At the start of this year, I shared with you that John had a new deck of cards in the works. Now, I am thrilled to say that, even as I type this, John is putting the final touches on his bird-themed Popinjay deck, before it is shipped off to the United States Playing Card Company to be printed in time for the holiday season.
It's been a busy year for John and for Artiphany, with lots of developments in our collection (like the already classic Social Knitworking tote, or our brand new Off Leash fleece blanket and dog bed) and lots of projects in progress, such as John's upcoming children's book, Luca and the Mongrels of Montparnasse. As such, time was happily making fools of us here at Artiphany before we realized that John had better buckle down and finish his designs stat, if we wanted (which we do) to make Popinjay a reality in 2019. So, our nomadic artist-in-chief left Silicon Valley on a pilgrimage up the California coast, for some peace and quiet and time alone with his color palette, and the birds.
“Since I’m currently based in the Bay Area, which is a very hectic place, it was hard to find the kind of place I needed that would allow me to work on this project, given the deadline and the kind of concentration I would have to muster to get this thing done," John explains. "I was lucky that a friend of mine and his wife were out of town and offered me a place up in this little canyon, north of San Francisco. It’s really quiet; there are birds all around; Redwood trees; it’s a dead end street, so there’s no traffic. And it’s turned out to be the perfect place.”
He continues: “I could hear different birds outside the windows and I thought, 'Hmm maybe they’re coming by for an audition, to see if they could get into my deck of cards.' Here I hear owls and Steller’s jays—one of my favorite birds. I even made them a place in this deck. In fact, I named the deck Popinjay, which refers to blue jays and their brassy behavior."
With this peace of place, and some peace of mind, John set to work. “As some of my team have now recognized, the only way to get me to do anything is to give me a deadline and I’m going to have to agree that that’s true,” he admits. “I locked in on the project and worked 10-12 hour days several days in a row just to get this in shape so that I can send it off to the United States Playing Card Company in time to get this printed for the holidays.”
As you can probably already tell from the images John has shared of his deck so far, Popinjay is unique among his collection of cards. It is vibrant and busy in a way that even our colorful Mermaid Queen pack is not—in a way that the energetic lives of birds lends to this project.
“This deck is quite a bit different from the other decks, mostly because it’s much, much, much more colorful," John explains. "And it naturally followed that, if I was going to do a deck about birds, then I was going to have to deviate from the normal black, red, white, and grey color palette of my other decks of cards. That gave me pause to think, about how many colors to use and where I should I use them. Should I, I asked myself, just indulge every color I can think of? This changed the kind of decision I made on each of the face cards, because that’s where almost all the color is. (The sequence cards are still black, red, and white). Making choices about color, about which colors to use, and about what one color looks like against the other. That makes these face cards much more involved to produce, meaning much more time. Which is great: it’s a wonderful opportunity to use vermillion and canary yellow and cobalt blue and make these very lively and attractive.”
For the project, John pored over image after image of the birds he was portraying, to try and crack their color code and figure out which of their features made them so wonderfully themselves. “When you start to look at birds, most of the color is in the male birds. They are the most colorful; the females, usually being dull grey, or green grey or brownish or blackish. Of course, even a crow, which you would think is just a black bird, is not so easy to depict. When you look at a crow closely, there is violet and a sheen of rust and cobalt blue and deep black. The Steller’s jay, which is another very colorful bird, is generally blue, but the more that you look at them, you see indigo, you see purple, Prussian blue; and the patterning on wings, or on the shoulder, or on the tail. These are all little details that came into play when I started to think about how to depict them. And then there are of course different environments. Tree, bark, flowers, water. All these come into play.”
Besides the loud colors displayed across Popinjay's face cards, John has brought another aspect of bird life into his work: “The other significant part of difference in this deck is that I decided that I would build the four different suits around the four seasons. Seasonal activities being something that birds do: they’re migrating, they’re building nests, they’re laying eggs, the babies are born. The seasons change birds behaviors and which ones you might see at a particular place. For example, the bird bath: In summer, it’s a place to bathe and splash around but of course its frozen in winter. So that’s why I have these ice skating birds (which were really fun to do).”
John's Popinjay deck of cards is off to the printer within the week and we hope to have this brand new Artiphany item ready on our online shop in, roughly, two months. Of course, we will keep you all up to date and will send out a big email blast when the cards are live on the site.
Now...get off your computers and tablets and phones and out to the dog park! All of you! Don't make me bark at you!
Love and dog bones,
Man’s Best Friend & Chief Communications Officer (Personal Motto: Live Life Off Leash)