Aaron Trotter didn’t draw all the cities in the world. “But that’s my plan,” he says.
It was February, the time of year when Trotter’s Portland, Oregon base is “cold, dark and dreary,” said the 44-year-old artist. “That’s when everything is closed here in Portland. And I usually only spend money in the winter.”
So he packed up his black 2015 Volkswagen Jetta and headed south to California. His destination of it was Santa Cruz, where he would sell some of his products of him – hand illustrated playing cards of places from Paris and Rome to Seattle and Mexico City – at a street fair.
“And then I kept driving,” he said. “And since I’m from the northwest … I was just looking for the sun.”
He had heard of the weekly Palm Springs street fair, VillageFest. “I had to take a look. And I saw it, I saw the people there, and I was impressed and I thought, ‘Oh, well, I belong here. My booth should be there, right there.’ Because I’ve done a lot of street fairs and I’m always ready to try a new one. So I started designing the city. “
He went to the Palm Springs Visitor Center on North Palm Canyon Drive and picked up a map of major local sites. Notebook and pen in hand, he started hiking and walking all over the Coachella Valley.
After that week, and a second trip back to the desert in March, he had created dozens of sketches, enough to create a deck of Palm Springs area cards, each card illustrated with a scene from the region.
Among the 52 locations: the Wellwood Murray Library in downtown, the Architecture and Design Center of the Palm Springs Art Museum, the Mirage Rancho Library and Observatory, the Cabot’s Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs and 48 more.
On June 23, Trotter will return to VillageFest, selling his latest deck, hoping to attract desert card sharks and anyone looking for a Coachella Valley memento.
Points of reference, old and new
In a sense, art was in Trotter’s blood. Her father is a sculptor and her grandmother was a ceramist and mask maker who sold her works at art fairs. “This was the first inspiration for me as a child, to see my grandmother selling her works of art,” says Trotter.
After graduating from an art high school, Trotter attended Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where he studied liberal arts, focusing on 20th-century art and cubism, as well as surrealists and Picasso.
“But I also learned a lot about the Renaissance. And this is one of my great influences: the artists of the Renaissance. Part of my love for history, travel and engraving is related to playing cards and the history of playing cards. since the Renaissance. All different kinds of playing cards, tarot and trading cards, and there’s just an infinite variety of things you can put on playing cards. “
The exact origins of playing cards have been lost in history, but Gejus Van Diggele, president of the International Playing-Card Society in London, told The Atlantic in 2017 that scholars “generally agree that cards spread from east to west “, perhaps from China.
Playing cards first appeared in Europe in the late 14th century, many scholars say. The first European cards were hand painted and a luxury for the wealthy. By 1377, the cards were causing such a mess that Paris authorities prohibited people from playing cards on weekdays, historian Michael Dummett said in his book “The Game of Tarot”.
Trotter’s Palm Springs deck of cards includes 52 sketches of the desert, composed with pen and then colored with watercolor pencils, mostly in pastel shades.
Monochromatic jokers, however, are of a different style and subject matter.
“The Joker cards relate to my plan to draw the world and some of my favorite artists,” says Trotter. “One of the Jokers is [a scene from] Washington DC, and that’s where I first got the idea of seeing the world and drawing “.
The second Joker is Trotter’s version of a 1500’s work by Albrecht Dürer entitled “Melencolia”.
“This is a very esoteric and complicated scene, but presumably it is the artist in the studio, waiting for inspiration to strike.”
In addition to the 52 playing cards plus two jokers, the Trotter deck includes a reference card and a map for each suit, which explains the scene on each card and tells a bit of desert history. Even the locals can learn something from these cards.
For example, the diamond reference card explains card no. 4: “Fountain of Life. Cathedral City Fountain made with carved stone from Jalisco, Mexico.”
As Trotter’s deck was designed in 2022, it has not only classic landmarks but also recent additions, such as the “Forever Marilyn” sculpture in downtown Palm Springs and the metal dinosaurs in Cathedral City organized by the Museum of Ancient Wonders.
Trotter, who likes to take his decks to bars and play solitaire, says his cards can be used not just for playing, but to “start a conversation or inspire a new path or path to take”.
What would it take to make a living?
Trotter’s first deck of cards was for Portland. “Initially I was just drawing the landmarks of the city to turn them into all my drawings in postcards, greeting cards, prints and calendars,” she recalled. “Eventually, I was selling him some shops and collected about 100 drawings of the city. I was just trying everything: what would it take to make a living or pay my rent with it?”
In 2010, he came up with the idea of playing cards in 2010. He launched what he called a “humble” Kickstarter campaign, seeking $ 500 to print his first deck.
“I made it at Kinko’s. It was all cut and glued, glued together and then scanned, and I printed 100 decks and folded each box.”
From there, the business grew. “Eventually, I found another local printer who wasn’t FedEx Kinkos, who could apply a coating to the cardstock and make them look more like playing cards.”
Trotter began ordering 100 decks at a time, then 1,000 at a time, adding new cities as he went. He now has around 50 different decks and sells a few thousand decks a month, mostly at street fairs like Village Fest.
Trotter sells its cards through a few retailers, but mainly sells them directly at street fairs like VillageFest and online through its website, www.illustratedplayingcards.com. The decks, which are individually numbered and signed, cost $ 20.
Palm Springs opens a door to the southwest
Trotter says his favorite designs from the Palm Springs area are desert scenes. “The hike behind the art museum, the Cactus to Clouds trail, the Lykken Trail. And then I love the canyons, Tahquitz Canyon and Andreas Canyon and all the palm tree oases,” he said.
“I love the way you’re sizzling in the heat, walking through the barren rocky landscape. And then suddenly you’re in the shade. And there’s a stream, and it’s calm, peaceful and cool.”
Trotter says his trip to Palm Springs sparked a desire to draw more of the Southwest.
“I have two notebooks full of drawings from Texas and Arizona. I’ve just been through those trips for the past few months,” he said.
He is now working to cross into New Mexico. The idea is to create three “state decks” from those places.
“It all started with Palm Springs, I was so inspired over there,” he said. “I just wanted to see more of the desert and see how it all connects. And so I drew the southwest, and it’s really fun.”