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Deckstarter: 7 Questions with Steven Watson of Alice in Wonderland Playing Cards



After weeks of radio-silence, Deckstarter is BACK with an eye-catching deck, the Alice in Wonderland Playing Cards! Designed by Steven Watson, this custom deck bring a touch of the magical and surreal world of Wonderland to you. The modern styling combined with lavish Art Nouveau and Art Deco ornamentation transports you down the rabbit hole to a surreal world presided over by the Queen of Hearts.

Unlike a traditional deck, the Alice in Wonderland courts feature typographic royals with custom suit symbols as crowns. For fans of the classic fairy tale, you will be delighted to know that iconic quotes from the story are peppered throughout the deck. As for the masters of the art of Cardistry, a special cardistry Edition will feature card backs with unique floods of black and gold on card faces of the spade and diamond suits respectively.

With permission from Deckstarter, we've republished the 7 Questions with Steven here on Kardify. Steven talks about his background, designing and the story behind the Alice in Wonderland Playing Cards.

Would you please introduce yourself to our readers by telling us a little about yourself, your background, profession and interests?
I grew up in Boston, MA and attribute the beginnings my success to great parents who encouraged me to keep drawing past age ten. We also had a family motto that if you could say something that might be funny, “you ought to go for it.” This helped me develop a conceptual ability to make observations about what was going on around me. I received a BFA in Graphic Design from Brigham Young University and shortly thereafter moved to Seattle where I worked for various design and branding firms.

In 2004, I started Turnstyle together with Ben Graham and Matt Diefenbach. We are celebrating our tenth anniversary this year. I attribute my continuing success to the talent of my business partners and to a fantastically talented wife and two amazing kids who inspire me every day.


What do you most love about being a designer? And what are some favorite projects you’ve worked on?
There are two things I love about being a designer. First, I love boiling something down to it’s essence in a way that makes it even more interesting—making astute observations that distil reality in order to enhance identity. Second, I love getting a reaction. Making people laugh, amusing and delighting them. If my work cannot do that, at the very least I want to enlighten. My favorite projects are often the ones I’m currently working on. I think designers generally have an insatiable appetite to create new things. That said, some of the most memorable projects I have worked on have been a an art book/compendium for Teague, branding and packaging for DRY Soda, and anything that gets letterpressed.

Tell me about the story of how this deck came to be?
This deck actually had its genesis as part of another project. My wife, Bret Ashlee, leads a drama program for the PTA at the elementary school my 8-year old son attends. The goal of the program is to develop confidence by exposing them to theatre arts. This past school year they put on a stage production of Alice in Wonderland Junior. The production included a cast and crew of over 165 kids (K-5) who put on four shows, with total attendance topping 1600.


Under the auspices of Turnstyle, I donated graphic design service by creating a brand for the show. Branded items included a show logo, playbill, posters, T-shirts and playing cards. The custom deck of playing cards were used to promote the show and were also incorporated into the costumes for the Queen and King of Hearts. You can see the original materials produced for the stage production on the Turnstyle website.

When I shared the original deck with Andrew Gibbs from The Dieline, he graciously invited us to adapt them for Deckstarter. This was a welcome opportunity for us to elevate the production value with meticulous printing on premium stock using metallic ink, embossing, foil stamping and varnish techniques. In the process of adapting the cards for Deckstarter, we have refined the design by adding metallic details on each card as well as adding and refining typographic nuances. We are grateful to Andrew and the team at Deckstarter for the opportunity to craft a premium deck of cards that meet or exceed our production expectations.

How do you approach this project? Specifically, what led you to the modern styling for the Alice in Wonderland deck and why?
The story of Alice in Wonderland has seen hundreds of interpretations from illustrated books and comics to stage productions, ballets, TV shows and, of course, movies. The tone of the Wonderland stories are playful yet slightly dark, and full of double meaning. We sought to make the design reflect this by limiting the color palette to black, white and gold together with lively ornamentation evocative of the Art Nouveau design styles popular during author Lewis Caroll’s lifetime. Iconic quotes from the stories are included on the ace cards and tuckboxes. The bespoke “double” typeface is evocative of the many double meanings prevalent throughout the story. As a graphic designer, I love typography and so it was natural for me to take a minimalist typographic approach to the court cards.

Do you have a favorite character from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?
In the elementary school stage production, my son was the March Hare, so I have an affinity for that character. But I have always liked Tweedledee and Tweedledum—they are the most overtly comedic.


Where you aware of how many different decks of cards there are when you began to design these, and if so, were there any decks in particular that inspired you?
Truth be told, I am not really a card player and so I really had no idea how many decks of cards existed before I started this project. I naturally take a minimalist approach to design and so in doing some research, I gravitated to typographic decks and decks that were not overly ornate. Ironically the backs of the Wonderland decks are very ornate. I think maybe it is the balance of ornamentation and minimalism that intrigued me.

Lastly, did your kids sign off on these designs? We Just have to be sure.
My son who played the March Hare and my daughter (now in middle school) always critique my designs. I’d like to think I’m helping them develop a refined design sensibility. They are always an enthusiastic audience and immediately wanted to know when they could get their hands on a deck. They were excited to hear that we are going to produce a new edition with “fancy” printing.

If want to support the Alice in Wonderland Playing Cards, you can find it on Deckstarter here.


Pledge starts from $8 and there will be two versions of the decks available. The Players Edition will feature white and gold tuck boxes and uniform white backgrounds across all card faces making them better suited to gameplay and the Cardistry Edition featuring black and gold foil tuck boxes and card backs with unique floods of black and gold on card faces of the spade and diamond suits respectively.

The cards and tuck boxes will be meticulously printed on premium stock with sophisticated black, white, and metallic gold color inks, together with embossing, foil stamping and varnish techniques. Also, there are multiple add-ons available such as the uncut sheet and the limited edition Deckstarter promotional deck.
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