Artist’s Trading Cards, or ATCs as they are commonly referred to, are miniature works of art that come from all artistic disciplines and are created and traded by everyone from quilters to crafters to painters to jewelry designers. The only way you can get an ATC is by giving one of your own.
From as early as the fifteenth century, artists have made miniatures of their work for sale or promotion. But modern day Artist Trading Cards are not about sales at all – they are art for art’s sake. They also include the social aspect of trading (kinda like trading Olympic pins or baseball cards). But in the case of today’s ATCs they were inspired by, of all things, hockey.
Swiss performance artist m. vanci stirnemann is credited as the originator of the Artist Trading Card movement. He got the idea after watching enthusiastic fans trade hockey cards. He was inspired by the social interaction that resulted from the act of trading, and wanted to create a similar experience with handmade art.
So, stirnemann made a catalogue documenting his activities with other artists in a format similar to sports trading cards, and produced 1,200 cards by hand. This led to the first exhibition of Artist Trading Cards in April 1997 at the INK.art text & book store in Zurich, Switzerland. During the show, visitors were encouraged to produce their own cards to trade with stirnemann and each other at the closing reception.
The idea caught on like wild fire, and ATCs have been exchanged all over the world ever since.
Some are exchanged in real-life interactions, and there are also groups that offer virtual swaps, usually organized on-line and the cards are mailed to participants. I had the good fortune to participate in one of these virtual swaps a couple months ago. In our case, there was a design category assigned to the groups, and mine was metal – meaning that each ATC had to incorporate metal somewhere in their cards.
Being a jewelry designer, I decided that making leaf shapes from copper sheet and wire was the starting point for me. Soon my entire work table was covered in rubber stamps, inks, paints, bits of fiber, beads…. After fiddling around with the stamps and being very not pleased with my designs, I took a step back.
I went to look at some of my travel photographs for inspiration, and again, saw a leaf theme emerge. So I printed several photos 2” x 3” and started altering them. Pretty soon my watercolor paints came out, and I began to paint over the printed photos. What beautiful magical things happened with the paints! Mounting and embellishing the photos came next, and my ATCs were born.
The format of ATCs is perfect for kids, and for anyone who might be intimidated by the blank canvas. They help to hone skills and allow for experimentation without big commitment. Here are some of my cards from a recent set of ATCs.
There are few but important rules about ATCs.
They MUST be 2-1/2” by 3-1/2”
They are never sold, only traded.
They usually have your name and contact information on the back.
Try some of your own!
For a tutorial on ATCs, watch my show on TVWeekly.com