The 2018 Deck of the Year Interview with Artist Alain Benoit

Posted by Will Roya on

BY LEE ASHER | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF CARD CULTURE

First Published in Card Culture Magazine Issue #47 December 2018

CARD CULTURE SPEAKS WITH THIS YEAR’S DECK OF THE YEAR WINNER ABOUT HIS FRENCH CARTOMANCY INFLUENCES, DESIGNING & KICKSTARTING HIS CARTOMANCER PACK AND MUCH MORE.

Cards from the Cartomancer deck.

CARD CULTURE: How did you start your foray into creating cards?

BENOIT: As a graphic designer, a deck of cards has always been a fundamental example of what pure design is: symbols, letters, numbers, illustrations and a vast history from around the world -- all in the palm of your hand. So the creation of a deck of cards has pretty much always been in the back of my mind since University. But more to the point, a few years ago, my brother who is an artist, had started to design a deck of playing cards featuring photos of Native Americans by Edwards S. Curtis, the project was never completed but it ignited my own interest in designing my vision of playing cards.

CARD CULTURE: So then, which types of decks make up your playing card collection?

BENOIT: My collection is not very large, but what I look for are decks that contain a deeper significance beyond just a specific theme or an attractive design. I love a deck that tells a story and that incorporates symbols within the art of the cards. Of course I enjoy decks with a fortune telling components. But I also love art, I have some decks just because I like the art on the cards. It’s a guilty pleasure.

A mock-up of the Five of Diamonds from the deck that inspired the artist to create his own deck of playing cards and The Cartomancer Poker Deck’s Five of Diamonds, Nature.

CARD CULTURE: I’m glad you just mentioned the phrase “fortune telling components.” The Cartomancer Poker Deck is certainly inspired by old French cartomancy. Could you briefly explain to the readers a bit more about the idea of French cartomancy as well as share your thoughts about the influence it has had on your designs?

BENOIT: The most widespread French cartomancy deck is the Lenormand deck. It exists in many different formats but in essence, each card features a simple image (a ring, a letter, a key) and is associated with a playing card, which is reproduced along with the image. This deck was very popular in 17th century France and became one of the favorite decks for fortune telling.

In recent years, there has been a revival of the Lenormand deck. It seems that a couple of centuries later, the cards are still relevant, undoubtedly because we can still relate to the story told by the images on the cards. That’s the kind of deck I wanted the Cartomancer Poker Deck to be; a deck of cards that depicts a story with images and symbols on each card.

The story that I’m telling is not very different from the story from the Lenormand deck; it’s always the story of the human experience. I always like to say that each card tells a story and the whole deck paints a landscape of the human experience.

There are other decks such as La Sibylle des Salons (“The Parlour Sibyl”) and Le Petit Cartomancien (“The Little Cartomancer”) that were also instrumental in the creation of the Cartomancer Poker Deck, but it’s fair to say that Lenormand was most influential.

How to Tell Fortunes article using the Lenormand imagery  
published in ‘The Evening World’s Home Magazine’ (circa 1903).

CARD CULTURE: From a psychological standpoint, your deck seems heavily influenced by the teachings of Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung. How did you arrive to the idea of utilizing Jungian archetypes in your deck?

BENOIT: As I started juggling in my head different concepts for the deck, I was also reading Jung’s book, Man and His Symbols (probably not by coincidence) and when I came across the four fundamental ways we perceive and interpret reality (also named ego-functions): sensation, thinking, intuition and feeling.

It was like an eye-opener that each of those could very well be associated with the four suits in a deck of cards!

Once this association was made, it was clear to me that some of Jung’s analytical psychology concepts would be the glue that would hold the deck together. Soon I also linked each suit with Jung’s four stages of development of the human mind. Ultimately with this, I felt that I had a solid foundation to build the deck.

Diamonds: Sensation / Childhood

Spades: Thinking / Early Adulthood

Hearts: Intuition / Midlife

Clubs: Feeling / Late Adulthood

CARD CULTURE: So by now, I’m sure everyone is probably wondering what motivates you to design like this?

BENOIT: Above all, I just like to create. When I’m in the process of designing something, I think about it all the time (a little too compulsive, maybe) but by the time I sit down to actually create it, there is no better feeling than seeing it come to life from your mind’s eye. While before there was some ideas and countless possibilities, and now there is a beautiful and meaningful card!

Playing cards are for people, so I’m totally inspired by the emotion that the cards will create in people. With the Cartomancer Poker Deck, I wanted people to hold it in their hand and feel that this was THEIR deck of cards, because it spoke to them about them. From the feedback I have been getting, it seems that I have achieved this to a certain extent.

CARD CULTURE: It’s clear that you have the numbers to back up your theory; 610 backers pledged $18,937 to help bring the Cartomancer Poker Deck to life. Did you have any doubts before crowd funding for your project?

BENOIT: Absolutely, I designed the Cartomancer Poker Deck because I felt that it was something that I was meant to do.

But to take it to the next level, offering it on a platform such as Kickstarter, was exposing myself as a designer and as a person in a way I had never done before.

The campaign started very well, but it progressed slowly in the middle and ultimately climbed quickly towards the end and surpassed my goal. For most of the campaign I felt that it might not make it. It was nerve-racking! But I pressed on, sending updates, doing cross-promotions with other decks on KS and promoting the project on Instagram.

CARD CULTURE: I think we can all agree your hard work has paid off! As a matter of fact, your creativity just won you a prestigious Diamond Award from 52 Plus Joker. Did you ever imagine you’d win a prize like this while you were designing your deck?

BENOIT: Certainly not. The Cartomancer Poker Deck is a very personal project and such a mixture of things between playing cards, French cartomancy, transformation cards, tarot cards, analytical psychology, vintage prints, finger prints, it never occurred to me that such a hybrid could be nominated and much less win the Diamond Award for Deck of The Year.

In the end it seems that the very things that I thought would keep it from being nominated were the very things that made it win!

The Cartomancer Poker Deck uncut sheet printed by the USPCC on  
Casino Quality Bee Playing Cards Paper Stock.

CARD CULTURE: Let’s quickly discuss the future. Do you plan on illustrating and releasing any other decks soon?

BENOIT: Yes, I’m already working on a second edition of the Cartomancer Poker Deck. It’s too early to reveal details but with what I have in mind, everyone who has the first edition will absolutely want/need the second edition. More on that soon. :)

CARD CULTURE: Final question. Do you have any advice for designers and collectors?

BENOIT: Of course!

For designers: you have to be passionate about your project, draw from what inspires you and make it your own. If there is anything that I’ve learned from the Cartomancer Poker Deck, it’s that the more personal your project, the more chance it will have to stand out. Another thing is to share your ideas with the playing card community: 52 Plus Joker has a great platform for forums, also social media is great to get a feel for how people react to your idea or concept (I like Instagram because it’s visual and quick.)

For collectors: I know that time increases the value of any collectable, but keep in mind that today’s modern decks will also be the vintage and the antique decks of tomorrow.

The Cartomancer Poker deck and uncut sheet are still available from the artist’s website: http://www.cartomancercards.com.

You can also find the deck here on PlayingCardDecks.com.

CARD CULTURE is the the longest running monthly digital magazine for serious card collectors. Learn more at the 52 plus joker website: http://www.52plusjoker.org/dnn

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