In this post we shine the spotlight on John Battalgazi, the amazing artist behind Jazz Riff, a unique artistic take on legends of Jazz coming in Fall 2023.
Based out of Tokyo, Japan, but technically from England, John spent his youth both in England and Canada. According to John, having a "Canadian accent adds to the confusion of being an Englishman" living in Japan. If that weren't enough, John is also half Turkish and was born in Istanbul but left as a baby. Basically, he's a citizen of the world and even lived in Australia for a year! It's somewhat amazing I was able to track him down.
John isn't technically a full-time profession artist, but he does create unique art for which he gets paid. I originally found his art on Behance and reached out to him to create our Jazz Deck. Having this idea to do a Jazz deck of playing cards in honor of Dizzy Gillespie, when I say John's work on a Jazz artist, I knew he'd be perfect for this deck.
I asked John what inspires him to create art and he shared that he used to draw a lot as a kid. "I always wanted to be the best and show people how good I was which works for a while as a motivator but runs out of steam when you realize there is much more to visual expression than photorealism." He went to art college in Hertfordshire England but he said he never got much out of it. He ended up dropping out of university where he was studying design after a car accident. At the time, he hated art history and, according to John, lacked maturity when he was younger so it took him a while to arrive at this point. It wasn’t until his mid-thirties that his taste started to catch up with his skills. "As a purist, I feel that art, like music is something you can teach but it is mostly intuitive. You can be a great artist with absolutely no formal training and you can be a talentless artist despite years of it."
As we found out during the creation of Jazz Riff, John likes to use Procreate to make his art. We typically use Adobe Illustrator for playing card design, so we had somewhat of a learning curve to overcome. Nonetheless, John's digital art speaks for itself and you can really see the influence of his early preference to work with pencil on paper. His style is geometric so the ability to create seamless lines and shapes without the aid of physical tools is really a boost for his work. This style was used to great effect on the court cards and card back for Jazz Riff.
Johns inspiration comes mostly from architects like Mackintosh and Frank Lloyd Wright. According to John, it’s all about the shapes, space and harmony. He has a couple of chairs in his workspace designed by those two architects that fill him with inspiration. "I love the lines and elongated or curved shapes. I also like the Bauhaus movement for colour and expression."
This is John's first playing card project, which he knocked out of the park! He does a lot of sports related work and has been commissioned by Apple to do some sports ads. His art has been used in some baseball and Premier League football (soccer) publications. He's designed for mobile device screens, websites, magazines, a comic but his main focus is his art prints which he sells from his website.
For readers who want to get started in illustration and design, John recommends finding your own voice. "The higher your ideals, the less you limit your potential. What I mean by that is, if you are a true original and you do it for the right reasons, there is no limit to what you can do with your talents. Don't try to copy someone else's style, because ultimately it is unfulfilling and can only take you so far."
Jazz Riff being John's first deck, there was a lot to learn about playing cards. We worked closely together on every aspect and have been plugging away at this project for over a year now. According to John, "there a lot of things to take into consideration that he hadn't previously encountered". We focused a lot of our design time on consistency in shapes and allocation within the playing card space. Early on we worked a lot on character scale to ensure consistency across cards. As the process progressed the design really started to take shape and the entire deck started come to life.
The designer playing card market is not something everyone is familiar with. In fact, John grew up only with access to traditional or novelty playing card decks, so he "loves the fact that we are trying new and interesting things now. The only thing I don’t like about the medium is the idea of my cards getting dog-eared and bent up."
For this project, John is excited to see his own unique style in playing card form. As for specifics within the deck, "it’s hard to choose my favorite part of the deck but there are a few court designs that I particularly like. I think I am excited for people to see this style more than anything. I’m often told that my work is very different so I enjoy getting it out there for different crowds to see."
John wants readers to know that he regards "all forms of creativity as coming from the same place. So rather than just be inspired by other artists I am mostly inspired by creators in other disciplines such as musicians, directors, architects, comedians. We’re all doing the same thing. Helping to push the boundaries of human expression either visually, aurally, or intellectually."
I can't think of a better way to wrap up this article than with John's quote. Playing card art is boundless in it's creativity and human expression. If you can dream it, it can be illustrated and printed on these wonderful 2.5"x3.5" pieces of paper.