Zeb Wahls, co-creator of The Woman Cards, graduated from the University of Iowa in 2016 with a BFA in painting, emphasis on illustration. She is a proud feminist. We spoke with the artist about the genesis of The Woman Cards, her practice, and her favorite #5WomenArtists.
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1. How did you get the idea for The Woman Cards?
My brother and I got the idea for the project in early 2016, when Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of “playing the woman card” on the presidential campaign trail. We wanted to turn that nasty exchange into something educational and celebratory, so we decided to create our own “woman cards”—a set of playing cards highlighting women who have changed the world…despite the deck (forgive the pun) being stacked against them.
2. What challenges do you face in creating your decks?
For both our first and second editions, it’s been hard to narrow the list of women down to 15 (13 women across four suits plus two jokers). There are so many incredible women throughout history, and it’s rough to leave someone beloved on the metaphorical cutting room floor. We try to include a mix of well-known women and lesser-known (but no less accomplished) women.
3. How would you describe your illustration style?
Understated and accessible. My biggest goal as the artist is to pay my respects to the woman I’m depicting on each card—to let the subject matter (rather than the style) be the star of the show. I spend quite a bit of time researching the lives of each woman, to make sure I’m accurate in my depiction as well as to find ways I can include references to her life and work via her pose, outfit, what she’s holding or doing, etc.
4. What do you enjoy most about your work?
So much—but if I had to pick one thing, it’s hearing from people that they learned about a woman they’d never heard of before thanks to the cards. Or that the cards made them think of the incredible women in their own lives. Those messages never get old.
5. NMWA’s #5WomenArtists campaign challenges people to name five women artists. Who are your favorite five women artists?
Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes (c. 1612) has [greatly influenced] my personal work. Properzia de’ Rossi, Italian Renaissance sculptor, taught herself the craft by carving peach seeds, which speaks to both her talent and determination. Impressionist Berthe Morisot’s balance between her deft treatment of light and color and maintaining the weight of her figures was incredible and, in my opinion, unsurpassed among her contemporaries. Lastly, as a huge comics nerd, I would be remiss to not mention Marie Severin, who was a Silver Age penciller and colorist for Marvel Comics, and Bilquis Evely, who works for DC Comics and has the best brushwork in the business.