Playing Cards with Fine Art

As I've immersed myself in the world of custom playing cards, I've quickly discovered that there are a lot of different companies producing decks of custom playing cards. One that immediately stood out, was LUX Playing Cards. There's the classic saying "The early bird gets the worm", but LUX Playing Cards allows you to get the birds as well! That's because their deck AVES (which is Latin for "birds") has beautiful fine art featuring birds, and it impressed me from the moment I first saw it online, and even more when I had the actual cards in my hand. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and that's especially true of a hand of these stunning bird cards!

But I'm running ahead of myself - let me first tell you a little more about LUX. LUX Playing Cards was founded by Bryan Sloan as a boutique playing card company based in Texas. There's the old joke about everything being bigger in Texas, and certainly Bryan's vision was a big one. Right from the beginning, Bryan had a very definite focus and a large aim: he didn't just want to produce quality playing cards, but he wanted to work with world-class artists in the process. Bryan's goal is to "work with inspired artists to bring original, luxury, fine art playing cards to players everywhere".

The name LUX has a dual significance. On the one hand it is a short form of "Luxury", which is what Bryan wants his decks to be all about. But it's also Latin for "light", and Bryan wants his publishing company to be one that helps bring light into the playing card industry. Coming from a large family which often plays traditional card games at family gatherings, after seeing a custom deck of playing cards one day Bryan was inspired to explore this genre some more. He became convinced that he could contribute to a niche in the industry that wasn't yet saturated: playing cards with fine art. Certainly there are a lot of amazing decks out there, especially as a result of the assistance given by crowdfunding, but in his view there was a need to see more playing cards with exquisite fine art. He considers himself to be someone who really enjoys and appreciates art, and also stimulates this kind of creativity in his own children. It is especially the element of bringing fine art onto playing cards that helps make LUX stand out from a crowded field. In the company's own words: "We are a boutique playing card company specializing in collaborations with world-class artists to create unique decks of uncompromising quality and aesthetics." Here are some of those artists, from around the world (including Russia, Belgium, the Philippines, and the USA):



LUX Playing Cards work with USPCC, maker of the famous Bicycle brand of playing cards, to ensure quality in the actual production. As their tag line puts it, LUX offers "luxury, designer playing cards with the art enthusiast, collector, magician, cardist, and player in mind." Seeing that nearly all of those categories describe me, I definitely qualify as someone who would appreciate decks like these!

But while these decks can have a broad appeal, it is really the fine art that makes these decks special, and turns them into something out of the ordinary. When I first came across some LUX decks online, the two decks of fine art that caught my immediate interest were the AVES deck, and the British Monarchy Tally Ho deck. The `crown' card-backs of the British Monarchy deck immediately struck me as regal, elegant and stunning. The AVES deck impressed me even more - it implemented the terrific concept of a deck inspired by birds, with fantastic bird illustrations on the faces of the cards, attractive card-backs that would be ideal for card flourishing due due to their symmetrical design and striking colours, plus an elegant and classy looking tuck-box to complete the package. These feathered friends have especially found a welcome home in my collection.

The first deck to be produced by LUX was an Illusionist deck in 2014, followed by the AVES deck the same year. More than one version of the AVES deck has followed since, and LUX has also produced a number of other decks. So let's just take you on a whirlwind tour of the LUX range, and show you some of these beautiful cards.



Illusionist Deck

The first deck from LUX was their Illusionist deck, which was produced with the help of Kickstarter funding in 2014.

For many magicians, playing cards are the tools of their trade, and so this deck was inspired by what lies at the heart of magic: illusion. Here's how Bryan describes the goal of this deck: "We tried to create a modern interpretation of an Illusionist for the deck that would stand the test of time for our inaugural deck."

Tuck boxes

Two versions of this deck were produced, a Light and a Dark version, both using the higher quality Bee card-stock from USPCC.



Card backs

The card-backs show evidence of great detail, with the masked Illusionist throwing cards into the air (in a mirrored design so that the flung cards are also returning to him), and if you look closely, even the individual pips on these cards can be seen!



This deck has 100% custom designed cards, including artwork, court cards, and these card-backs.

Aces

Here are the four beautiful Aces, and unlike some decks, it isn't just the Ace of Spades that has received loving attention, but all of them are oversized and feature artwork in keeping with the style of the rest of the deck.



Court cards

The court cards feature some classic magician's illusions in the art design, including illusions with coins, playing cards, linking rings, doves, rabbits, fire, and cups and balls.

Here we have our illusionist friend performing some dove production, and the classic cups and balls.



The linking rings are of course are included as well. And what is in every magician's hat? Rabbits!



I've shown these to an real life illusionist who performs a lot of card magic, and he just loved the idea of this deck, and especially these court cards!

Number cards

The pips also feature an usual and creative non-standard design, as you can see from these number cards, which complement the Aces stylistically.



As a nod to the magicians that this deck honours, it contained 56 cards. This includes a 52 card deck, 2 Jokers, plus a LUX First Edition ad card, and a double backed card usable by magicians as a gaff card.

The artist

The artwork and design of the Illusionist deck is by artist Megan Wyreweden, who hails from the Seattle area, and considers herself a pop surrealist artist.

Megan has been doing digital artwork since the age of 14. She regards her diverse influences to include fantasy and sci-fi, undersea and outer space, nature, and Greek mythology.



AVES Deck

Now for my favourite deck in the LUX range! The second deck from LUX Playing Cards is their very popular AVES deck, another Kickstarter success in the same year 2014. It was inspired by birds from all over the world, with "Aves" being the Latin and Spanish word for "birds".



Tuck boxes

The tuck-box is embossed, to heighten the design, and has a quality linen finish.

Even the small flaps on the box have small details that show off the artwork (e.g. like nests on the tuck box flaps!). Details like that rarely fail to impress; I showed the deck to a nature lover, and they were captivated from the moment they had the tuck box in their hand, and saw these small touches and additional details!



Card backs

One of my favourite things about this deck are the card backs. Extremely detailed, this artwork features feathers from many types of birds, tied together.

This design really lends itself to fanning and card flourishing (although slightly less white space on the borders would have been even more wonderful!), due to the striking patterns and colours. There's a lot to appreciate and enjoy when you take a close look at this artwork.



The beautiful artwork was hand-drawn, before being turned into digital art and then printed. It really is a stunning and beautiful deck of fine playing cards!



Court cards

Each court card has beautiful, individually hand-painted artwork.



The artist spent months working on the illustrations for this deck!



Notice also how the designs on the court cards are actually one-way, in some cases showing the male of the species from one side, and the female from the other side.

Aces

Even the Aces continue the bird theme.



Here's another thing I just love: notice how the artwork is cleverly shaped according to the suits! Isn't that ingenious and clever?!



Number cards

The number cards and pips are also custom.

While the design isn't a radical departure from standard cards, the black and red colours used for the pips are definitely muted in tone, and these softer colours gives the entire deck a very different feel, that fits well with the style of the court cards. People I've shown the deck to all liked this aspect, and thought it did work well.



AVES Uncaged edition

A few different versions of this deck have now been produced, with small variations.

The most recent of these is Aves Uncaged, which is a just released reprint of this beautiful deck, and which has a few minor tweaks.



The court cards feature the same beautiful artwork as the previous AVES decks.



It also comes with a double-backer card, and promo card. It is printed on USPCC's upgraded Bee stock, and has an embossed/linen finish.

Other editions

One difference you'll notice with some of the AVES decks are adjustments to the artwork. For example, the cards shown below don't have full artwork on the card backs.



Fortunately the Uncaged edition does have the full artwork on the back, which I much prefer!

The artist

The artist behind this fine deck is Russian born and bred Karina Eibatova.

Karina has spent time in Vienna and London, where she specializes in drawing, illustration, murals, video, calligraphy and typography. She has had art exhibitions in Russia and throughout Europe, and her clients are world-wide. One of her recent projects was a commission to paint a mural in a Spanish luxury hotel. Not only an illustrator and fine-artist, Karina also enjoys studying nature, including of course birds!



British Monarchy Tally-Ho deck

Next up is the very classy British Monarchy Tally-Ho deck, which was produced by LUX Playing Cards in 2015.



Tuck boxes

The tuck-case looks beautiful, and immediately oozes class and style.



It features elements drawn from the traditional Tally-Ho design, but with sharp looking black and gold colours, and an embossed/textured finish.



Card backs

The deck has an ornate back design on the cards, giving it a distinguished look in keeping with the rest of the deck. It illustrates the Crown, and alludes to the War of the Roses in England.



Many elements of this design pay deliberate tribute to traditional Tally-Ho fan backs and circle backs.

Tally-Ho playing cards are considered by many to be the luxury brand of playing cards produced by USPCC. Like other Tally-Ho decks, these cards also have a quality Linoid finish that card flourishers love due to the way the cards slide optimally for shuffling, fans, and other cardistry moves.



Court cards

The court cards feature original and historically accurate artwork with portraits depicting historical figures from the distinguished British Monarchy across the centuries. According to Bryan, each King and Queen was meticulously researched and elaborately portrayed.

Chosen for each suit (in order of K/Q/J) were:
- Spades: King Edward I "Longshanks", Mary Queen of Scots, Cnut the Great
- Clubs: King James I, Queen Anne, King Richard I (The Lionheart)
- Diamonds: King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, King Alfred the Great
- Hearts: William the Conqueror, Queen Victoria, King Henry V
- Jokers: Anne Boleyn, Oliver Cromwell
A list of all the names of those appearing on the court cards is included on an extra card in the deck. A double-backer is also included as an extra bonus.



Together with the tuck box, these cards really look extremely elegant and stylish, and to me they definitely have a "royal" feel about them!



Aces

For the Aces, the artist used the following monarchy related images: Hearts = Royal Throne; Clubs = Globus Cruciger; Diamonds = Knight’s Helmet; Spades = Royal Crown.



The detail on the Ace of Spades, which features the Royal Crown, is probably my favourite!



Number cards

The number cards also feature non-standard pips, with a unique custom arrangement.



Unlike some of the other decks LUX has printed with USPCC, these were not made with the upgraded Bee Casino stock, but with standard Bicycle stock. Nonetheless they are still a quality playing card and handle smoothly and evenly.

King Henry VIII edition

Besides the Monarchy deck pictured above, a limited edition was also produced, which featured a white King Henry VIII tuck box.



The artist

The artist behind the fine artwork of the British Monarchy Tally Ho deck is Philippino Harinam Tibon.

He's a Fine Arts graduate, who has the distinction of being the winner of the Golden Laurel Award for the painting competition of the International Delphic Games in 2007. Despite only being in his mid-twenties, Nam Tibon is a published artist, and is also the co-founder of an indie graphic company (Circus Science) and of an artists’ collective (Happy Sapiens). His artistic influences especially include his father Rishab, who is a painter, and his father's artist friends such as BenCab, who is one of the most renowned artists in the Philippines.



Harinam was also involved in the project for the Don Quixote (Vol 1) playing cards, with the Cellar Window design studio.

Romeo & Juliet deck

The most recent project for a brand new deck from LUX is the Montague vs Capulet: Romeo & Juliet Playing Cards from 2016.

This deck is inspired by Shakespeare's famous tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.



Tuck boxes

Right from the moment you hold the tuck box in your hand, you are confronted with elegance and a look of class, with ornate designs.



Card backs

Intricate patterns adorn both the tuck box and the back of the cards as well. The cards have metallic ink, and use the upgraded Bee card-stock from the USPCC.



Hearts (Romeo & Juliet)

For the court cards and Aces, each suit has a unique theme and set of characters that fits together, both thematically and artistically.

The central characters are of course the lovers Romeo and Juliet, who were an obvious choice for the King and Queen of Hearts. They are pictured just before their final demise, Juliet with a dagger and Romeo with poison. The King of Hearts is famously known as the "Suicide King", and is a very natural choice for Romeo here!



The playwright William Shakespeare makes a cameo appearance as the Jack of Hearts!



Framed inside the Ace of Hearts is the love-struck pair themselves.

Clubs (Capulets)

The Clubs picture the Capulets, clothed in dark green.

Representing the Capulet family is the vicious fighter Tybalt (Jack), Prince of Cats; Lady Capulet (Queen), cruel, superior, and rich; and Lord Capulet (King), violent, proud, quick tempered, and rich.



The family crest chosen for the Capulets, as depicted on the Ace of Clubs, is the Lion, the Prince of Cats.

Diamonds (Montagues)

Ensuring that they are opposite suits from the Capulets, the Diamonds picture the Montagues, clothed in red.

Representing the Montague family is Romeo's best friend Mercutio (Jack), brash, loud, mercurial, and optimistic; Lady Montague (Queen), sad, rich, and feuding; and Lord Montague (King), proud and rich.



The family crest chosen for the Montagues, as depicted on the Ace of Diamonds is the Wolf, King of the Canines.

Spades (other characters)

The Spades represent other main characters from the world of the play.

These include the Apothecary (Jack), who knows he shouldn’t sell poison, but has to for money; the Capulet's Nurse (Queen), who provides some comedic relief, and Friar Lawrence (King), who is naive despite being honorable and having good intentions.



Appearing inside the Ace of Spades is Shakespeare, the bard himself.

Jokers

The Jokers make up a diptych that pictures the scene of Romeo entering the Capulet tomb where Juliet rests.



Details

I especially appreciate the small details that have been incorporated to try to make this deck capture something unique and special. For example, the two feuding families are opposite colours and suits; they face in opposite directions.

Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the making of this deck, with the fine art of a quality that it could easily be found on a studio or gallery wall. Metallic ink has been used to give the cards a high quality and beautiful look, and this luxurious look helps do justice to everything that is beautiful about these playing cards. Everything about this project results in a very classy and elegant look: the fine artwork, the graphic design, and the metallic inks.



Bicycle branded edition

A tuck-box with different artwork is also available, featuring the Bicycle brand.



The artist

With this deck, Belgian artist Virginie Carquin is responsible for the fine artwork depicted on the cards. Her career in art started with traditional painting, from where she transitioned to digital painting.

Her artwork represents a new and original attempt to capture the characters that populate this well-known Shakespearean play.



Conclusions

Fine Art

Clearly the Lux Playing Cards company appreciates fine art, as is very evident in the decks they've created so far. This is especially evident in the AVES deck, which features lovely hand-drawn art of birds, and the Romeo & Juliet deck, which features beautiful illustrations for the Shakespearean characters it depicts. You can learn more about some of the artists here.

Quality

All the cards produced by LUX Playing Cards have been produced by United States Playing Card Company, the same people that produce Bicycle brand cards. Most of them are on the upgraded Bee Casino stock, which is the more durable card-stock available from USPCC. They have an embossed/linen finish, which is the same as the Air Cushion finish on a standard deck of Bicycle cards, although they do have USPCC's Magic Finish, which is standard for small print runs of custom playing cards, and which in my opinion makes them slide and handle even better than a regular deck. One nice thing about the tuck boxes is that these are made out of card-stock that also has a linen finish, which I think makes them look superior to tuck boxes that have a smooth finish.

Variety

The LUX Playing Cards quiver doesn't hold a lot of arrows at this point, but I do like what they do have. There's some variety, featuring nature (the birds of AVES), literature (Shakespeare), history (the British monarchy), and the arts (Illusionist deck). So it's a well-rounded collection, that should give most people something to choose from. I look forward to see what they'll come up with next.

Birds

My favourite deck of all these is easily the AVES deck. I just love the design on the card-backs with the features, and the artwork of the birds on the faces of the cards. It's very unique, artistic, and beautiful, and everyone who has seen the deck has been very impressed with it. If I was to recommend just one deck, it would easily be this one. The new AVES Uncaged version (which is the edition I have) is the latest edition, and should be readily available.

Games

LUX Playing Cards' Bryan Sloan also produces games under the banner of Black Forest Studio. His recent Kickstarter for the social deduction game Infected has been an enormous success, and was over-funded by more than 3000%, raising over $110,000 with almost 5000 backers! That's a staggering amount, and Bryan's creative endeavours will be worth keeping an eye on, both in the world of games and the world of playing cards, to see where he goes next after this big success.

Where do you get them?

If you're interested in picking up some of his playing cards for yourself, the first place you should look is the LUX Playing Cards website, which is how you can get most of these decks directly from the publisher. The AVES decks are sold out, but the AVES Uncaged edition that I reviewed above has put this deck back into print again, and you can get that version from Amazon.

Recommendation

Is LUX Playing Cards for you? If you enjoy fine artwork, and enjoy a fine deck of cards, definitely check out what they offer, and see if there's a deck of playing cards that's right for you! I'm especially a big fan of the beautiful bird-themed AVES deck, and am grateful to have found this shining light ("lux") that is a fine example of fine art!



Want to learn more? LUX Playing Cards: http://luxplayingcards.com


BoardGameGeek reviewer

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Please stop taunting us with beautiful, out-of-print designs cry
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MentatYP wrote:
Please stop taunting us with beautiful, out-of-print designs cry
All of these should be in print and available for purchase online.

The original AVES deck is sold out, but the AVES Uncaged deck is available from Amazon here. You should be able to get the other decks from the publisher here. Otherwise you can also try Rare Playing Cards here.

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Gretchen Fontenay
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I know better than to read your reviews by now... they always make me want to run out and buy the game! Or, in this case, start collecting great playing cards.
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