh ideas, and also given them the freedom to innovate in ways that depart from cliches that might hamper other designers in the world of custom playing cards.
[b]Hand-drawn artwork[/b]: When they first began their series of playing cards in 2012, Peter and Linnea did so with the vision of relying exclusively on traditional art methods and mediums to create the artwork for their decks. In their view, the advent of digital technology has led to the decline of traditional artistic methods. While they readily acknowledge that computer generated imagery offers a crispness and potential hitherto impossible, the history of art is a long one, and is filled with centuries of exquisite hand-drawn artwork, and it is important to retain an appreciation for and connection with these powerful styles. They want to continue this rich tradition, believing that "[i]there is emotion and feeling to a mark made by a person that a computer just cannot replicate and it is this "emotional line" that we wanted to recapture for all our decks[/i]." They've certainly accomplished this, and it's one of the reasons for the remarkable appeal of their decks.
[b]Diverse art mediums[/b]: With each of the six decks in their series of limited edition playing cards, the Uusi team made a conscious decision to use a new and different art medium. The artwork for the first deck (Blue Blood), was created exclusively with color pencils. Bohemia employed gouache to portray a "lush, expressive quality". The third deck, Royal Optik, relied on pen and ink, and combined woodcut styles with the geometrics of Op Art. The Pagan deck relied on oil paints, each court card originating in an elaborate oil painting. The Renaissance themed Uusi Classic employed a hand-painted style for an entirely different look again. In this way each deck has its own very distinctive look.
[b]Varied designs[/b]: As well as using different art mediums, Peter and Linnea also wanted to create six very different hand-drawn decks. Kickstarter was the ideal platform to experiment with different genres and styles, and in their case their efforts at innovation paid off. All the six decks that make up their series have a very different look and feel, both in terms of the art medium used, as well as the style and theme.
[b]Signature elements[/b]: Even though the Uusi decks are all quite different, there are some signature elements. First of all, there's the hand-drawn artwork, which feels fresh and original in every case. All the decks feature the same pleasant meeting of artistry and practicality. There are also other details that return, such as using the two additional cards typical for a USPCC deck in order to make an attractive diptych. The size and style of the elegant pips is another common and returning element. The use of a beige background as the canvas for all their designs helps lend a sense of authenticity and aging to the designs, increasing the classic and hand-made feel. While all different, these decks clearly originate from the same source, and bear a kinship in subtle ways.
[b]Original courts[/b]: When the custom playing card market began to explode in 2012 with the help of the giant crowd-funding platform Kickstarter, it was still fairly common to depict court cards as variations of the traditional European characters. In many cases, customization was often limited to the tuck box, card-backs, Ace of Spades and Jokers. The unusual royal characters that inhabited the Blueblood deck might seem more than acceptable in today's market, but at the time this was still somewhat revolutionary and daring. Given the very positive reception these received, the idea of creating entirely original court characters for all the decks of the Uusi series has clearly paid off.
[b]Popular designs[/b]: Sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time, and the remarkable success of the Misc Goods Co deck which I've documented in another article ([url=https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1801556]link[/url]) is an excellent example. Similar to that deck, the Uusi decks hit the Kickstarter market just as it was taking off and gaining momentum. While their first project had just under 500 backers, their sophomore effort, Bohemia, attracted over 1500 supporters! From this point on there was no turning back, and with a loyal band of followers, all of their subsequent projects would typically see at least 1000 backers. While in many respects the custom playing card market today is over-saturated, Uusi managed to enter the marketplace at just the right time, and as a result achieved a level of success that would be so much harder to obtain today.
[b]Card quality[/b]: Producing limited edition decks that feature high quality and unique art also means that these playing cards deserve a loving treatment in the form of high quality cards. To ensure that their decks have a quality that matches and complements the artwork, Uusi has decided to print all their decks with United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), an industry leader with a solid and established reputation. As a result, these cards are all printed with a quality embossed card-stock, and handle very smoothly and evenly, and shuffle well. The printing registration also seems to be more consistent that sometimes is the case with USPCC produced decks, which is especially important here given the use of narrow borders. They should also last a long time - as beautiful cards like this deserve.
The custom playing card market today is starting to feel crowded, and once you've been immersed in it for a while, things can start to seem somewhat stale at times. But exploring the decks created by [b][url=http://www.uusi.us]Uusi Playing Cards[/url][/b] has felt like a breath of fresh air, due to the artistic and creative minds that have conceived and generated these genuinely beautiful decks. All of them feel quite different, and yet have a rich and classic feel that is full of elegance and charm, and yet where the artwork doesn't get in the way of using these lovely cards for an actual card game.
I think I'm falling in love. And once you see these decks for yourself, perhaps you will too.
[i]Want to learn more? [/i]
[b]Uusi Playing Cards[/b]: www.uusi.us
[b]Playing Card Online Store[/b]: www.uusi.us/collections/uusi-playing-cards
Direct links for the decks featured in this review series:
- [b][url=https://uusi.us/collections/uusi-playing-cards/products/royal-optik-black-edition]Royal Optik[/url][/b]
- [b][url=https://uusi.us/collections/uusi-playing-cards/products/blueblood-redux]Blueblood Redux[/url][/b]
- [b][url=https://uusi.us/collections/uusi-playing-cards/products/uusi-classic]Uusi Classic[/url][/b]
CONGRATULATIONS to the Uusi team, Linnea Gits and Peter Dunham, for winning the [b]2017 Diamond Award[/b] for [b]Playing Card Artist of the Year[/b], for their Blue Pagan and Hyde Park Mouldings decks!
This award was just [url=http://www.playingcardforum.com/index.php?topic=11008.msg127964#msg127964]announced[/url] on the weekend at the 52 Plus Joker Convention.
For reference, here's the complete list of my series of reviews on the Uusi decks:
[b]Part 1 - The Uusi Studio and the Bohemia deck[/b]
[b]Part 2 - Royal Optik and Blueblood Redux decks[/b]
[b]Part 3 - Pagan and Uusi Classic decks[/b]