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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Deck the Halls » » Pictorial Review: The Uusi Studio & Bohemia deck (Uusi) (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Custom Playing Cards With Hand-Drawn Art

Uusi was launched in 2010, and is the Chicago-based design studio of artists Peter Dunham and Linnea Gits. For the curious, "uusi" is the Finnish word for "new", and is pronounced oosee; it reflects the feeling of discovery that accompanied the new venture they were embarking on when they began their studio collaboration.

Self-described as having a love for "traditional craftsmanship, material exploration and a search for the essential beauty in every day objects", Peter and Linnea look to combine authenticity and playfulness, while drawing on their wide range of abilities, which include expertise in areas such as fine art, illustration, graphic and interior design, photography and woodworking. With these diverse skills to draw on, they are able to use traditional forms of art and a fusion of styles to create a variety of interesting designs, which includes products ranging from furniture to prints. They've had their work featured in numerous publications, including the New York Times, and their art has been used in award-winning advertising campaigns, and exhibited in galleries.


With credentials like that, it may come as no surprise to us to learn that when they turned their hand to creative custom playing cards, they were a big success. In 2012 the Uusi team began a series of decks for which they made a deliberate decision to only use traditional art methods rather than computer generated imagery, being of the conviction that these traditional methods create an emotion or feeling that digital artwork cannot replicate or capture. Their success came as somewhat of a surprise to them because Peter and Linnea were in the first place designers with little experience in the playing card industry. So the fact that their their first deck, Blue Blood, proved to be such a hit on Kickstarter in 2012, was somewhat unexpected to them personally.

This was really their introduction to the custom playing card community, and the enormous support they received spurred them to create more projects. They've come to really appreciate the unique experience of benefiting from the input of backers on Kickstarter, and see it as a platform that offers backers and collectors the excitement of discovering and supporting an exciting deck, while offering creators the feedback and financial support they need to create a deck that takes more risks than might otherwise be possible in the traditional retail market. They went on to create several other beautiful decks, including the popular Bohemia Playing Cards deck, the playful Hot Cakes, the modernist BRuT, and the artistic Pagan.

With a portfolio of several beautiful and artistic custom decks of playing cards, Peter and Linnea have been recognized for their skills numerous times already. In 2015, they were voted Designers of the Year by In this year's awards, they've been nominated for Deck of the Year 2017 for Pagan Playing Cards, and as Artist of the Year 2017. DPI Magazine, a leading Taiwanese design publication, recently featured their work, with artwork from their Pagan Playing Cards deck used for the magazine's cover. Their Bohemia deck was also featured in the California lifestyle magazine and in New York Magazine, as well as on numerous design blogs. So let's join the many who have already given them praise for their beautiful and original decks, and check out some of the playing cards they have created! This feature article covers five of the series of six decks that they began creating in 2012.



== Bohemia ==

After their first deck (Blue Blood) was sold out, the Bohemia deck was Uusi's second contribution to the world of custom playing cards crowdfunded via Kickstarter. They describe it as follows: "Street art meets Baroque in this luminous, hand-painted deck."

The magnificent and colourful tuck box makes an immediate impression of elegance and colourful artistry. The font used for the lettering of Bohemia is a calligraphic style typical of the Bohemian region.


The artwork for the Bohemia deck was inspired by a rather unlikely pairing: a 17th-century Baroque style combined with contemporary urban street art.

But wow, does this blended mix of old and new in a water colour look ever make an impression! As the publisher describes this unique combination: "Each have a flair for drama, tension and grandeur that when mixed together create one lush, combustible style!"


Added sophistication comes from the swirling lines on both sides of the cards, which helps accentuate the hand-painted feel.

The court cards all have a completely original look, and yet the indices ensure they are immediately identifiable. As a result this eye-catching style is suitable for all kinds of occasions - whether a friendly card game with the family, or in the hands of a skilled magician or card flourisher.


All the artwork is completely hand-painted with gouache paint for the illustrations on every single card.


Every card has big, juicy, hand-painted pips that vary in shades of brilliantly luminous blue for the dark suits of spades and clubs and lushly romantic red for the light suits of hearts and diamonds.

This makes every card feel truly unique and a work of art - even the number cards! Normally these can be relegated to a place of obscurity in a deck, but not so here.


The stylish Jokers are wonderfully lively and colourful, and make an appropriate and beautiful addition to this deck. Other extra cards in the deck include a blank card and a promotional Uusi ad card.


In addition to the custom face designs, the deck features colorful card backs that showcase both color and beauty.

Thin borders ensure that the effect of this is maximized in fans and spreads. I also love the background colour used on both the faces and backs of the cards. It's a vintage style light brown, that adds authenticity to the artwork by giving the impression that the vibrant colours are painted on an old canvas that has crossed time.


The Bohemia deck is a true work of art, and worthy of being hung on a wall as a framed uncut sheet, or even being admired one card at a time.



Collaboration: Some artists I know personally have told me about the challenges and rewards of collaborating with another artist. On the one hand you need to be flexible in working with another person, especially when that person has their own ideas about an artistic piece, and want to develop things in a direction different than what you had in mind. But on the other hand a collaboration gives the opportunity for two heads to produce something that a person on their own wouldn't have come up with. It allows two creative minds to work together and combine their gifts and talents, drawing on a wider range of skills and talents. Clearly Peter and Linnea have found a way to make their collaboration work, and the beautiful results speak for themselves.

Functional: While I love creative and artistic decks, it's always somewhat of a pity when the creativity gets in the way of a deck's functionality, and as a result it becomes difficult to use when playing card games. The Uusi team are very much aware of this, and so while they want their decks to be artistic, it is equally important to them to ensure that they are playable. For this reason they have gone out of their way to ensure that the pips and indices not only meet high artistic standards, but are easy to read. Furthermore, they have been careful to retain recognizable design elements that have an important place in the history of playing cards, such as the one-eyed Jacks and Suicide King, in order to preserve the connection with a traditional deck. The result is that the Uusi decks are not only beautiful, but eminently recognizable and playable.

Artistic background: Unlike some card designers, the Uusi team of Peter and Linnea are artists and designers first of all, and that means that they bring to the table very real and also very diverse skills from the world of art and design. For them, the world of design is not a hobby, but part of their real-life work, and they can draw on a wealth of experiences from the design world. This has helped them come up with fresh ideas, and also given them the freedom to innovate in ways that depart from cliches that might hamper other designers in the world of custom playing cards.

Hand-drawn artwork: When they first began their series of playing cards in 2012, Peter and Linnea did so with the vision of relying exclusively on traditional art methods and mediums to create the artwork for their decks. In their view, the advent of digital technology has led to the decline of traditional artistic methods. While they readily acknowledge that computer generated imagery offers a crispness and potential hitherto impossible, the history of art is a long one, and is filled with centuries of exquisite hand-drawn artwork, and it is important to retain an appreciation for and connection with these powerful styles. They want to continue this rich tradition, believing that "there is emotion and feeling to a mark made by a person that a computer just cannot replicate and it is this "emotional line" that we wanted to recapture for all our decks." They've certainly accomplished this, and it's one of the reasons for the remarkable appeal of their decks.


Diverse art mediums: With each of the six decks in their series of limited edition playing cards, the Uusi team made a conscious decision to use a new and different art medium. The artwork for the first deck (Blue Blood), was created exclusively with color pencils. Bohemia employed gouache to portray a "lush, expressive quality". The third deck, Royal Optik, relied on pen and ink, and combined woodcut styles with the geometrics of Op Art. The Pagan deck relied on oil paints, each court card originating in an elaborate oil painting. The Renaissance themed Uusi Classic employed a hand-painted style for an entirely different look again. In this way each deck has its own very distinctive look.

Varied designs: As well as using different art mediums, Peter and Linnea also wanted to create six very different hand-drawn decks. Kickstarter was the ideal platform to experiment with different genres and styles, and in their case their efforts at innovation paid off. All the six decks that make up their series have a very different look and feel, both in terms of the art medium used, as well as the style and theme.

Signature elements: Even though the Uusi decks are all quite different, there are some signature elements. First of all, there's the hand-drawn artwork, which feels fresh and original in every case. All the decks feature the same pleasant meeting of artistry and practicality. There are also other details that return, such as using the two additional cards typical for a USPCC deck in order to make an attractive diptych. The size and style of the elegant pips is another common and returning element. The use of a beige background as the canvas for all their designs helps lend a sense of authenticity and aging to the designs, increasing the classic and hand-made feel. While all different, these decks clearly originate from the same source, and bear a kinship in subtle ways.

Original courts: When the custom playing card market began to explode in 2012 with the help of the giant crowd-funding platform Kickstarter, it was still fairly common to depict court cards as variations of the traditional European characters. In many cases, customization was often limited to the tuck box, card-backs, Ace of Spades and Jokers. The unusual royal characters that inhabited the Blueblood deck might seem more than acceptable in today's market, but at the time this was still somewhat revolutionary and daring. Given the very positive reception these received, the idea of creating entirely original court characters for all the decks of the Uusi series has clearly paid off.

Popular designs: Sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time, and the remarkable success of the Misc Goods Co deck which I've documented in another article (link) is an excellent example. Similar to that deck, the Uusi decks hit the Kickstarter market just as it was taking off and gaining momentum. While their first project had just under 500 backers, their sophomore effort, Bohemia, attracted over 1500 supporters! From this point on there was no turning back, and with a loyal band of followers, all of their subsequent projects would typically see at least 1000 backers. While in many respects the custom playing card market today is over-saturated, Uusi managed to enter the marketplace at just the right time, and as a result achieved a level of success that would be so much harder to obtain today.

Card quality: Producing limited edition decks that feature high quality and unique art also means that these playing cards deserve a loving treatment in the form of high quality cards. To ensure that their decks have a quality that matches and complements the artwork, Uusi has decided to print all their decks with United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), an industry leader with a solid and established reputation. As a result, these cards are all printed with a quality embossed card-stock, and handle very smoothly and evenly, and shuffle well. The printing registration also seems to be more consistent that sometimes is the case with USPCC produced decks, which is especially important here given the use of narrow borders. They should also last a long time - as beautiful cards like this deserve.



The custom playing card market today is starting to feel crowded, and once you've been immersed in it for a while, things can start to seem somewhat stale at times. But exploring the decks created by Uusi Playing Cards has felt like a breath of fresh air, due to the artistic and creative minds that have conceived and generated these genuinely beautiful decks. All of them feel quite different, and yet have a rich and classic feel that is full of elegance and charm, and yet where the artwork doesn't get in the way of using these lovely cards for an actual card game.

I think I'm falling in love. And once you see these decks for yourself, perhaps you will too.


Want to learn more?
Uusi Playing Cards:
Playing Card Online Store:

Direct links for the decks featured in this review series:
- Bohemia
- Royal Optik
- Blueblood Redux
- Pagan
- Uusi Classic

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