Detail-obsessed Humble Raja infuse history with illustration to create Kings of India
Montreal-based design studio Humble Raja was co-founded by husband and wife team Reena and Bhavesh Mistry. Growing up in Britain and Canada, and positively surrounded by friends constantly intrigued by their food, clothing and tradition has allowed them to appreciate their heritage. “As designers, we ended up pairing our passion for design with our interest in our culture to create Humble Raja. The more we explore, the more we want to share with others,” says Reena Mistry.
Their first project was Kings of India, a set of playing cards inspired by India’s four greatest dynasties – Maurya, Gupta, Chola and Mughal. Doing justice to a craft driven tradition, the detail-obsessed duo have gone to great lengths to research India’s 2,300-year history and illustrate every inch, from the typography and suits, to the weapons and chest hairs of the Kings, revealing the marvels and monarchs of India’s story.
Reena gives us an in-depth look into Kings of India and tells us about upcoming projects from Humble Raja.
Tell us more about your background?
My background is in architecture, Bhavesh's is engineering – we've always had a passion for making things, with a particular affinity towards illustration. We launched a design and branding studio together called Apartment 4 shortly after we got married, and Humble Raja stemmed out of that.
Did you have any design or illustration training?
I suppose we both fell into design and illustration. My formal design training came from my degrees in architecture, where I really became fascinated by visual communication; that being said, I've been producing graphic design work on the side since high school. Bhavesh has always had a keen interest in understanding how things are made and has a very tactile sensibility and eye for design. But for as long as I can remember, Bhavesh and I have always been drawing and making things for fun – we've known each other for years and we've always had that in common.
How did the idea and inspiration for Kings of India come about?
We created Kings of India to share and celebrate the rich culture and history of India with others in a new and engaging way. By using playing cards as a medium, we could use illustration and the organisational structure of the deck as a visual means to access parts of a history that spans 2,300 years – bringing some intriguing details to the hands of anyone who enjoys a game of cards.
We produced all of the artwork of the Kings of India playing cards from scratch, from ancient weapons to eccentric moustaches. The illustrated details for each court card are based on actual research – thanks to countless hours of digging through books, architectural motifs, artifacts and folklore. The process of research and illustration took around a year to complete. In the process, we uncovered some extravagant characters, surprising facts and unusual parts of our world that are still relevant today.
In terms of the organisation and structure of the deck, each suit reveals the marvels and legends of one of India's four greatest dynasties. The court cards are a modern take on the most influential Rajas and Ranis of India. For example, the spades are dedicated to the Mughal Dynasty: Akbar the Great is the King of Spades, Jodha is the Queen of Spades, and Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan is the Jack.
Most of all, we found that playing cards create an engaging way for others to explore India’s history and culture – regardless of age, culture, and education. We hope to share these curiosities with others through this deck of cards.
What creative projects are you involved with currently?
We're currently working on a new project that focuses on the creatures and figures in Hindu mythology. Storytelling is a big part of our culture, especially orally – we're exploring how we'd like to represent these characters visually to shed some light on their curious traits and ancient stories – we'll keep you updated via little Mr. Shah, he's our tiny studio companion who'll provide small glimpses into our studio as we chip away at our projects.
Read the stories and learn more about each monarch’s legacy by seeing the detailed compendium of the illustrations on their website.