Playing cards originated in China during the Tang dynasty 9th Century B.C, and were invented by a woman. They were small pieces (leaves) of paper with woodblock prints. By the 14th C., playing cards had migrated through Persia, Egypt and then Europe. The suits, designs and rules also evolved from many formats into what we use today. The Flemish Hunting Deck, hand painted during the 15th Century, is the oldest complete deck. At this time, playing cards began to be designed with European royalty and symbols, and this theme continue to spread around the world. Each card design is like a snapshot into the culture and geography of its time period.
Design Concept: Queen Theodora
Queen Theodora, from the 6th Century-Medieval Byzantine Era seems to be one of the most suitable choices for a Queen of Hearts. Although she died as the the empress of the Eastern Roman Empire and commemorated as a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church, she came from humble circumstances. She grew up in a family of entertainers and was subject to an immoral lifestyle until she converted to Christianity when she was about 22 years old. Soon thereafter, she married Justinian and ruled by his side. Early in their reign, she convinced her husband to fight off a mob of 30,000 protesters who were planning to overtake their kingdom, instead of fleeing. She gave a speech persuading him and his court that it was better to die as a royal then to run and live. Justinian followed her advice, and succeeded. Because of her courage, she had significant influence on the preservation of Christianity and the growth of the Byzantine Empire.
I used iconography, mosaics and patterns of the Medieval Byzantine style as design inspiration for the card. The final design was created in Adobe Illustrator.
I used several art pieces from the Byzantine period to model Theodora's face, torso, hair style, clothing, crown and jewelry and worked out the details on paper before scanning the final sketch into Illustrator. The most challenging and rewarding part of the design was in creating the radial symmetry flip from top to bottom. Once in Illustrator, I traced all the shapes separately and placed them on different layers. I applied a gradient mesh filled with skin tone colors to the face, neck and hands. Most of the other shapes and lines are also filled with gradients of gold and jewel tones. I designed a custom brush pattern of hearts around the edge of the card and on the border of the clothing. Isn't she dazzling?! Now all she needs is her King Justinian.
Media Design Certificate Program Project, January 2019.