HOBBY: Stacking simple cards to make fabulous art

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Bryan Berg, posing here with models of landmarks in Cincinnati, Ohio, says anyone can create structures from cards. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Berg)

Bryan Berg is a cardstacking legend from Iowa.

He began stacking cards with his grandfather when he was about 8 years old, building regular boxlike “houses,” with difficulty. But Berg kept at it, developing his own techniques to make the cards stand better and longer. Today he holds the Guinness World Record for the largest playing card structure and the tallest house of cards – reaching the first of these achievements while in high school. Since then, he’s kept raising the bar, breaking his records “around eight or 10 times each,” he says.

Growing up in the Midwest, Berg says, “there were periods of time when the weather was too dangerous to be outside, around 30 degrees below freezing,” he recalls. “It felt a bit isolating, like now (during the coronavirus pandemic).”

As a professional cardstacker, Berg, who’s now 46, creates card structures around the world. Some are 12 stories tall. They’re so sturdy, they can hold a cement brick or withstand the force of a leaf blower, yet he never uses glue – nothing but thousands of regular playing cards. Some of his most remarkable creations include seemingly impossible angles, such as dome shapes, spirals and spires: Cinderella’s castle from Walt Disney World, New York’s Empire State Building and the Guggenheim Museum, as well as these Washington landmarks: the U.S. Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

You don’t need anything special to build a masterpiece, Berg says. Any old deck of cards works. Index cards or recipe cards are fine, too. Here are his tips on how to get started:

1. Find a flat, hard surface that’s not slippery. “A large cutting board, a wood floor or tabletop are ideal,” says Berg.

2. As you build, focus on joining cards using right angles, not triangles, which don’t hold up. Berg recommends building in a specific, simple pinwheel pattern he uses as the basis for all his structures.

Build with your dominant hand. First, put two cards together in a T-shape. Hold the first card horizontally flat on the surface with your dominant hand. Set other hand on the table to make a T with card Number 2. Don’t let go with the second hand, but do let go with the first hand. Add the third card and then fourth card in a pinwheel shape until you have a little square.

Lean the cards in a little toward each other for support, advises Berg. That means there should be a tiny gap between the bottom edges of cards next to each other.

Then add cards, forming more T shapes, to make a grid. Next, lay cards flat on top as a roof, then add a second story.

3. Don’t strive for perfection. “Just focus on getting more cards to stand than to fall” and keep building, Berg says.

4. Cards will fall as you build, but don’t use your fingers to pick them up. Use the edge of a loose card and one finger instead, so you don’t knock more cards down.

Berg’s biggest piece of advice, though, is not to give up. The mental aspect of building with cards is crucial, he explains.

“You have to earn it, a little bit,” he says, knowing that trying and trying to build with cards that fall can often feel a little disappointing, at first.

“If you keep trying, anyone can do this. Stacking cards to a level that will thrill you, several stories tall, takes just a couple of afternoons of practice,” Berg says.

“Like learning to ride a bike, all of a sudden something clicks, and you take off the training wheels” and just keep going.

That doesn’t mean Berg’s creations aren’t challenging. “Cards require patience, willingness for total failure.”

And no one would know that better than Berg.

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