1-on-1: Emmanuel Jose

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1-on-1: Emmanuel Jose

If you’ve never seen any of Emmanuel Jose’s work, you need to. When I started collecting playing cards I formed a list, like many do, of the decks I wanted to add to my collection. Usually the easiest way to go about that is to see what decks are popular or caused some buzz. I kept coming across Emmanuel’s Curator deck in poking around the internet, so I added it to my list. As I worked through that list I would do some research on the deck and then make my decision. So there it is the Curator deck…kind of cool, very creative transformation deck. Then I came across a thread on a forum that talked about how these images were produced, and all of a sudden this “kind of cool” deck took on an entirely new life. Why does the analogy, “Never judge a book by its cover” come to mind? Needless to say, Emmanuel’s art form of paper-cutting is something to be admired and seen.

Emmanuel was born in the Philippines and moved to San Diego California along with his family at the age of 6. By the time Emmanuel was 13 his family found themselves relocating once more, this time to Raleigh North Carolina where in time he attended Davidson College, a small liberal arts school near Charlotte. Motivated by the artistic people on both sides of his family Emmanuel was a double major at Davidson in the fields of Art and Psychology. ” I’ve been artistic all my life, and there are artists on both sides of my family.”

Davidson College offered a very traditional art curriculum, and even though one of his majors was in studio/fine art, Emmanuel has never had a formal education in graphic design. He did design logos and T-Shirts in High School and college, and he even worked as a lab tech for a biopharmaceutical company for five years. As an undergraduate, Emmanuel started creating paper-cut artwork, the first steps in what we see and admire today. Emmanuel graduated with a degree in Studio Art from Davidson College in 2006.

A collector of playing cards and an avid card player, Emmanuel’s creativity fuels his passion not only in designing playing cards but also in other artistic media. “My goal is to establish myself as an artist and to be creatively fulfilled. I’d also like to do more in terms of photography, painting, and sculpture.” As for playing cards specifically, Emmanuel was always an admirer of the designs and creativity he found on them, “…I’ve been fascinated with the artistry and beauty of playing cards as long as I could remember.” Emmanuel’s longtime fascination with playing cards and the art of paper-cutting came together in 2011 with his Curator deck.

Emmanuel’s decks to date are produced using paper-cutting techniques, where if you’ve ever cut out a snowflake or silhouettes to put on a piece of paper you “kind of” get a very general idea of what he does. The process of coming up with the transformation image is a challenge in itself and truly clever if you have ever seen any of his work. Brining that vision to reality by painstakingly clipping layers of various colored paper to form an amazing image is not only a creative challenge, but also a test of patience. One card can take up to a week to produce. 52 cards in a deck…you do the math. Once you see the finished product, much like I felt when I first discovered Emmanuel’s process, you can’t help but say to yourself, “How did he do that?” Emmanuel’s work shows fine lines, intricacy, as well as shading and depth, a far cry from just cutting out a simple shape.

Currently working on his fourth transformation deck, Delicious, continuing to utilize the fine art of paper-cutting, Emmanuel doesn’t seem to be slowing down in 2014 with the highly anticipated releases of his Clipped Wings and Sawdust playing cards. If that were not enough, Emmanuel even expressed an interest in possibly taking one of his future deck designs away from the transformation deck genre.

Emmanuel has been busy with his current project but was nice enough to take a few moments to answer some questions:

1. What or who inspired your art form/style? 
Papel Picado artists and Chinese paper-cutting artists have definitely influenced me in terms of technique. Visually, artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Wayne Thiebaud, and Robert Indiana inspire me. There are so many more artists and illustrators that I could list, but I tend to love Pop Artists. The visual crispness of their work appeals to me, and I find that same crispness with paper.

2. With the successful release of The Curator deck, did you feel that you needed to produce something “Bigger and Better” for your next project? 
I didn’t feel like I needed to produce something bigger, but truthfully, the first audience I have in mind is myself, and that steers me in the directions I’ve gone. For the majority of 2011, I thought the Curator deck would be the only deck I would make since I initially planned on making cards for only 1 year. Fortunately, I decided to make Clipped Wings when I saw all the recurring bird ideas that I had and from my experiences of having pet birds. I made Sawdust because I was getting to know more and more circus performers, and the circus world is an incredibly rich one to explore. I’m now making Delicious because I want to improve my cooking, haha.

3. Speaking of your next project, it would seem you have multiple projects in the works at the same time, how challenging is that and can you tell us something about them? 
So far, Delicious is what I’m primarily working on, but I do want to create a non-transformation deck sometime and also work on art that’s not necessarily related to the cards. It is challenging finding the time to balance everything, but mentally and creatively, I thrive from that challenge.

4. Do you ever find yourself having to explain what’s so special and different about your work, be it cards or gallery pieces?
At times I have to explain that the medium is paper if people aren’t seeing the cards up close, but I’ve been lucky to have people give great feedback when they view the cards in person. Some in the art world have said my work is “too commercial” or “not serious enough,” but I love to create art with humor, whimsy, and fun.

5. Have you ever considered straying away from your trademark style? 
I want to push my skills and mature as an artist, but I don’t know if or when I’ll stray away from the cards. I want to create more 3D/sculptural work and be a better photographer and painter, but that doesn’t mean I have to stop making the cards. As long as I continue to be inspired and have fun, I’ll keep making the cards.

6. Any final thoughts or comments?
I want to thank everyone that’s behind me and supports my work. It means the world that I can share my art with you all, and I’m so grateful for the people who are there for me. Emmanuel Jose defines creativity, his passion for what he does is evident not only in his work, but in his drive to expand on his medium of choice. I’m sure that whatever Emmanuel chooses as the “Style” of his future projects will be nothing short of amazing. As I’ve said in my past pieces, creative people have to create, and Emmanuel is no exception.

I want to thank Emmanuel for taking some time away from his busy schedule to help me put together this piece, it was an honor to get to know him a little better and a privilege to work with him on this. If you would like to learn more about Emmanuel Jose and his work, please visit his web site at emmanueljose.com, you can also follow him on Twitter, and Facebook.

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 at sparkzcollector.
1-on-1: Emmanuel Jose Reviewed by Ivan on 3/09/2014 Rating: 5


  1. Excellent article and wonderful art history as well! Thanks to Emmanuel for sharing his thoughts and plans for the future and I hope we can entice him down to Charleston South Carolina for the American Playing Card Collector Club's (trade name "52 Plus Joker") 2014 convention in October, where I will be hosting collectors from all over the country and Canada with a guests planned from overseas as well.

    1. I think you should, Mike! :) I am sure everyone would love to meet him.


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