I was proud of the playing cards that I made a couple of years ago – not least because the gestation period had been so long, I was simply delighted to cross the finish line! However I was aware of their defects, and there was always going to be a Mark Two. That is what I am working on now.
I started by revisiting the block. I cleaned up the spaces and removed tiny shavings, bit by bit, from the faces – scary because one little slip would be very noticeable and potentially ruin the whole thing. There is more to do but here is the before -and -after for the Queen of Spades.
Next: A new stencil. Actually, four new stencils. Studying old cards, you notice that a range of about 4 colours are used on the courts. Apart from the red and black used on the pips, the old Rouen pattern cards also show blue and yellow. A separate stencil is needed for each hue, but the ones I had used before were knackered, curled up by repeated application of paint. So I cut four new ones, this time with a Jakar craft knife from proper oiled card. Turning to the colour, it needs transparency to let the printing show through. Yet, using watercolour by itself would cost a fortune. I added starch to the colour to make it go a bit further.
I’d seen a video short of Anne Desmet stencilling cards here
with a “pounce” bag and tried this method, as well as applying the paint with a finger. However, in the end I found that using stencil brushes is the best, and it was done this way in the sixteenth century (here’s a picture from Jost Amman’s Book of Trades).
The great thing is that the brush must be very lightly loaded, and then dabbed repeatedly on the space until you see it fill up with colour.
So here’s the Knave of Diamonds at each stencil stage, adding light colour first then working to dark. Next, I’ll be dressing the card sheets with dry soap to improve their handling, before they are cut and packed.