Seasons come and go, but two particular “Seasons” never made their way to the light of day, until now. In 2012, Chicago-based designer Alexander Chin introduced the world to his Season’s Playing cards. The 1st two decks released were the Seronda and Primavera decks representing Spring and Fall. The decks received high acclaim from collectors and enthusiast alike. Now, a few years later Alex will be completing the circle by releasing Verano and Inverno, Summer and Winter, on Kickstarter to the anticipation of many.
As designers go, Alex has a style all his own and the elegance and quality of his work is to be admired. At a young age Alex was a bit introverted and found a passion for drawing to help express himself. Along with drawing, Alex found other hobbies to occupy his time, such as swimming and piano and a few not so common hobbies such as contact juggling and later in junior High School, card magic. But of all of these interests, drawing was the one that made Alex feel truly creative.
“It's easy to get lost and flustered when you're at the defining age of social awkwardness, but when I sketched I was absorbed into a world where communication of myself was so easily captured on paper.”
Nearing the end of his junior High School years, Alex’s expression started transferring more and more to magic, specializing in card magic.
“The practicality of impromptu card magic was so much more vast than props. These cards were little pieces of artwork that I would carry around in my pocket. But when I took them out they would delight people everywhere I went. It amazed me and I became infatuated with them. To this day I have not found a simpler or cheaper way to spread joy than to delight someone with surprise. It had turned into an extension of who I was.”
In High School, like many young magicians, Alex came across the release of the Black Tiger deck by Ellusionist. It was the 1st custom deck Alex had seen…
“It opened a Pandora's box to the world of card collecting. I think this happened to a lot of people who were in the magic world at this time.”
At 14 Alex was met with an awkward confrontation with his mother at 1AM. What could a 14 year old boy possibly be doing on his computer at that time of the night?
“…my mom is a good hearted person, but she wasn’t born yesterday, so when she sees her teenage son up late at night using the computer she’s going to assume certain things. So Detective Mom storms over to see my screen to verify her worst fears. Instead of tantalizing women looking to hook up in my local area, I had actually stayed up to snipe on a card auction at the last minute for cheap. I was hooked to say the least.”
After completing High School, Alex attended the University of Illinois where he majored in architecture leveraging his passion for illustration and design with his desire to change the world.
“Freshmen usually tend to dream big don't they?”
During his college years Alex found his passion for drawing started creeping back into his life. Becoming more interested in the organic, abstract and kinetic, and with the sudden burden of school work off his plate with graduating college, Alex found himself with a window of opportunity before having to return home and venture out into the world and his career path…
“…before returning home and facing the scary reality of a job that would define the rest of my life. I decided that I would take this time to discover who I was.”
Mood Garden was a tea company that Alex had started with a friend that expanded his interest in package design. Mood Gardens, as Alex puts it, had mild success with two full product lines receiving incredible press both online and on Blogs like TrendHunter. Alex also found himself penning the forward of a book due to the exposure of Mood Gardens.
“ We tried launching a Kickstarter for it and never ended up getting funded. I think there was a culmination of inexperience on both our ends coupled with a fear of commitment to such an investing project having just graduated college with student debt. It sadly never came to fruition.”
With the lessons learned from the Mood Gardens experience, Alex’s other “Itch”, Seasons, started to develop and Alex finally found a concept and design that he was proud of and ready to be introduced to the world. Timing, as they say, is everything. During this time there was a bit of transition in the Playing Card industry, it was expanding and the larger companies, new to all this unexpected success of these pieces of paper, were in for a rude awakening. Like anything that meets unexpected success, the industry started developing a not so earnest approach to their products, delivering very little in terms of time spent truly creating custom decks and just “Marketing” tactics to gain profits. Alex was about to show what a lot of blood sweat and tears could translate to.
“I was lucky enough to have been in the game right when the market was starting to expand. I think I owe a lot of success to the court cards of that deck. It was at the height of when larger custom card companies were being called out for their efforts in deck creation. The biggest differentiators between the little guys and the big guys were the willing time investments into those faces. From there you know the rest. “
When asked about his current professional and personal goals Alex expressed how he returned to Seasons after such a long hiatus as well as his interest in running his own design studio specializing in interactive packaging design with a built in brand consulting service.
“For the longest time I was looking for a career which was the main reason why there has been such a gap between the first set of Seasons and now. I was working with a large holding company for about a year and a half designing and managing different brands and product lines for them. Eventually I quit after seeing an absence of creative fulfillment and made the jump to doing Seasons again, shifting my track in life from career to calling. I don't know if I'll do Seasons forever but for now it provides the type of autonomy that gets my creative juices flowing in an arena that I was born and bred in.”
As Alex concentrates and builds on his vision he does find himself missing magic, but is still an avid collector. The collector in him developed as his studies increased during his school days, causing the time he had to practice magic to decrease. Collecting gave Alex a way to stay connected to the world of playing cards without sacrificing his studies; it was a way to achieve a balance between the two. During this time Alex also dabbled in cardistry, but found the same pitfalls he came across with magic, not enough time to practice and as they say, practice makes perfect.
“I had a brief stint back in the heyday of D&D of cardistry but realized that it required a similar amount of practice as magic had with a less satisfying response from audiences. That kind of niche is something you truly have to love to get good at. As of now I am still a collector but I miss magic dearly. I hope that once I've created a stable enough environment that I can start investing some of my time back into learning how to delight people again.”
“As a collector myself, it's those timeless decks that keep their spot on the shelves that make my collection complete. In everything this company does, it does with the mindset of raising the bar and changing design.”
Seasons Playing Cards have always been synonymous with quality and artistic design, I know I’m in the majority when I say I can’t wait to add the new Season decks to my collection and I’m also very excited to find out that there are new projects with new directions and concepts that we can all wait for with great anticipation. It was my complete pleasure to collaborate with a fellow Chicagoan, great designer and fantastic person on this piece, I strongly urge everyone to mark their calendars for August 27th so you don’t miss out on a sure to be amazing project. Alex was nice enough to give us some of his time during his busy schedule and was also nice enough to answer a few final questions.
What has been occupying your time and interest since the release of Primavera and Seronda?
My biggest current interest is this little social experiment I saw online called the 100 Days of Happy. I don't participate through social media but the gist is that once a day you call out something that you are grateful for and makes you happy. Over time it's proven to change your outlook on life. I took it to a physical medium and every day I'll do a 15 minute sketch of something. Over time this book has become a record of mundane little experiences that just make me grin like a child. It's one of the best things I've done for my personal well-being besides daily exercise. I'm also into branding books. Lots of them. A nerdy amount.
I’m sure you’ve seen the explosion in the industry, what are your thoughts on the recent boom?
I remember being on the UC forums before the renovation of the site and talking about this. It was during a time where the Brimstone had already come out and the Vortex was an upcoming Kickstarter I believe. At the time I think there was only 1 deck a month and the average for decks were around 25K. I predicted that with this social proof of success, there would be a large bubble in the market that would eventually burst causing people to choose and leaving only the good designers in the arena. I figured the increased competition would be good for the art.
Looking at the market now I think I was on the right track but the bubble grew much faster than I would have ever thought. I didn't anticipate the crossover of artists from other fields to begin participating. What also surprised me was the change in behavior of collectors. I had assumed the increased competition would force choice but instead I'm noticing that people will still usually back a project but just reduce quantity. It makes absolute sense for those trying to diversify their collections, but for me I'm usually a brick or two kind of guy which sets the investment a little higher.
The increased competition has made it near mandatory for court cards to be custom now (something that's even seen in the big companies today too). I'm glad for that. Competition pushes us to do better. I have a hall in my apartment that is full of uncut sheets by other companies. A lot of people ask why I don't display my own. Seeing my own work creates complacency of having done something while seeing the work of others make me feel motivated to do just as good, if not better.
There is an increased competition for crowdfunding decks now but I do anticipate a similar amount of deck projects in the next couple years before any drop. With the introduction of new production facilities that require a lower startup cost, having a successful deck funded isn't hard which will probably feed the momentum the next few years.
You’re a talented designer, do you have any projects, past, present or future, outside of the playing card industry that you’re proud of and enjoyed working on?
I mentioned Mood Garden earlier and I have a few international branding projects that I was pretty thrilled to create while under employment at my previous gig. I really do enjoy working on interactive package design and hope to start pursuing some new personal projects in the field of alcoholic beverage packaging soon.
Do you have any final thoughts or comments you would like to share?
Your interview was absolutely enjoyable. It got me to do a lot more self-evaluation than I'm used to which is a good thing! I hope to launch another deck soon to get an excuse to talk with you again haha. It was an honor to be here on Kardify.
I can’t thank Alex enough for his time and collaboration. Be sure to check out the NEW Seasons Kickstarter project launching on August 27th for Verano and Inverno, the next chapter in the Seasons decks. You can also keep up with any developments from Alex and Season’s playing cards on their Facebook Page and you can also visit the Seasons Playing Card website for products and information.
This exclusive 1-on-1 is written by Anthony Ingrassia for kardify. No part of this article can be reproduced without written permission from the author. You can check out Anthony's awesome collection on his Facebook Page Sparkz Collector.