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Designers: Emmanuel José Discusses Playing Card Design and Clipped Wings



Artist Emmanuel José, designer of the Curator Deck,  is somewhat of an  anomaly in the world of custom playing cards. Not only does he produce playing card decks in a style that is not often done but his art form is unlike standard graphic design. Instead of sitting down with a Wacom tablet and pen, Emmanuel works with X-Acto knives and scissors in an art form known as papercutting. To date Emmanuel has released one deck known as the Curator Deck and has two upcoming decks known as Clipped Wings and Sawdust.

Now after many days and nights working on his next release Clipped Wings, Emmanuel is ready to launch the card deck in early 2014 on Kickstarter with much anticipation from friends, fans and many playing card enthusiasts. Last week, Emmanuel announced that he would be launching the deck on Kickstarter, which is a departure from the way the Curator deck was released. So Tuckcase.com decided to contact Emmanuel to discuss his upcoming project, his decision to go with Kickstarter and to get a glimpse into the world of papercutting. Emmanuel agreed to talk with us and share his story. Enjoy!

Tuck Case: What is your design background?
Emmanuel: I have a bachelor’s degree in art from Davidson College, and I’ve been drawing since I was young. I also paint, and I like to shoot photography. I did some papercutting in elementary school and high school, but it wasn’t until college that I started to create series of papercut art.

Tuck Case: When and how did you decide you wanted to do a deck of cards?
Emmanuel: When I was a junior in college, I made court card paintings for a class. The models were fellow students that I photographed. My professor wasn’t a fan of those paintings, so I stopped that series and moved on to other subject matter.


Fast-forward over five years to late December 2010: I was working for a biopharmaceutical company, and I was creatively unfulfilled. I hadn't made art since graduating from college, and I’d always wanted to create a series based on playing cards. So I told myself that starting in the first week of 2011, I would make one card a week.

On Monday, January 3, 2011, I made my first papercut playing card.

Tuck Case: Can you explain what exactly a papercut deck is? How is it different from traditional graphic design?
Emmanuel: In a papercut deck, all the elements and imagery are cut out of paper. I draw everything by hand, and then I cut everything by hand. Pretty much the only difference from traditional graphic/digital design is technique since I am cutting out paper with X-Acto knives and scissors.

Tuck Case: Are you the first to design a deck using this papercut technique or style?
Emmanuel: To be honest, I don’t know. I’m certainly not the first to make a transformation deck though.

Tuck Case: Your first deck project, Curator, has already been released, can you describe your next two projects, Clipped Wings and Sawdust?
Emmanuel: Clipped Wings has a bird theme, and Sawdust has a circus theme. Many of the ideas I wrote down while I was making the Curator deck in 2011 were related to birds, and that became the groundwork for Clipped Wings the following year.

In May 2012, I decided my 2013 deck would have a circus theme. In September 2012, I saw the 1952 circus film The Greatest Show on Earth, and “Sawdust” stood out to me as the perfect name for the deck.


Tuck Case: Is there a particular reason you create transformation decks instead of a traditional decks of cards?
Emmanuel: I create transformation decks because it challenges me mentally and creatively. I tend to create art with some kind of twist or sense of humor, and transforming playing cards allow me to do that.

Tuck Case: It is known that the Curator deck was ripped off by a re-seller outside of the United States, have they been stopped and what have you done to protect your work going forward?
Emmanuel: I don’t know if they've been stopped since I still don’t know who is responsible. What I do know is that the counterfeit decks were first sold at a marketplace in Ufa, Russia, and that the images were stolen from my deviantArt.com profile. The Curator deck was registered with the US Copyright Office when this incident occurred, and I've continued to register copyright for my new work. To deter stealing, I now take photos of the cards at an angle and in uneven lighting.

Tuck Case: How did you get hooked up with House Of Playing Cards (HOPC) to release the Curator Deck?
Emmanuel: I joined the Aethercards.com cardistry forum in late 2011, and Don Boyer, one of the administrators, is a friend of Alex Pandrea and Kevin Reylek from House of Playing Cards. Don introduced my art to them, and in May 2012, I met Kevin in person since he is originally from North Carolina.


Tuck Case: Now since your first deck was released through HOPC, why the departure on your second deck to release it on your own through Kickstarter?
Emmanuel: Clipped Wings was originally going to be released by HOPC, and the deck was intended to be released in May or June of 2013. However, Alex kept pushing the release back for reasons I don't fully understand. Additionally, there were conflicting ideas on how to market and manage the deck. I'll always be grateful that HOPC released Curator, but I reached the point where I thought it would be best to produce Clipped Wings on my own, and I ended my contract with them.

Tuck Case: Do you have any particular artists or works of art you use for inspiration?
Emmanuel: Pop Artists such as Wayne Thiebaud and Roy Lichtenstein inspire me. I actually paid homage to Lichtenstein with the Curator 10 of diamonds. Realist painters such as Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth also inspire me. Keith Haring is another influential artist for me, and I also love the work of illustrators such as William Joyce, Molly Idle, Maurice Sendak, Eyvind Earle, Winsor McCay, and many more.

Tuck Case: Do you have any favorite playing card decks?
Emmanuel: Three decks that are near and dear to my heart are Tony Meeuwissen’s transformation deck The Key to the Kingdom, the Ukrainian deck of cards illustrated by Vladislav Erko, and the MAD Deck designed by Ozlem Olcer.


Tuck Case: A question I ask all interviews, do you have any advice for others looking to create a custom deck of cards?
Emmanuel: There’s one question all artists, designers, and creators should ask themselves: Am I passionate about this?

There are all kinds of decks created by people with different skills and talents. Despite the differences in these decks, people can tell which decks are labors of love, and which decks are not. No matter how skilled you are or what kind of resources you have, passion has to be your foundation.

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