Brendan Hong

I knew that Brendan Hong was someone I liked when I read the way he described himself. A freelance illustrator who also creates playing cards (and hence this review), Brendan obviously has a good sense of humor. Let me share part of his witty self-description:

"He enjoys being a freelancer after realized that the free part of freelancer does not mean he works for free, although he's a bit disappointed that that also means that he doesn't get a lance either and has decided that freelancer is a very misleading word. Through it all, he still hopes to get a free lance one day, but he's a bit unsure of where that might come from."

But what makes Brendan Hong interesting is not just his abilities in art and design, but his cultural background. Brendan lives in Toronto, Canada, but his ethnic roots are Chinese. I just love it when different cultural heritages come together in a creative way, and that's exactly what is the case with Brendan's playing cards. He's taken various Chinese elements from his heritage and culture, and fused them with the traditional style of playing cards.

The result of this unique fusion is a very fascinating and fresh take on a deck of cards, very unlike anything that I've seen before. And I like it. A lot. And I hope you will too!

Brendan's current project, called Marquis Playing Cards, is currently getting funding on Kickstarter here. In this article, I want to preview his current project, as well as give you a larger picture of his body of work and style. I hope that like me, you will enjoy and appreciate some of the creativity that's evident here with his unquestionably unique style!


Marquis Playing Cards

Brendan has always enjoyed playing cards, and his aim with this new project currently on Kickstarter and entitled Marquis Playing Cards, is to create a design inspired by the elegance and wonders of classical playing card design.

In Brendan's own words, "I wanted it to feel timeless. I spent a lot of time researching and looking at Victorian and Baroque artworks and prints to learn the language of their design. I think I could spend a lifetime trying to learn to do all the amazing and wonderful things that those designers were able to do, but I feel I was able to capture that feel within this design."

Noble Edition

A Marquis is a hereditary title of nobility, and that explains why the two main decks in this series are called the Noble and Royal decks.

Brendan has always enjoyed seeing the various takes on traditional court cards, and over the years there have been endless variations of this standard set. Now it's his turn to provide his own take. In the Marquis project, he's created two different unique sets of court cards and jokers: the Noble edition, and the Royal edition.

The Noble edition is the one shown here, with an intricate card back featuring an unusual palette of colours, and a detailed and beautiful Ace of Spades:

The court cards are customized, and yet are very clearly modeled after traditional court cards, as is evident from the Queen of Clubs shown here, with the standard card shown on the right.

The Jack and Queen below have a similar feel, on the one hand being clearly inspired by the traditional design, and yet offering a fresh take in terms of style:

Royal Edition

The Royal edition is somewhat similar, but the difference is immediately evident from the card-backs, which have a noticeably more luxurious touch and softer tones, while the Ace of Spades also features more colours in the design:

Unlike many deck pairings on Kickstarter, the Royal deck doesn't utilize the same set of court cards as the Noble edition, but features a different set of court cards with a different style. Here's the Royal edition version of the Jack and Queen shown above for the Noble editon:

The number cards, on the other hand, are the same for both editions, but still feature a very stylized and custom look:


So how does the artwork of the two editions compare? Placing matching cards from each deck alongside each other really tells the story, with these King of Clubs from the Noble edition on the left, and the Royal edition on the right:

In the Royal edition, the Aces feature additional decorative illustrations, as is evident from this comparison between an Ace from the Noble edition on the left, with the matching Ace from the Royal edition on the right:

All these decks (including the Royal edition shown below) are being printed by Expert Playing Card Company, with whom Brendan has worked successfully before.

Imperial Edition

In addition to the Noble and Royal editions, an even more luxurious Imperial edition of the Marquis Playing Cards is also available. This is limited to just 200 decks, in a once-off print run. It basically takes the Royal edition a further step into the world of luxury, by housing a unique tuck box in a Carat Card Case with laser engraving and a wax seal.


I'd also like to give a quick overview of some of Brendan's previous projects, to give some idea of his style and what he has produced previously - even though some of these decks aren't very readily available.

Hive Playing Cards

Brendan Hong first began making a name for himself in the world of custom playing cards when he was involved as an artist for the Kings Wild Project, under whose banner he produced a number of decks known as the Hive series. This collaboration meant that he could focus on the creation of a deck and leave the fulfilment side of things to Kings Wild.

Hive 1

The Hive series was inspired by Brendan's own love of Bee playing cards - which also explains the name Hive. While creating something new, at the same time he wanted to create something that was reminiscent of other beautiful decks from the past.

I never realized how much work goes into the creation of a card, and found it fascinating to learn that each individual card took 1-2 days to get finished!

Hive 2

After the original Hive deck, Brendan produced Hive 2. My favourite version of the Hive 2 decks is the Limited edition, whose stylish black-and-gold tuck boxes are seen here:

The "Bee" inspiration is immediately evident, both from the colour scheme, as well as the elaborate artwork on the Ace of Spades. I especially love the Aces and the card-backs in this edition!

These cards have so much charm, and this edition in particular is a delightful blend of luxury and playfulness!

Let's take a closer look at the artwork on some of the court cards, which feature a very unique and distinctively Brendan Hong style.

The Jokers also have a lively and playful charm that is hard to resist!

Despite all the playfulness inside the box, the tuck-box of this edition has the real look of luxury and class!

Dynasty Playing Cards

The Dynasty Playing Cards were created in 2016, and was Brendan's first entirely self-run project, using Kickstarter.

This is especially the project that draws on his Chinese cultural roots, and the fusion of these influences with his own style and with traditional design is very evident and unique.

Jade Edition

Two different Dynasty decks were produced - the Jade Green version shown below, and a limited edition Imperial Red version.

The card backs feature a edge-to-edge design that cardistry fans will appreciation and benefit from, while the Joker suggests something creative and yet playful, much like the Jokers of the Hive deck, while at the same time looking more polished and elegant.

Here's some examples of the beautiful and stylized court cards:

I find that the court cards look very stylish, elegant, and classy, and feature a very unique style that does give evidence of its Chinese roots.

The cards for this project were printed by Expert Playing Cards, using their Classic finish.

They really are lovely looking decks, and I really appreciate the fusion of cultures that Brendan has achieved!

Imperial Edition

The Imperial Edition has the same-design as the Jade Edition card-backs, but in red.

The court cards also feature similar artwork, but with an intricate border added.

These Aces are from the Imperial edition, and again the addition of the border and some intricate details are immediately apparent.

Here's the Imperial edition Joker and Ace of Spades:

The number cards are the same for both editions.


Unique style:

There's no doubt that Brendan has a style that is very much his own, and it's not one that is commonly seen in playing cards. You only need to look at some of the cards in his decks, and there seems to be something distinct that almost immediately identifies it as a Brendan Hong design. Perhaps it's a result of the fusion of cultures that have formed his artistic taste and approach, but it's certainly something distinctive and striking. For example, none of the Queen of Clubs shown below looks in the least similar, and yet there is something about all of them that gives them a common feel: they all bear the inimitable mark of being an original Brendan Hong creation. He's definitely a talented designer, and has come up with something that isn't just another variation of something we've seen so often before.

Evolving style:

One thing that is interesting to observe is the evolution of Brendan Hong's design. Even though his signature style is evident in all his decks, there is a sense of evolution and development between his designs. For example, compare these Queen of Clubs, first from Hive 1, Hive 2, and Dynasty decks:

And now, here are the same cards for the two Marquis decks:

New style:

Are the Marquis decks Brendan's best yet? That's hard to say, and is very much going to be a matter of personal opinion. But I do think that with this project Brendan has taken somewhat of a step in a slightly different direction. This especially true with the Noble decks, and it's something that I appreciate. The Royal deck still looks very much like a typical Brendan Hong design, even though it is still quite different from his previous work. But the Noble deck has a very different feel due to the fact that it is a stronger and more deliberate marriage with the traditional court card design. It has a much fuller and cleaner look that I think many people will really like - certainly I do!

Playful style:

You will have noticed that I used the word "playful" a number of times in this article. Many of his decks feel very cheerful and playful, while at the same time feeling refined and distinctive. I think this is a result of the colour combinations Brendan uses, and also the style of the artwork. While it's especially evident in the Jokers, it's true of many of the court cards as well, and it's something I really like.

Playable style:

I've seen quite a few custom playing cards that are so artistic, that while beautiful, they are only going to be of use to collectors. What I appreciate about Brendan's cards is that while they are still very artistic and unique, they artwork doesn't get in the way of functionality and playability. These cards are beautiful and stylish, and yet still very playable and functional. They are ideal for people who enjoy playing card games like Cribbage and other favourites. This is especially true of the Noble edition of the Marquis Playing Cards, which offers Brendan's take on the traditional designs, but it's also true of the Royal edition, and his other decks, even the ones which showcase his more original style. I especially love using decks like this when I play Cribbage with my family, because I have something beautiful to admire while playing, and yet it's not so "out there" that the artwork becomes a major distraction and I can't even figure out what the cards actually are.

Popular style:

Many people do really appreciate the unique flavour of artistic design that Brendan Hong brings to the playing card table. I did some hunting around and dug up some feedback from people in the custom playing card community, to learn what they had to say about his style and work, and here are some sample quotes:

"Anything Brendan Hong is excellent." - TGunitedcardists
"One of my favorite artists and a big reason I began collecting playing cards, Brendan Hong." - shermjack
"The only cards designers that are instant pledges these days are Brendan Hong, Lorenzo's Stockholm17 and Uusi." - TGunitedcardists
"I love Brendan's style." - JuFiN

As for the Marquis project, these folks also had good things to say about that:

"As soon as I saw Brendan Hong, I was in. I'm a super fan of his stuff. Instant winner. Bring it on." - TGunitedcardists
"I really hope this project finds a way. The art is fantastic ... such strong and beautiful artwork." - TGunitedcardists
"Show your support for GOOD art and GOOD design." - Magic_Orthodoxy
"I missed out on the Hive decks, but Dynasty and the Ico deck cemented my appreciation for his work. I'm definitely in." - shaitani


Style is definitely a good word to use when describing Brendan Hong's playing card designs. It's a unique fusion of design elements, in which he fuses elements of traditional design with elements borrowed from the Chinese culture that is part of his heritage, and his designs are better for it. I'm especially in love with the look of the Noble deck from his current Marquis project, due to the way it retains a strong connection with standard playing cards while at the same time offering a very fresh approach. But I also like the more stylized artwork of the Royal deck from this project, which has a more typical and unique Brendan Hong feel, which I also really liked about his Hive 2 decks and his Dynasty decks. Both are great, and yet very different.

If you like the look of what you're seeing, then do take a look at his current Kickstarter project for the Marquis Playing cards, to decide if these decks are something that you want to pick up. The nice thing about the Noble edition and the Royal edition of the Marquis project is that they feature totally different court card artwork, so there's little sense of duplication if you do get both. I'm very glad to have stumbled across Brendan Hong's work online, and he has found himself a new fan.

Want to learn more?

Brendan Hong's website:
Marquis Playing Cards Kickstarter:

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Credit: Some photos featured here are courtesy of Brendan Hong, others are by Anthony Ingrassia.

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