Encarded: 7 Questions with Paul Carpenter of Zenith Playing Cards

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Encarded: 7 Questions with Paul Carpenter of Zenith Playing Cards

Zenith is the first deck in the Encarded Signature Series masterfully crafted by Paul Carpenter. This highly anticipated deck is a dramatic re-imagining of the several commonly seen playing card themes: the black and white deck design, the central circular medallion motif, and borderless design. Zenith may be the only deck to combine such themes into such a cohesive and elegant package. Housed in a special sideways opening tuck box made of elegant, thick matte black paper, Zenith is adorned with amazingly detailed and vibrant holographic silver foil and sealed with a sequentially numbered seal (xxxx/1000) under the cellophane. Stunning!

We caught up with Paul, in between his busy schedule to chat with him about his design background, launching Zenith outside Kickstarter, the inspiration behind Zenith and EPCC.

Can you tell us about yourself and what is your design background?
My design background goes quite a ways back, actually to when I was about 12 years old. My family got our first Macintosh computer (a screaming fast Mac IIci with an entire 12Mb of RAM!) in 1989 and I was immediately fascinated by it. I spent many hours playing with Photoshop 1.0 (which came on 4 floppy disks at the time) and fashioned all kinds of projects for myself. I started doing freelance in high school when designing for the internet was uncharted territory, went to college for graphic design and ultimately got a job as the creative director for a small internet company. Over the years I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects but the vast majority were digital. Digital creations, no matter how great, tend to quickly fade, be superseded by the new version, or become obsolete so I had always craved outlets that created tangible products. It took about 20 years but finally playing cards fell into my lap and I knew I had found a perfect medium for my design passion.

This will be your first release outside Kickstarter. What is the motivation behind this decision?
Kickstarter is great, and did give me chance to start Encarded. However, I always hoped to create my projects in such a way that it was self sustaining and (with some planning and a bit of luck) even profitable. I think that if you work out your projects properly, Kickstarter can actually fulfill it’s intended purpose, to give a project creator a jump start. Zenith was the perfect project to do outside of the Kickstarter model, as it was a purposefully small run, making it feasible to pay for the “real way.” Kickstarter adds costs and complication that don’t exist in a traditional storefront, so if possible I hope to do projects outside of Kickstarter.

Do you see this (KS creators releasing playing cards outside KS) as a trend? Why or why not?
Right now, I don’t see the Kickstarter trend stopping. The entrenched market of Kickstarter is strong and it does bring a lot of eyeballs to your projects. More critically, I think Kickstarter has, in some ways, lulled people into a false sense that all of this is really easy and painless, and as we’ve seen in almost all facets of modern life, everyone wants quick and easy.

I think that many projects creators really don’t understand the costs, profit potentials, shipping hazards and other factors that make doing these projects hard in the traditional way. Having backed many projects on Kickstarter it’s clear that only after the fact to people see the “wow this is a lot of hard work” aspect and in some cases this sudden reality can derail all the good intentions.

What is your inspiration behind Zenith? How did you come up with the idea?
Zenith is an experiment in taking two themes that we’ve seen a lot of, namely black and white art and borderless designs, and mix them into an entirely new way. I have many decks with predominantly black and white art on the back. They are all very nice, but in my opinion all too often stick religiously to the established norms. Borderless designs are also common but almost exclusively rely on small repetitive design detail for their effect. I wanted to explore a way in which these elements could be dramatically reimagined into a fresh design that you wouldn’t expect.

Can you briefly go through the design evolution of one of your unique card design?
My process is very amorphous. I do not really have a concrete way of doing things and almost all of my projects have developed in organic ways on their own. Usually, I do have some vague notion or theme that I want to explore.

With Tendril, I was inspired by Costa Rica and knew I wanted to explore the conflict of light and dark. For Aurum, I wanted to instill high detail and luxury alongside hand drawn details. For Deco, I wanted to see how I could incorporate stark simplicity with immense detail.

I usually start work by writing outlines for myself with facets of the design I would like to see. I might do some small pencil sketches to generate some ideas. From there, I usually go to the computer and simply start experimenting. Usually, the design of a deck will change significantly over perhaps 10 iterations and usually I end up with something vastly different from the start. I keep many of my ideas and thoughts that don’t make the cut for a particular project and revisit them later, which is how many parts of my Signature Series decks will come about. Anyone watching my decks sees that I clearly do not so the same thing over and over, so any of the ideas I stumble upon might bear fruit later.

When did you first start thinking about using EPCC for Zenith? What made you decide to take the plunge?
When I was at the 52+ Jokers annual convention in Las Vegas last year, I had the opportunity to talk with Bill Kalush of the Conjuring Arts Research Center in New York. He showed me one of his latest decks (the Exquisite, which was unreleased and a secret at that time) and I was very impressed with the quality, handling and feel of those cards. In the course of the meeting we were able to talk about the work Bill had done to find and experiment with the international printers and the options that they made available.

I got the idea of using some of the designs that I had stumbled upon in the course of creating my other decks to create the Signature Series, and EPCC afforded me the flexibility to do small runs at a reasonable cost. I also wanted to make use of the EPCC printer’s ability to get extremely precise registration, as my design for Zenith would not be tolerant of variations in where the border of the card was cut. Being the first time using a new printer, it did require a fair amount of time and effort and because I packed Zenith full of luxury touched it’s far from a “cheap” deck, but the EPCC printer did an amazingly good job and I’m certainly going to make use of their capabilities again.

Finally, what are your favourite playing card decks?
I have quite a few decks and open everything I buy so that I can study the art. I do not own much vintage (yet) but hope to acquire more of the beautiful artistry from days past. Some of my personal favorites right now are the Federal 52 from my friend Jackson, the Seasons from my friend Alex, the Exquisite from CARC, Whispering Imps, Royal Optik, Virtuoso, Curator, Tally-Ho Vipers, and v1 Artifice.

Printed by the Expert Playing Card Company, Zenith is one of the rarest full releases in the world of modern playing cards. There are no other editions, no other box designs, no other colors and it won't be printed again. Less than 1,000 sealed and individually numbered decks will be released. Don't miss out on your chance to get this groundbreaking deck from Encarded!

Encarded: 7 Questions with Paul Carpenter of Zenith Playing Cards Reviewed by Ivan on 4/24/2014 Rating: 5


  1. EPCC...No thanks... (good luck though)

  2. Great looking artwork...

  3. And they are all gone in under 24 hours! Fabulous job, Paul, and a perfect example of why EPCC IS going to make 2014 a year to remember for our hobby! I had no idea that Tendrils were inspired by Costa Rica - probably my favorite place on earth. Did you make the northern loop to Arenal Volcano and natural hot mineral pools? Amazing place, you can lay back and watch the sparks fly at night in a virtually private sauna...


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