Designers: Ellusionist Creative Director, Mike Clarke, Discusses Republic Playing Cards, Ellusionist and More

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Designers: Ellusionist Creative Director, Mike Clarke, Discusses Republic Playing Cards, Ellusionist and More

Over the years Ellusionist has grown into a huge force in the magic/playing card industry with some extremely hot playing card releases such as the Artifice series, Arcane and many others. Excelling in not only playing card releases but magic effects and illusion as well, Ellusionist has been a force to pay attention to in the industry for quite some time. If you interested in playing cards odds are you know of Ellusionist. In fact, your first deck beyond a standard Bicycle was probably an Ellusionist deck.

Behind every great success, there is a great creative vision. Based out of Toronto and San Francisco, Mike Clarke is the creative director for Ellusionist and has provided his vision on the majority of projects that have come out of Ellusionist in recent years. Mike handles art direction for almost every single creative aspect that goes in and out of Ellusionist. From web design to playing cards, Mike has a say.

Just last month, Mike and Ellusionist unleashed the Republic #2 playing card deck with exciting teasers and a video production that your average deck does not get. Republic #2 is unique as it is the second deck in the Republic series but it is definitely a stark departure from the first deck in the series, Sultan Republic. By opting for something beyond a recolor, Republic #2 (which was 100% created by Mike) does what most playing card series rarely do when it comes to subsequent releases. It should go without saying that when a subsequent deck is just recolored, fans tend to see right through that. As competition heats up, fans want more unique releases beyond recolors even within the same series. Mike and Ellusionist have come to realize that.

Mike is an extremely busy individual with a traveling schedule that takes him to multiple cities and deadlines that are very demanding. In fact, getting the following interview was delayed a bit as Mike was away working on an Ellusionist production as well as finalizing artwork for an upcoming deck that Ellusionist wants before Christmas of this year. While no details of that project are released other than a projected time frame, Mike does drop some possible teaser puzzles of what is to come in the following interview. Without further ado, sit back and relax as you read Mike Clarke's words on Ellusionist, Republic and More....

Tuck Case: Something that is asked of all designer interviews, can you give us your design background?
Mike: My art background started at a super early age. My Dad would draw little pictures on a sheet of paper to the left hand side, draw a line down the middle and ask me to draw the same thing on the right. I spent every morning for about 10 years doing this. Art has just always been something at the forefront of my brain my entire life.

When I got my first personal computer back in 2000, I would sit there for hours drawing things in MS Paint. Mostly goofing around avoiding homework. Years of useless MS Paint drawings, my Dad said to me "Why don't you find a way to actually make money on the computer? You sit here all day doing nothing, you may as well find a way to be productive." That was the first little nudge that got my design career moving. After that talk I started teaching myself Adobe Flash. At the time, (early 2000's) Flash was huge and all the rage. Everyone wanted their site to be fully animated with crazy sound effects and moving elements. So while in grade 9, I made my first website and started promoting my website design and animation services. I posted ads all over Craigslist and other message boards. I quickly started getting inquires from a lot of people to help with their sites.

I started to notice, everyone who came to me for a site would ask if I could "quickly make them a logo". Once they had the logo, they of course wanted business cards and other promo materials. So I started expanding my services to branding as well. I did this little endeavour for about 3 years. I slowly got out of it because Flash was no longer the preferred method of site building. People wanted a way to update the site themselves, have a control panel, edit and post updates on the fly, all of which was out of my skill-set.

Needing a new outlet to focus my creativity on, I decided to take a photography class in High School. Not knowing anything about it, I sat there like a chump listening to all the boring theory and definitions. This was the reason I hated school, just let me use a camera already! I started walking around the school taking pictures of absolutely everything. The floor, the walls, the water fountain, the gum stuck under the lockers. Everything! I couldn't stop taking pictures. I was obsessed. I saved up as much money as I could and went to the local camera shop to buy a DSLR camera because I thought it was time to step my game up.

I met Peter McKinnon shortly after getting my shiny new camera. We went to this forested area north of Toronto to take some photos of the fall leaves. Pete, at the time knew absolutely nothing about cameras and was completely mind blown when he saw I could remove the lens from the camera body. Almost overnight, he decided he wanted to get a DSLR too. It seemed like almost every day for years we were out shooting everything from homeless guys in Toronto to waterfalls in Algonquin Park.

Being the young entrepreneurs we are, we decided to start a photography business, called 5Design. We both had 5D cameras and wanted to be able to branch out and do design work as well. We shot weddings from 2007 until 2012. Lots of fun, but [it was] a lot of stress dealing with brides every day. Once we closed up shop, Pete went on to pursue videography. Working with industry giants, Still Motion and then on to Ellusionist. I started doing freelance work for a little while when Pete pitched the idea to Brad to have me start doing all the graphics for E.

Tuck Case: How many playing card decks have you designed and what decks are they?
Mike: I've worked on a lot of decks! Every single deck that comes out with E has to go through me first. Not every deck do I design completely, sometimes it's a collaboration with other artists (Lee McKenzie for example). Here's a list of decks I've designed fully, designed elements (ace of spades, joker, box, etc) or had creative direction on:

- Sultan Republic
- Sultan Treasury
- Fathom
- Artifice Black Club
- Executive
- Artifice Tundra
- Republic
- Ignite
- P-------
- G-----------
- A----------
- K----------
- A---
- S-----

Editor's note: Care to try to guess what the upcoming decks are? It seems Mike has given a clue with the first letter.

Ignite, Ellusionist's latest release

Tuck Case: Can you give us some background on the Republic series? How did you come up with the idea?
Mike: This was one of the first decks I ever designed - the first one that ever made it to print. I'm not really sure how the idea came to me. It sort of just fell into place as I was designing. I started designing it before I knew what it would be. Once I started to get an idea for how it was all coming together, I started to refine it a little bit.

The Treasury was an idea Pete had. He called me and said, "You need to make an old beat up version of this deck, and do it quickly so we can get it in to print at the same time." So within maybe 2 days, the Treasury deck was born. Probably one of my favorite decks, although the P------- are right up there too.

Sultan Treasury

Tuck Case: When the Republic No. 2 deck started to get teased on the web, a lot of people thought it was Sultan Republic version 2 but then it was determined it was not a "Sultan" deck. Can you clear the air once and for all on how each deck fits in the Republic series?
Mike: Republic is the brand. Within that brand we had the Sultan decks. This isn't meant to be a "Sultan Republic" makeover. However, you will recognize a few details from the previous versions in here.

Republic 2.0 is simply #2 in the Republic series. Because Treasury was an exact replica (although it was beaten up) of the Sultan Republic deck, we didn't consider it to be a second version.

Tuck Case: Why did Ellusionist decide not to re-print the Sultan Republic deck when there was already a limited Sultan Treasury in the series?
Mike: Treasury was an already limited launch of a lower quantity of decks. Sultan was a larger print run, but gone when gone. There might be something new to take the missing spot with an all foiled deck though... You'll have to wait and see :)

Tuck Case: Was the Republic series originally planned as a series?
Mike: With every deck we release we try and make it a series. Artifice, Origins, LTD, etc.

Editor's note: The Origins series includes the Fathom deck and most recent Ignite deck.

Tuck Case: Republic No. 2 is a lot different than the original Sultan Republic as far as being a borderless and minimalist type design, why such a big difference in the same series?
Mike: The Sultan Republic was super flashy, all the foil, embossing, large pips and busy design. I wanted to create something that was much more simple and something I could picture myself carrying with me every day. A deck that would suit a high school kid all the way up to a business man. I'm also a huge fan of minimalistic design and living. My office (seen below) is a great representation of that...

Tuck Case: How long did you spend working on each deck in the Republic series?
Mike: That's a tough question, I don't clock my hours while working on each deck. As every creative person knows, you can't spend hours and hours working on the same thing. Sometimes I would stop working on it for a week because I needed some time to get new inspiration. With every deck design there's so many different versions along the way as well. So that ends up eating time but it's ultimately needed to get to the final outcome. Being the Sultan Republic was one of my first decks, it took me much longer than it would now.

Tuck Case: What are you favorite playing card decks?
Mike: I have so many favorites, all for different reasons. Sometimes for the uniqueness, color and design work. Here's a few that pop to mind.

Rounders, Wynn, JAQK, Magic-Con, Misc Goods, Smoke and Mirrors and the vintage plaid by the Bucks.

Tuck Case: With the boom in Kickstarter decks this year, has that impacted Ellusionist at all? Any thoughts on Kickstarter?
Mike: Kickstarter is definitely making the card market more saturated as everyone has the opportunity to create and have their deck printed. It's the same with anything though, look how many car manufacturers there are. Each company has it's own style that sets them apart, so I don't think it has impacted us at all. People are more cautious of the decks they buy now, more selective and only buy the ones they REALLY like. A little competition is a good thing too ;)

Tuck Case: Do you have any advice for people looking to submit playing card designs to Ellusionist or just in general, people looking to design a deck?
Mike: I think with the amount of new designs coming out almost daily, I think you need to have a really cool idea (theme) or have an extremely eye catching design. If anyone out there is looking to possibly have a deck designed with us, I would recommend sending me an email with your design. You can reach me at, Mike AT

Check Mike's work out at and on his personal design site

Designers: Ellusionist Creative Director, Mike Clarke, Discusses Republic Playing Cards, Ellusionist and More Reviewed by Ivan on 9/13/2013 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. Republic is a great series,but I've gotta tell ya, Ignite is tome, one of Ellusionists ugliest decks...


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