The card game

Traditional Christmas cards are just variations of a tired old theme. However, a few graphic artists are challenging convention.

Let’s face it, Christmas is more about tack than taste. The Spice Girls turning on the lights in London’s Regent Street, gaudy plastic decorations, ridiculous party hats, Slade. Whoever put the words “cool” and “Yule” together got it spectacularly wrong. Every year, people who should know better seem to have a total style bypass – it’s as if a three-week amnesty has been announced where anything goes, so long as it’s garish and vulgar.

The Christmas card is the graphic arts’ contribution to the festivities. And, generally, the same principle applies, in the season where jolly snowmen take over from graphic sophistication. Choice of Christmas card speaks volumes – you could even argue that they communicate your corporate image – which is why many designers cop out altogether. Either they produce their own, or they don’t send them at all, on the grounds that they are above such things.

Considering that Christmas cards are basically variations on tired old themes, there have been some great efforts produced by designers over the years. Thomas Manss’ Christmas tree composed of pencil shavings springs to mind; The Chase’s err Christmas tree made out of postage stamps (presumably to impress its client, the Royal Mail), Michael Johnson’s seasonal pranks, which seem to get more and more extravagant by the year. The Partners and Grundy Northedge regularly come up with the goods, too. Others shy away from the convention – Designers Republic sends out a New Year poster, Intro comes bearing T-shirts (though the supply seems to have dried up of late).

But if you’ve actually got to go out to the shops and buy them, what’s available this year? For designer types, pick of the crop is undoubtedly SCP’s selection from MOMA in New York (available in Selfridges and the Curtain Road outlet in London), which include fabulous Maurice Sendak illustrations and stylised 1960s-inspired designs by John Pirman, including a pop-up tree which you are invited to decorate with stickers. Paperchase’s clean, geometric cards are usually worth a look, while those with more money than time might consider Art In Design’s high-quality bespoke cards, which feature classic renaissance scenes as well as more modern art by Tamara de Lempicka, Cyril Edward Powers and Georges Braque. All of these and more can be printed up with a message of your choice.

At entirely the other end of the taste scale, Hallmark has excelled itself with its Forever Friends range, which features chubby faced yellow bears on cards with faux-felt edges. Foil blocking, embossing and the cuddly animal of your choice are the order of the day. Hallmark also seems convinced that a Snoopy revival is on the way still, it probably knows its market far better than I do.

Unless you’re being ironic, which really doesn’t wash in 2000, a far better bet is to plump for some fashionable line-drawn illustration like Nicola Slater’s stylish comic-book retro scenes, with pencil thin men in black roll-necks and women in long, elegant evening gowns. It has a feel of a slightly toned down Rian Hughes in a festive mood.

And if you really do not have the time or inclination to agonise over the racks of Christmas cards, just pop down to your local charity shop. You run the risk of being hauled up by the style police, but at least it’s all in a good cause.

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