What the howl is this??
The idea was to create a deck of cards with a unique theme. Designing a deck of cards sounds as easy as copy-and-paste, but the challenge was to create a deck where no two cards are the same (52 unique cards). This deck includes 4 suits (symbolized by footprints), and features appropriate animals known for their roles in the Animal Kingdom (Lion = King, Elephant = Queen, etc.)
Inspiration for card designs
Brainstorming
As seen above, my original inspiration was heavily influenced by symmetrically-designed face cards. I started with more geometric designs, but after trying the symmetrical idea, I decided that was what I wanted to do. Before I finally landed on the animal idea for good, I experimented with doing a weird idea where I mixed similar body parts together to create a design that was both symmetrical AND asymmetrical at the same time. After realizing the limitations of the theme, I decided to leave that idea behind too (I still enjoy the sketches that came out of it though). I initially wanted to go for the basic suit shapes, but with the animals popping in/out of the the 2D/3D space, it proved to be too difficult for the time allotted for this project.
Initial Sketches showcasing my original thoughts for theme ideas
The Nitty-gritty
Once I decided on the theme, the rest of the design process came naturally to me. I created a rough draft of the card designs for feedback from my peers, and I couldn't thank them enough for their helpful tips! Before the feedback, I wasn't sure exactly how I could get the elephant to be recognizable and symmetrical at the same time, and the Wolf was the only animal with an outline, which separated him from the rest of the animals visually. The number cards were intended to be marks left by the animals, the backs were simple, yet too complicated, and the font I used was too messy and didn't have any numbers available, reverting them to the nasty default placeholders. 
Refined Sketches & First Draft of Card Designs
After the feedback, I was able to square the designs with the lines from the back design and I found a way to make the color palette more cohesive. The animals now looked like they belonged together, and I also found a new font to use. The suits were turned into various animal footprints, and the back design was completely redone in order to fit this new aesthetic put in place. The color palette turned to yellow/purple to further display the theme of royalty in the Animal Kingdom. Overall, the designs were made a lot simpler, and even the number cards found a way to look good on their own this time around! All 52 cards were unique from each other, and the back design is great on its own, mission accomplished! It then came time to order them to turn this design into something you can hold in your hands!
Final Card Design w/ Color Palette
While creating the order at makeplayingcards.com, I viewed some of the website's more expensive options, and the engraved wooden box & golden card edges seemed like something that would match my card deck's theme perfectly! I had the wooden box engraved with the design from the back of the cards, since I felt that it was underused in the deck itself, and the gold edges/gloss on the cards made the cards feel as royal as ever! I was shocked with how great they turned out, and couldn't have asked for anything better!
Wooden Box engraved with back design
Cards showcased with their Box
Golden edges on cards (Product enlarged to show detail)
Lessons Learned:
-A cohesive color palette can make a HUGE difference in your illustrations. (It's partly what separates a mediocre illustration from an excellent one)
-Pushing myself to make every card unique instead of making them a copy-paste formula actually strengthened the overall design of the deck.
-What seems like copy-paste levels of easy, is actually extremely time-consuming.
-Sizing a product before printing them is a huge deal, but luckily I didn't run into any problems with the dimensions provided by the website.
-Figuring out how to simplify the design with a new color palette was actually a fun challenge for me.

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