Last week we explored magic, design and playing cards in Carded. This week we talk with three designers about three decks the magic world holds in high regard. First up: Simon Frouws and his Artisan deck from theory11. After the Q&A, designer Tim Silva provides on-deck commentary.


Hand-illustrated by Simon Frouws in his South African studio, Artisans are made of paper from trees grown in sustainable forests. David Copperfield called them “the best playing cards ever produced.”

How did the gig come about?

Jonathan Bayme of theory11 discovered my packaging work through Dribbble. He particularly liked my Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee box, and was interested in a deck of cards with a similar aesthetic.


Frouws’ Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee box

What were the parameters you were given when designing the deck?

As with any packaging job, there are multiple technical parameters to consider. At the outset the client provided a full set of card artwork and tuck case templates to work with. This really helped set the stage for working to the right proportions from the get-go.

Creatively I was given free reign. I presented three broad directions in the form of mood boards. We then brainstormed names and specific illustration styles via Skype. Ultimately the name Artisan won out as the perfect expression of craft.

Briefly take us through the design process.

I generally work digitally, so only the most rudimentary sketches were done to establish the basic framework of the design. My starting point was the decorative Ace, first drawn as lines. Once I was happy with the overall structure and had smoothed out the curves to the point of insanity, I embellished it by adding leaves, shading and other details. From there I worked on creating custom lettering for the word “Artisan,” inspired by vintage engraved styles. More custom script followed for the words “Black Edition”.


What design challenges and joys does a deck of cards present that sets the job apart from other jobs? Anything that you find ties the job to other, more traditional design jobs?

As a specialist in wine label design, I’m pretty used to space limitations. Although it wasn’t a fully custom deck (or ever intended to be), it was nevertheless an exciting opportunity for expression. From a print perspective, I’m used to working with multiple Pantone colors, different types of varnish and other finishes, but my biggest joy was being able to achieve a good, deep embossing, thanks in part to the heavyweight paper stock we chose.

Do you know any magic tricks and/or have any favorite card games?

My uncle taught me one trick. A simple “pick a card, any card” type trick, but being young it was tremendously exciting to get a small behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of illusion. I have a deep appreciation for the art of magic, and the huge amount of effort that goes into perfecting illusions.

My favorite card game would have to be Black Jack, having spent time (and money) on the tables in Vegas.

Find Simon at Dribbble and at Simon Frouws Design. Find Artisans at theory11.


Artisans laser-engraved cigar box

On-Deck Commentary with Tim Silva

“These cards make you feel like a million bucks when you handle them. Everything from the AG monogram to the box seal makes me desperate to know all of the history that this offering is rooted in. The sunburst rays feel pleasant to run your fingers over and the vignette around the spade logo is breathtaking yet understated. My absolute favorite part of this design is the card box’s backside. From the right angle, the gold bounces and multiplies off of light sources as if you are John Travolta looking into the mysterious briefcase from Pulp Fiction.”

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