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Introducing Abolina Art



VIZAĜO deck

Annette Abolins from Abolina Art has nine lives. Actually she doesn't. And nor does her cat. But she certainly does have a remarkable artistic talent. And while that artistic brilliance was already beginning to show in her Nine Lives decks of playing cards, it especially shines in her current project: VIZAĜO playing cards (link).

Now I'm always on the lookout for new and great looking decks of playing cards, and when I came across the new VIZAĜO deck by Abolina Art that is currently being funded on Kickstarter, I knew that I'd struck gold. I was completely blown away by what I saw, and I hope you will be too when I show you some of the pictures below!



As you can see from the picture above, artist Annette Abolins has always loved creating faces in her pottery and other work.

In her VIZAĜO project (Vizago is Esperanto for "faces"), she's applied this concept of faces to playing cards - with absolutely stunning results!



Creator Annette Abolins

But first, let me share something about Abolina Art, which is the professional brand created by artist, illustrator, and designer Annette Abolins from Australia.

Annette has both Australian and Latvian roots, and Sweden was her home for part of her childhood, although she now lives on Australia's east coast. She has a wide range of talents, which include art that uses both traditional and digital media.

How did she get to the point where she is today? Annette has the benefit of both formal art training (fine arts and design in Sweden, and National Art School in Australia) and extensive professional experience. The result is that she produces high quality work which is frequently exhibited.



Her work and skills are very diverse, and include web design projects - her own website is beautifully done! Commercially she does graphic design and logo design, and she's also done many beautiful pen and ink drawings, as well as paintings on canvas and screen. She also actively runs a blog where she shares different aspects of her creative process.

Annette also creates a range of jewellery, including beautiful stoneware pendants like the ones shown below. Clearly she is a multi-talented individual! You can see her full bio here.



But naturally it is her work in illustrating and designing playing cards that will be of particular interest to those of us in the boardgame industry, because of the potential to use these for playing a variety of traditional card games, or even to give away as gifts to fellow gamers, or as prizes in game tournaments.

Annette has previously produced three decks of cards. The first of these is the Nine Lives Tarot deck, which has full art illustrations. Additionally she has published two companion decks of Nine Lives playing cards (bridge-size and poker-size). But it is especially her newest project, VIZAĜO Playing Cards, that caught my eye, and which I'll be showing you more of below, after reviewing the Nine Lives decks.




Nine Lives decks

What drew Annette to designing playing cards was her love for art, visual imagery, and symbolism. Her Nine Lives series consists of the three decks shown here: two decks of playing cards and a tarot deck.



Nine Lives Tarot deck

Art can tell a story that connects with the world, and this is especially the case with tarot cards. Annette's Nine Lives Tarot Deck is in effect a reinterpretation of the Rider-Waite tarot deck. Important themes for her are the cyclical moments in life, and the related concept of a cat having nine lives gave birth to the deck's name.

The illustrations for her tarot deck began taking shape in 2010. The deck took more than 3 years to complete and was finally produced in November 2013.



This Tarot deck consists of 78 cards, all with unique handcrafted illustrations.



The cards are considerably larger than those in a standard sized poker deck. For comparison, poker cards are 63mm x 88mm in size, whereas these are 78mm x 121mm in size.



They are borderless, so the full-sized art on these oversized cards looks magnificent!



The four suits in a tarot deck are rods, cups, pentacles, and swords. Seen here are the Queen and King of Pentacles:



And here are the Queen and King of Cups.



A booklet with meanings is also included.



Now I don't know a whole lot about Tarot cards, and I certainly don't endorse using them as a way of divining the future or even as a guide for making decisions or living your life - as a Christian, the Bible is all I need for that. But even so, I can recognize beautiful artwork when I see it.

Nine Lives Playing Cards

A couple of years later, Annette decided to rework some of her artwork in order to create a deck of playing cards. This was finally printed in 2016 by the Expert Playing Card Company in their Master finish, and produced in both a bridge-sized version and a poker-sized version. This deck bears the distinction of being the winner of the 2015 PCF Deck Design Competition!



To make the deck, Annette began by modifying the artwork of the court cards from her tarot deck for a bridge sized edition, which has an elongated shape more similar to the tarot cards.



Using a Poker deck meant having wider cards. Here's a Knight of Pentacles from the Tarot deck, and the corresponding Jack of Diamonds.



The borders on the bridge sized cards were also removed for the poker sized edition. These wider cards also gave Annette more room to work with, and she used this to add various details to the artwork. Here's a comparison example:



See Annette's article here for an overview of more differences between the bridge and poker editions.

Let's show you a few more of the cards from the poker deck, starting with the card-backs, which have a very intricate, detailed, and artistic pattern.

All the Aces are also quite elaborate, and you'll notice various symbols and icons are incorporated into the artwork, as seen here with the Ace of Spades.



The Queen and King of Hearts correspond to the Queen and King of Cups that were shown earlier.



Here's some court cards from the Clubs suit, which corresponds to the Rods in the tarot deck.



The number cards don't have customized artwork, although the pips are custom, as you can see here with the nine of Hearts. The Joker, I suspect, pictures our artist friend herself!



You can find all these decks in Annette's shop here: https://www.ninelivestarot.com.au/blog/shop/




VIZAĜO decks

But now we get to the project that really excites me! The VIZAĜO deck project currently on Kickstarter consists of two decks. VIZAĜO Lumina is a deck with a red card back, while VIZAĜO Lumino is a matching deck with a blue card back, and will be printed if the stretch goal is reached.



VIZAĜO means "face" in Esperanto, hence the name of the project. Annette is fascinated by faces, and loves drawing and painting them in all shapes and forms.

Here are some examples of her clay work, where she enjoys making a range of whimsical faces on bowls, mugs, jugs and teapots.



So why not bring these colourful characters to life on playing cards? Genius!

Annette's creative process began with the court cards, with some ink drawings as an initial concept.



From here something wonderful developed. Here's the red Lumina deck, with its gorgeous card back. All the Hearts feature a distinctive red colour.



Each suit has its own flavour and colour, the the Diamonds having more of a green focus.



The Aces all have faces incorporated into the oversized pips. As Annette says:

"I had a lot of fun with VIZAĜO's four Aces! Continuing the theme of faces, each Ace is dressed in colours matching its suit's court (and number cards), with the large symbol acting as a frame for the artwork portrayed within."



But what I really love about this deck is how this concept has been applied to the number cards as well, so that these pips also have the face design inside them. The idea here, in Annette's words, is "bringing the classic pip (or suit symbol) together with a face in profile, to create a symmetrical flow – where the detail in the faces is balanced against the solid colour of the pip shape."

The direction these faces have is very deliberate, as Annette explains: "Spades look forward - towards sight & wisdom; Diamonds look back - overseeing home & stability;Clubs look forward - initiating innovation & action; Hearts look back - harbouring love & emotional connection." Using a half pip for this produced the best results.



The theme colour for the Spades is blue.



The Clubs feature purple, and also a touch of yellow.



Here's an uncut sheet, which gives an overview of the entire deck.



I especially like the fact that there is a real sense of unity within each suit, which is a result of each suit focusing on a single colour, as well as the fact that it's not just the court cards that have faces, but also that the pips in the Aces and the number cards incorporate them.



Here's the card-back of the blue Lumino deck. It has a different colour palette on the card-back, but the face cards are otherwise the same.



Rounding out the package for both decks are a couple of cheerful and playful jokers.



These decks will be printed by Legends Playing Cards in their Classic finish, which is possibly my favourite finish of all the ones they print.


Conclusions

Artistry: I hope others will agree with me that the artwork we see here is something truly unique and special. And while I appreciate what Annette has done with her Nine Lives decks, it's really the VIZAĜO deck that I'm really wowed by! These faces and designs are the work of a true artist, and it really shows.

Creativity: I really enjoyed reading an illustrated article on Annette's blog here where she looked back on the illustration process for this new deck, starting with ink drawings, and ending up with colourful cards. She's not only a good artist, but also does a lovely job of sharing insights about how this deck came about, and the skills required to produce the artwork.

Style: I particularly love the bold lines and radiant colours of this deck, with the very stylish designs. Annette summarizes it well when she says: "Distinct palettes for each royal domain bring the court houses together, while giving their personalities room to shine bright. The clear indices are well suited to play and there is a subtle nod to familiar (standard) court faces in the direction each court character is gazing."

Quality: I'm also glad that Annette's printer of choice is Legends Playing Card Company. I've previously reviewed several of their decks, and the different finishes they offer (see my review here), and really appreciate their commitment to quality, which in my opinion rivals and arguably even exceeds the quality produces by United States Playing Card Company. While the Master finish is their most durable finish, it does have somewhat of an usual feel that can take some time to get used to, and so I'm glad that Annette has opted for the Classic finish. This handles quite similarly to USPCC produced decks, including an embossed finish, but has a higher quality and durability.



Recommendation

Are these playing cards by Annette Abolins for you? Some people will certainly find the Nine Lives decks of interest, but let's be honest, the real artistic achievement here is the VIZAGO deck, which is absolutely stunning! These cards have so much charm and character, and an immediately striking visual impact. It's very different from any other deck that I've ever seen, and yet it works because the deck as a whole has an internal consistency of style.

I'm glad to see a true artist applying her skills to the world of playing cards, and am very excited to see her current project become a reality. I look forward to see what Annette Abolins has in store for us next - congratulations Annette!

Want to learn more?
Abolina Art: www.abolinaart.com.au
Nine Lives: www.ninelivestarot.com.au
VIZAĜO Kickstarter: www.kickstarter.com/projects/1932537931/vizago-playing-cards...




BoardGameGeek reviewer

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I really dislike all the artwork shown in this review except for the VIZAĜO deck. It's weird, like two different artists - one for everything before VIZAĜO and then the artist who did VIZAĜO. Amazing. Love the VIZAĜO deck.
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mccrispy wrote:
I really dislike all the artwork shown in this review except for the VIZAĜO deck. It's weird, like two different artists - one for everything before VIZAĜO and then the artist who did VIZAĜO. Amazing. Love the VIZAĜO deck.

Yes, the VIZAĜO deck is in a completely different league, isn't it?! Like you, I think it is in a whole different class than the Nine Lives decks.

I suspect that with the Nine Lives project (her first playing cards), Annette was deliberately working within the limits of a more classical design. In contrast, with the VIZAĜO project she allowed her artistic creativity to find free expression, without being confined to any restrictions of a traditional look. It's true art, and the results are indeed stunning!
 
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I'm don't really buy playing cards except for in bulk for use in PnP crafting projects - I simply don't play games that use traditional card decks. But as there was one remaining Early Bird Double Decker, I took it (it was effectively free shipping, compared to the non- Early Bird). I really hope it funds enough to print both colour decks as I have a slight preference for the blue deck.
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This project has just been relaunched with a much smaller target for funding:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1932537931/vizago-playi...

There's a terrific early bird price of US$11 per deck, including US shipping.
 
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I was in on this first time around as an Early Bird Double Decker. But they didn't get funded and wouldn't have hit the second colour deck anyway - and I wanted both colours. Now there are only 20 EB Double Deckers, which all went before I saw them. Add on the now $30 cost with RoW shipping and I'm out. Oh well, thems the vagaries of Kickstarter.
 
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Yes, Rest of the World shipping does up the cost a bit - it's roughly US$14 for one shipped deck.

Although US$15 for a custom deck of artistic playing cards is a pretty standard price from online retailers these days (examples here), and that price doesn't normally include shipping.

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I guess that because, as I mentioned, I'm not a card collector, those sorts of prices are tough to swallow. If I think about it, I can see the financial reasons (my last purchase of a brick of Waddies #2s was less than half the price of a single deck of Vizago - but those guys print in bulk [snf I only use them for PnP projects, not as cards]).

I'll probably lurk the project and see how I feel in the last 48 hours.
 
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