Why is a Card Back Design So @#$%&* Difficult?!?

I’ve been getting my ass handed back to me every time I try to draft a card back. The above three are the most recent attempts. Left and center ones are way too busy, even for busy-body me, and although the right one above isn’t quite there yet, it’s promising. I can probably work out the details.

In the above snapshots of design elements, for each, I hand-drew a quarter of what you’re seeing as the image. After drawing in that quarter, I create a mirror image of it and attach it to its side to create a half. Then I create a flipped image of that half to create the whole.

It’s so satisfying to me to watch it blossom into the final ornate image. =) Because the quarter that you actually draw is– ehh– I mean, it’s lovely, but nothing crazy, right? And then you mirror, flip, and suddenly, whoa!

I think I know what my problem is this time around. I can’t envision and commit to a base color. With the First Edition, it was an open and shut case as an illustrator– black background. I would draw something and center it on solid black background. So right from the start I could envision its base color.

For the Vitruvian, I also committed early on to what the base color would be. I wanted it to be antiqued brown, and appear aged. Then pop an ornate something-something in the center. The ornate thing you see above left is a quarter of the final image on the Vitruvian card back, only in that previous edition, it was sepia-toned, whereas here I’ve colored it in,

My inspiration and the mood I’m going for is illuminated manuscripts. The cool thing is several museums in Europe have online galleries where you can view scans of illuminated manuscripts, including their covers. Most of them have a button in the corner of the page that allows you to switch to English.

I kinda liked the blue-gold one above to the right, but J and my peanut gallery of loved ones were “meh” about it.

Beyond the “illuminated manuscript” vibe I’m striving for, I want the card back design to be reversible. That means in terms of design, I’m probably going to stay in the realm of ornamental patterns rather than anything too scenic.

I also want the style of the card back design and even how it’s drawn to be a sampling of the deck itself. I think I achieved that with relative success for my previous two editions. The First Edition card back was a thing I drew, scanned it, made into a reversible design, and that was that. The Vitruvian Edition, again, was hand-drawn, reflecting the sepia-toned aesthetic of the cards.

But in full color, the approach I used before isn’t working now, maybe because I’m choosing too many colors?? I dunno. Right now every draft I’m creating looks more gaudy than elegant, and obv. I’m trying to go for elegant. =)

Now we get to why I’m posting this. HELP ME. =)

For those of you who feel like yah, okay, you’ve picked up on the vibes this SKT III is going for and you’re kinda getting a sense for the style I want to create, I ask you this: What would you envision for the card back design?

Also, what base color do you envision for SKT III? For example, the First Edition was black and the Vitruvian was brown.

At  first I thought maybe the base color I was envisioning was a lapis lazuli blue. But that wasn’t working out. Or maybe I haven’t tried hard enough with the blue options and need to go at it some more?

James calls the above three early drafts “old lady designs.” Like, this is what your grandmother would have chosen for the wallpaper in her front parlor. Sigh.

Please help stoke my inspiration?

33 thoughts on “Why is a Card Back Design So @#$%&* Difficult?!?

  1. Amber

    I would stick with the blue base color, but the design needs a little more room to breathe. It’s beautiful, but very detailed and busy. Which gives it a old lady design, because old lady’s tend to have so much stuff in their home, it’s hard to focus. I would add extra space between all the swirls and let the background shine through a little more. In my opinion, the back of the cards should be a little simpler than the front, so a reader and a client, can have a breather between card turns.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Tamie

    I am all about clean lines and simple but elegant. I would take your filigree border from the third example of your latest design (first three images in blog, far right one). Black background. And the cross from the second group of images (the one with the pearl looking centre), this image is one I really like. I love the detail and beauty in the flowering plants in your latest ones, but wonder if the art and detail would get lost when printed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. J

    I’m very much feeling a jade green base color. I like the middle of the left image in the last set of pictures, I’d probably put it with the gold drawings of the middle picture in the set above them with the green underneath.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. stankbeest

    Whoa, I really like the one on the right, from your first set (the ‘workable’ one). Perhaps if the border and background were even simpler it would allow for the busyness of the dual central design to not take control as much. I do also like the illuminated manuscript cover on the right of that triplet – but again, toning down the border (or even making it solid) might help relax it a bit.
    As for base color, a very muted dusky teal blue could maybe work?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. And I’m going to offer something completely different. As this is the backing plate, the base of the card and not the effect of it, the simpler and less focussed, the better. Patterns work if they unfocus the mind as the shuffle occurs.
    The reason I think this is because if there is a focal point, or something that distracts, it may influence the way the querent sees/feels the cards. The less impact, the less the effect of the backing, the more the hidden forces prevail under the unfocussed backing.
    Just an opinion, though, and in the end it’s your choice, what works for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Rita

    I’m thinking that, since your inspiration is illuminated manuscripts, you could go with a parchment or vellum color as the base? Then work with some jewel tones and antique gold on top of that? I love the deck so far!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Of the last 3, I like the first two…I like the (relative) simplicity of the first one, and could see it working on a background in some shade of blue. I like the border of the second one, but the central design (IMHO) overwhelms its beauty. Any way to do a small version of the top and bottom detail from the first one, mirrored, without the flower thingie in the middle, and put it inside the frame of the second one? I’m sorry if I’m just making things worse! LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Epiny Star

    I agree with the comment above that suggests a parchment or vellum background in line with the inspiration you are taking from illuminated manuscripts (I just did a search on them, and totally understand why you have chosen to work in this style – they look incredible!).
    Anyway, I think using a non patterned base/background in this way would hold space for the designs and colour more 🙂

    Black -> Sepia -> Vellum could show the gradual illumination or, indeed – Revelation – of the decks message.

    Super excited to see what you come up with, whatever you decide to go with ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sue

    I like the jade green along with the vellum, though think it would be interesting to go with a back that’s simpler and more subdued than the first two editions (not because I don’t like them, just for something new). I do really love the designs that have the cross in the middle.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jamie

    I love all the backgrounds. Considering I have an almost hot pink bedroom I am not sure my opinion should carry much weight but I would go with the softer blues, pinks, purples ect used in the cards. No one loves a lapis blue more than me but I don’t feel it matches the current deck. I am sure you already know this but sometimes when overwhelmed with choices the best inspiration comes from taking a step back from it for a while. I would buy the deck even if you put palm trees on the back so don’t stress over it too much

    Liked by 1 person

  11. stankbeest

    Mulling over the recent comments, I have to say I’m taken with Rita’s suggestion of vellum or parchment for the backs. Perhaps even use that as a texture instead of a color, if you find the perfect shade of blue (or other). It might really kick some as….

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Caro

    I love all the designs you don’t like, but in particular number 6 (blue and gold). It look’s like a very expensive book that could be in Versailles!! I love it. I also like the blue and gold tones a lot, I think it would fit the deck well … then I could also match the deck with my favorite Lapis Lazuli palmstone!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. “I kinda liked the blue-gold one above to the right, but J and my peanut gallery of loved ones were “meh” about it.”
    Try opening up the outer gold frame on this one. You’ll have less of a border, but I think the center image will look less cramped if you do that.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Starlight

    I like the cardback designs that have a coloured border, but the centres feel too busy. Given that the SKT3 is about manifesting and grounding spiritual energies, perhaps the centre could be a smaller symbolic icon or image or meditative focus (as shared by another poster below – love that idea) that helps prepare the card reader for the reading to come. But something that doesn’t fill that centre space, so there’s a feeling of having room to breathe as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. WeeZee

    Maybe you & J should pick 2 each, put them under your pillows & sleep on it, seeing what you both come up with. I like all of your designs!! I would go with what others have said about using parchment/vellum, take your favorite center, enlarge it, adding jewel & gold tones as you see fit. Bet all of us here would do a pre-order on the pre-order!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. stankbeest

    Since so many people seem to be suggesting you (literally) sleep on your cards for back design inspiration, they may be onto something. How about sleeping with them ON TOP of the pillow instead of underneath – then you can use your head imprint as the design?
    Talk about personalizing your artwork!
    Seriously though, it looks like you are getting a lot of really good ideas and feedback (well, except for mine). Synthesizing some of these comments with your own already-substantial talents should hopefully help you come up with an ideal design.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. T

    I love your top right design the best (the one with the darker tones in the middle). I feel like if you added that same darker tone as a thin frame around the edge of the cards it could also help tone it down, no pun intended.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. ailsaek

    I love the center one from the first set and the blue and gold one that the peanut gallery rejected, but I am an old lady. They do look rather Victorian, but that’s a good thing. I’m studying them for inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Everyone here is so AMAZING! Thank you all!! ❤ I took notes (I have a journal dedicated just to SKT III brainstorming). I'm taking a step away from it for a week, and will return to review those notes and try again. Thank you all! ❤


  20. Marie-Christine

    I’m a Parisian girl. I think these designs are luxurious. I don’t feel it’s old lady at all, bit it’s definitely classy and classic, you should see what kind of clothes Dolce Gabbana is doing this year 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Pingback: SKT III Production Status Update – benebell wen

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