Created by Galen Ihlenfeldt, DEEP is a beautifully illustrated deck of playing cards inspired by the beauty of underwater mythology. The artwork and style is both beautiful and dark, combining the classic portrayal of the mermaid and merman with some new ideas about what lurks below.
A lot of thought have gone into the design and illustration of this eye-catching deck. For example, each suit represent its own water style, as well as its own sub-species of menfolk: Spades - Eels, Hearts - Cephalopods, Clubs - Crustaceans, and Diamonds - Traditional Merfolk. Also each court cards are unique and feature detailed depictions of menfolk, exemplify the uniqueness of this deck.
We caught up with Galen for a quick chat about his design background, the inspiration & design process behind DEEP and Kickstarter in general.
I am a happily married father of three. I've been a freelance illustrator for the past few years, and have been an oil painter for around 7 years. I have been down a lot of different avenues of being an artist, ranging from 13 years as a professional custom tattoo artist, roughly 2 years doing art and etchings on tombstones, and some time doing the occasional mural and airbrush work. Basically, if it's a creative project that I feel is within my means to complete, I'll probably take it on.
DEEP Playing Cards is you first Kickstarter Project. Why Kickstarter?
DEEP is also my first attempt at anything mass produced. I am part of a few very supportive communities that are enthusiasts of Kickstarter projects, custom playing cards, tabletop gaming and other fun things. It was within these groups that I first ever mentioned the concept that would become DEEP. It was through their support that DEEP became a possibility. Kickstarter seemed the obvious choice for me, not only because it has an established audience of enthused card collectors, plus an instant doorway into the global market, but because I had so many great sources of information and experience right there with me within those groups.
What is your inspiration behind DEEP? How did you come up with the idea?
Honestly, most of this year up until around May I had been planning to do a rather large oil painting of a few mermaids, simply because of my own fascination with them. I was talking with Shane Tyree (artist behind a lot of beautiful decks, most recently Call of Cthulhu) about art in general, and he asked me what kind of deck I would make if I could make one. That was when I first started to think on the idea of basing a playing card deck around merfolk. So, over the next several weeks, I toyed with some sketches and read a bunch of old stories of merfolk lore and other aquatic creatures of myth. There is something that is simply mesmerizing about mermaids in general, something that appeals to us just by viewing them. That is why I think the myths and legends of merfolk have stuck around for so many centuries. Even with the original stories being very dark, and often dealing with the demise of a human target, it's still something we are hypnotized by. DEEP is my attempt at sharing my own visions of those legends with people in a way that is affordable and practical. It's hard for a lot of people to justify paying hundreds of dollars for a painting to hang on the wall in their home. But with a deck of playing cards, everyone can afford one, it's something they can actively use and share with friends and family, while still receiving the visual stimulation that we get from viewing a framed piece of art.
How much time did you spend working on the deck and can you briefly go through the design evolution of one of your unique card design?
I couldn't count the exact number of hours I've put into the project, but I first began the actual card artwork early June this year. I have been working steadily on them since then. I wanted each suit in the deck to have a different feel to it. Each one has a different type of water style behind it, as well as its own species of merfolk represented. The dark clubs and spades show deeper waters, and the merfolk on them are much more ominous feeling. The diamonds and hearts show lighter waters and a less creepy feeling overall, save for the suicide king.
The Queen of Diamonds represents the epitome of the traditional mermaid. She has the human torso, the fishy tail in place of her legs, the crimson hair, and she loves her trinkets from above. She was originally going to be the Queen of Hearts, but I chose Diamonds for two reasons; the merfolk in history's myths are rarely depicted as having any compassion for humankind (more often the opposite) which equates to a lack of heart, and they love collecting their shiny trinkets. Diamonds seemed to be the more appropriate choice to me. Many older stories depict mermaids as having very vibrant hair, most often crimson, purple, blue or green. I chose the crimson hair simply for visual aesthetic. The red and crimson in her hair contrasts greatly with the other colors on the card, pulling your eyes in and directing your attention to her face.
Another thing I wanted to do with the court cards is to have them mirrored. However, I wanted to do so in a way that was more fluid and didn't involve angular cuts between the sides. So with that, for each court card I sketch out a rough skeleton of the figure in the pose I want, and then I copy it and turn it upside down to make sure that the way the sides interact with each other is organic and believable. I do this several times through the creation of the card, from the initial skeleton all the way to the final details.
We initially noticed DEEP on the forums. What do you think of the playing card community in terms of the feedback and support that you’ve been getting?
My experience with the forums has been great. I think it's important for a new deck artist to be prepared for criticism, and to have at least somewhat thick skin, before throwing themselves into the public eye of the collectors and other creators. But the important thing that we've got to keep in mind is that these are the exact people who collect cards, make cards, and use them. They've seen mistakes made before and know how to avoid them. They know what they want, and why they want it that way. I made the decision to share my deck with the forums as soon as I had enough to show, because I wanted to start getting their thoughts and critiques right off the bat, long before the Kickstarter project went live.
What are your thoughts about the continuous strong growth of playing card projects on Kickstarter?
To be honest, it had almost convinced me to find another project to work on. I was afraid of entering an already busy market, for fear of getting lost amid dozens of other custom decks out there. Ultimately I think it's a good thing. It will push creators to stay on their toes and always be improving upon what they are making. Anything that keeps creators looking for new ways of making quality and original content is good for both the creator and the collector.
Finally, what are your favourite playing card decks?
That's a tough one! I'm still kind of a noob as a collector, but being a fantasy artist myself, I tend to prefer the more painterly or illustrative styled decks above the traditional styles. Right now, the artists I have the most decks from are Shane Tyree and Nat Iwata. Although I don't own it yet, I also really like the World of Cassyno deck from Nuerobellum Productions.
Thank you for your time Galen and all the best! If you like what you’ve read here and want to support DEEP, you can find it on Kickstarter here.
DEEP will be printed USPCC. Pledge starts from $11 and there are multiple add-ons available such as dice, dealer coins and uncut sheets.