I've never given playing cards much thought, but as I shuffled through a few of Aaron Voronoff Trotter's Illustrated Playing Card decks on a recent press preview, I found myself unable to put them down, which says a lot about something that's typically designated to my family's junk drawer; The striking Manhattan deck (shown above) now graces a table top in our living room. Aaron, a Portland, Oregon-based artist, has sketched cards for over 20 different American and international cities and regions since launching via a successful Kickstarter campaign several years ago, including Manhattan, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Paris, and various Portland neighborhoods, wineries, and breweries, to name a few; that's 52 unique pen and ink or watercolor pencil illustrations per deck, and the self-described workaholic doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon. "I love what I do," he says. "I can make approximately 10 sketches a day if I'm not interrupted, which leaves time at the end of my usual week-long trip to relax and enjoy the 'working vacation.'' Aaron shares much more more about his process below—along with pics!—after the jump.
Why playing cards?
I'm fascinated by the mysterious origins of playing cards and Tarot, and their influence on art history during the Renaissance as a means of sharing art and information on paper across Europe. I'm a fan of 19th century book designer William Morris, whose philosophy was to make everyday objects beautiful in the Renaissance tradition, and making art cards seemed to be a worthy medium to revive the tradition of functional art.
How did this project come to fruition?
I've sought artistic recognition for the last 10 years as an abstract painter and live painting performer, but always needed a day job to support my art habit until I started drawing famous landmarks. Originally, I made the drawings into postcards, greeting cards, books and T-shirts. Once I had over 100 drawings, I came up with the idea of collecting the best drawings in a small gift box that could be sold as a souvenir of the city. I was determined to do art full time, and shortly after my successful Kickstarter campaign, I funded my first printing and quit my job as a breakfast cook.
How many cities are you looking to draw? Is the goal to draw one city from each state or are you not thinking that far out?
If demand continues to support what I do, I'll draw all the great cities of the world. My goal is loosely aimed at 52 cities, but it might be 100 before I get tired of drawing. So far, I've made 20 decks of cards in four years and don't plan on stopping unless I can come up with a more lucrative and creatively fulfilling outlet. At this point, I'm happy to continue drawing and making each new city deck a little bit different.
How do you decide which landmarks to draw? Do you walk around and wait for inspiration to strike or do you map it out ahead of time?
Before I go to a city for one week of sketching, I do online research to determine the famous landmarks on Tripadvisor and tourist websites. I always buy a guidebook to read up on the history and get oriented with maps. While I'm in the city, I aim to draw the famous places but also trust my intuition to sketch a few random cafes and parks. People always stop to chat and see what I'm doing, and I often take notes on their favorite not-to-be-missed places.
Do you sit and sketch the entire drawing while you're sitting in front of the landmark or do you sketch from memory?
I make the rough composition on site with ball point pen. I make little notes and color marks to fill in later. All the important details are noted on location, and later I can embellish and let my memory and imagination round out the picture.
What materials are you using?
For the last four years, I've been sketching with ball point and embellishing with my great aunt's 1910 ink pen, but recently I've started using watercolor pencils which add a lot of color depth and life to my new work. I also do some editing with a digital Wacom drawing pad on my laptop.
Which cities were the most fun to draw?
Paris and Rome. Everywhere was a feast for the artist's eye.
Which city was the most challenging?
London. I was there for five days last March, and it was cold and snowing. It was the first time I've given up on sketching a city because of weather. I'll try to get back there next year during a warmer month.
How long does each card take to sketch?
Depending on the circumstances, it takes about 30 minutes to an hour sketching on site, and another hour to finish up the work in my studio.
Where are the cards printed?
Portland, OR. The cards are digital prints on cardstock. I sign, number, and fold all the boxes myself, but the printer does all the cutting and round-cornering.
What's on the horizon? Any new cities that we should be on the lookout for?
My newest deck, 52 Oregon Wineries was just released (today). In October, I'll be sketching Boston and possibly Philadelphia. Next year I hope to draw London and Barcelona. It all depends if I sell enough cards, since that's how I fund my travels.
Thank you, Aaron!