Oh boy this graphic design school project from way back when was a doozie!

I remember everyone was really excited about it, as it was a great portfolio piece to show your mad illustration skillz. But hot damn it was tough! We were tasked with creating the 3 monarchy of a playing card deck, so King, Queen, Jack, and were to choose a country to be inspired by, research their royal wear and accoutrements, and create a card design. If you look at a traditional suit card, say for example a King, you might notice that when you turn it upside down, the King is the exact same design, and he matches up in the middle with clever design elements (usually!).

So hey, when you are hand-rendering your cards with tiny technical pens that get jammed with india ink when you’re not looking, and teensy paintbrushes and gouache tempera, with a magnifying glass in hand, better be sure they match top to bottom, upside down and back, patterns and all.

Have a look…


First of all, we had to create specially shaped “cards” to render our illustrations on, with rounded corners, just like real playing cards. This involved very patient and precise hand-cutting with an Xacto blade, and a bit of sandpaper or a fine nail file, to smooth and round the corners to perfection. I think I used one of those plastic drafting circle templates to trace the rounded corners into place to make sure they were all the same.

Then you transferred your design to the card very carefully and got busy with your media.


Here’s the King, and I chose Japan as my country of reference. Note the “flip it over and it matches in the centre”. Omg. (I think doing this design now I would have worked his middle hand to be just one hand used for both top and bottom kings, a bit more cohesive).


The Queen.



I made one major eff up, did you spot it?

*I* thought I was being clever. Maybe too many late nights with my eyes an inch away from these things.

king detail

I decided to put the “K” for the King on the right side, because I thought it was nice that the King and Queen would face each other, as a loving royal couple might do. Uh huh. So very smart. Not.

queen detail

Totally didn’t see at the time that it ruined the playability of that card. You wouldn’t be able to see the “K” in a hand of cards. Done. I was so ticked! I think I had one full mark taken off my project for that. Sigh.

jack detail


Nowadays, this project would be SO much easier to get a perfect match top to bottom, and to create the art in general. I’d start by hand-drawing a good tight pencil drawing, and create one half of the design with design match up points figured out. Take it into Illustrator to draw final art and get nice crisp vector lines. Flip the entire design top to bottom and left to right, match up your points, bingo bango! Typography would be so easy to move back to where it should be. Sigh.

Lesson learned, don’t mess with tradition. Sometimes. That’s a lesson that stays with me, though I like to mess with tradition a bit more, push it to the boundaries a bit and see what happens.  That’s what design is all about! (Sometimes).

More next week, with an airbrushed monstrosity, omg….