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Designers: 7 Questions with Harold Apples, Designer of Theory11's National Playing Cards



Theory11's National Playing Cards were inspired by the mystery and the pursuit of power. Designed by Harold Apples, every aspect of the deck was designed from scratch. From the gorgeous Aces, Jokers, to the court cards that are filled with vibrant, colorful illustrations in a flat, retro and textured style artwork. The tuck box is beautifully embossed and detailed with striking gold and black foil, inside and out.

Just prior to the release of the deck last week, we were able to catch-up with Harold Apples for a quick chat about his design background, the collaboration with Theory11, designing the National deck and his advice to aspiring designers and artists.


Could you introduce yourself to our readers? What is your design background?
Hey there, I’m Adam M. from Kentucky and I currently make art under the name Harold Apples (@haroldapples). I’ve been involved in the arts all of my life, I even went to an art magnet high school that got me thinking of a career in the arts at an early age. College found me taking the traditional design/art student route, while at the same time pursuing music with friends. If you’ve ever been in a band you know how much traveling and performing can teach you. I think everything about being in a band directly affected and immensely helped my design career— You have to learn to work well with others and compromise on an outcome that you want to remain proud of; you learn that if you’re not pouring yourself into everything you do and letting that shine through then no one will give a crap about your work, and you learn above all how stinking hard you have to work to make good things happen and to get noticed. Almost all of my favorite designers have been in bands and I don’t think it’s a coincidence.


Fast forward and after 10 years of doing the band thing semi-full time I settled down, got married, and took my first proper job at an agency out west in Denver. Most designers out there know that small (but serious) design agencies can be immensely taxing, all consuming and just plain tough. The agency world helped me to become a faster and more focused designer because you’re always working to get home at a decent hour and being slow doesn’t do you any favors. This type of agency also forces you to figure out what you really want for your career, because:

> you start to think after your first month of not having a day off that there must be more to life
> you start considering leaving design altogether
> working at a coffee shop again starts to sound more appealing
> and you find yourself coming up with elaborate schemes to live life to its fullest without the need for money
> becoming a freegan and hitchhiking across Europe… that sort of thing.

Sadly I didn’t do this… man… really should’ve done this— instead, my wife and I moved back to the south to take a job on the client side with the parent company of Lonely Planet, the world's largest guidebook and travel information provider. This proved to be the absolute best career decision for me as I was allowed a lot of creative freedom without pressures from external clients. My nights became less consumed with my day job, which allowed me to pursue my passion for illustration… that pretty much gets me up to today.


We love your art style and have been following your work for quite awhile on social media. What are some of the most memorable work you have done?
A lot of my favorite work hasn’t really found its way to Instagram. I started working under Harold Apples a little under a year ago as a way to separate my illustration work from my work as a creative and art director. Honestly, the National Deck represents the first larger project that ‘Harold Apples’ has really completed. Most of the year for me has been about experimenting and just ‘doing’. I started lots of projects and have a pretty bad track record at finishing… definitely trying to work on that in 2017.

Projects that I hope to complete this year include: A children’s book my wife and I are working on about a certain writer from the 1800’s, a book of photos I’ve taken of my favorite dead blues musicians headstones (I have lots more miles to put on the odometer before this one is finished up) and a line of merchandise that I’m going to sell on my soon to launch storefront: applesaucesupplyco.com


The National Playing Cards will be your first playing card deck. How did you and Theory11 end up collaborating together?
Originally I was planning on producing a deck all on my own. I started approaching letterpress studios who were making decks that I loved, even talked to Dan and Dave about doing something with the deck (super lovely guys btw, stinking love the work they do) and I stumbled upon Studio on Fire in Chicago who produces all of the tuck cases for Theory11.


Their work is just phenomenal. I connected with SoF and they pointed me to Theory11 and Jonathan Bayme the CEO of Theory 11 helped me cost everything out and got me on my way to producing a deck. A couple months went by and he approached me about collaborating on the deck; he was following the development on Instagram and thought it might be a good addition to the Theory11 deck lineup. To me it was a no-brainer — Theory11 has such an extensive reach and their work is so respected and utterly gorgeous that making the deck with them seemed like the best way to take the deck to the next level.

Can you describe the National Playing Cards and why you’re passionate about it?
The deck for me has almost been more about an illustration process than one original concept. I had been playing around with this flat, sort of retro, very textured illustration style that was feeling very natural to me.

On a whim one night I illustrated a King of Hearts, posted it to Instagram and got a lot of positive reaction and encouragement to keep going. So I did. Over time the deck sort of morphed into this sort of secret society tribute thing. I got obsessed with working in a ridiculous amount of symbology to basically make the Illuminati's official deck of cards… kinda silly, but lots of fun.

About halfway through the process, we decided to name the deck National as a tribute to the long gone National Playing Card Company that produced beautiful decks until the late 1800’s. I’d like to think we’re bringing the brand back to life.


What was your most brilliant breakthrough when designing the deck?
Honestly, the defining moment was the decision to team up with Jonathan Bayme at Theory 11. Jonathan is crazy motivated, high energy has excellent standards and he’s willing to go through round after round of revisions until things are perfect. He really played a big hand in pushing the box design to a great place that I think we are all happy with. Without Theory11, the deck would have wound up in a wildly different place, or possibly not even produced at all. For the quality that I wanted, the cost was going to be pretty large, and I was nervous about printing with no distribution in place and basically going it on my own. Jonathan definitely made it happen.

What are your favorite playing card decks?
All growing up I had the same trashed and worn blue Bicycle deck, which I think will always have a special place in my heart. As far as modern decks go, I love Citizens by Theory 11 (shameless plug). It is a feat of design and printing (I have no idea how printing that ultra fine line work is even physically possible on a letterpress… Studio on Fire has registration skills to pay the bills!), Dan and Dave’s Maker’s deck from last year is also gorgeous and mono-width line work is just right up my alley.

Also hailing from my hometown of Louisville Ky, Tyler Deeb’s Misc Goods deck is a modern classic, everything about it is just absolutely unique and original and it has a timeless quality that I’m totally in love with. I’ll be hanging on to that one for years.

Thank you so much for indulging my questions. Do you have any other words of wisdom for other aspiring artists and designers?
If you’re getting started in design, I would encourage you to just ‘make’ and experiment. As a young designer, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy while striving to make your work live up to your favorite designers and artists. What you don’t see from your idols’ work online is the years and decades of refining and learning that went into a particular style or a finished piece.

Every great designer and artist have to put their time in to find the style, tone and subject matter that’s right for them, it doesn’t come over night. It did for Prince…. But we all can’t be Prince. I had a ceramics professor in college that would always tell freshmen that "it’s not about quality, it's about quantity”. Because real learning, breakthroughs, and discoveries come from the doing of things. And the more you do, the more refined your work becomes and the more purposeful and thoughtful it becomes.

Awesome! Thank you for your time, Adam!


National Playing Cards are Made in the USA using FSC-certified paper derived from sustainable forests, vegetable-based inks, and starch-based laminates. Available NOW from Theory11.

Images courtesy of Adam Moore (@haroldapples) and taken from theory11.com
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