Artist Trading Cards

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

Artist trading cards (or ATCs) are little works of art designed to spread happiness and joy.

The movement isn’t new. Swiss artist M. Vänçi Stirnemann initiated the project in 1997 and since then, thousands of people from around the world have created and traded ATCs online and at in-person events.

The rules for decorating artist trading cards are few. In essence, as long as the size is 2 ½” x 3” (64 mm × 89 mm), anything goes.

These cards – created by artist Anitra Redlefsen – have been embellished with canvas, buttons, wire, sticks, feathers, yarn, paint, ink, seashells, beads, and wood. Aren’t they gorgeous?

Then, there are these lovely beauties created by artist Bertha Day using paint, lace, fabric and thread. I love the quotes and sayings.

In the past, I’ve designed coffee-themed artist trading cards using coffee instead of paint to make the images and let me tell you, they smell terrific.

But… it wasn’t until my daughter started snatching and decorating my blank ATCs that I really realized just how appealing they are for kids. I mean check it out. Their small size makes them perfect for little hands.

When I was a kid, I collected, traded and played games with baseball cards. I also hoarded novelty erasers that were shaped like cameras, soda pop cans and Cabbage Patch Dolls and I filled photo albums with colourful stickers – many of which smelled of strawberries and vinegar.

If ATCs had been all the rage during my tween years, I probably would have channeled at least some of my creative energy into embellishing them to use as currency with my friends at school (who had killer eraser collections).

Making ATCs is easy, mostly because anything goes. But if you and your kids need some inspiration, you can try these ideas on for size…

1) Glue buttons on the cards and connect the dots with markers.

2) Draw a picture with crayons and lay a watercolour wash over top for a crayon-resist picture.

3) Poke holes in the card and run some yarn through the openings.

4) Create a watercolour wash and when dry, add some embellishments with marker.

5) Make a drawing using pencil crayons.

6) Dip a cotton swab into paint and make a dot design.

7) Glue tiny pieces of paper together to make a collage.

8) Make miniature holiday cards.

9) Get out the sewing machine and run some thread.

10) Glitter!

And so on…

You can make your own artist trading cards, or you can buy them in ready-made packs. Strathmore is my go-to brand of choice and at around $2.00 for a pack of 20 (depending on paper/canvas quality), you can’t go wrong.

Photo source: Dick Blick.

You can also purchase accessories like little bags, easels and magnetic frames to store and display the ATCs.

So what are you waiting for? Encourage your kids and students to get creative with artist trading cards!

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