Sunday, February 1, 2009

An Introduction to Artist Trading Cards

Artist Trading Cards, or ATC’s, are limited edition collectible works of art made in the same ways and with the same techniques that are used to create "regular" greeting cards and scrapbook pages. The primary purpose of an ATC is to share a miniature work of art in one’s own personal style with another artist. (Click on the image for a larger view.)

Three rules apply to ATC’s: First, dimensions of an ATC are always 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches. It doesn’t matter whether the card is oriented in the portrait or landscape lay-out, but the actual dimensions are not negotiable.

Second, by definition, Artist Trading Cards are never sold. They can only be traded or given away. Cards of this size and conformity that are sold are referred to as ACEO’s, or Art Cards, Editions, and Originals.

And lastly, ATC's are signed and numbered by the artist as for any other valuable collectible. Typically, the artist will sign the back of the card with the following information: the name of the art piece, the artist’s name and on-line ID, email or web address, the date, and the individual card numbers.

Most serious ATC artists give their cards two numbers. The first is the actual design number – each uniquely designed card or card set/series receives a sequential number for the design. As miniature collectibles, ATC’s are made in limited numbers and often in sets of either “like” cards or theme-related cards and the cards within a set are also numbered.

When the card is a one of a kind, unique ATC, it’s referred to as an original and numbered 1/1 or 1 of 1. When sets of nearly identical ATC’s are created, they are called editions and are numbered according to how many cards are in the set or edition, such as 1/10, or 1 of 10. Sometimes a group of ATC’s will be created based on a theme. They are not identical but they share common elements that link them in what is called a series. They are numbered as for an edition, but are identified as a series. This information can be written randomly on the back of the card or on a variety of stamped templates including those designed specifically for ATC’s. Small stickers with the information printed on it can also be used, although the artist’s actual signature or initials are usually handwritten.

Making an ATC:

I love to make ATC’s because it provides a perfect opportunity to use up small scraps that I am loathe to discard, and because I can try out new techniques and experiment with different products in a small way. Also, unlike a greeting card or a scrapbook page, ATC’s don’t need a reason or an occasion. They are art for art’s sake.

To start, an ATC has to be created on a sturdy base. The thickness and sturdiness of two layers of card stock is considered the absolute minimum in terms of thickness. You can actually use a trading card or even a card from a standard deck of playing cards if you prefer rounded corners. I have used cardboard from cake mix and cereal boxes, but my favorite way is to start with two pieces of heavyweight card stock and build additional layers of card stock and patterned paper onto each piece, creating a front and back that are ultimately adhered together. I end up with a very sturdy card and this works well for me since I like the back of my cards to be “clean”; any brads or ribbons are secured in between the layers.

My cards typically have four layers of card stock and one or two layers of patterned paper. I start with two base layers that are exactly 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches. I then layer a coordinating or contrasting card stock that is 1/8th inch shorter and narrower onto each base to form a front and back of my ATC. If Iadd a third layer, it will be smaller in length and width by 1/8th inch than the preceding layer. This provides an attractive "matted" apearance to my layers.

I usually use permanent roller adhesive such as Tombow and glue dots to adhere the layers. Glue sticks don’t provide a secure enough bond and wet glues cause too much buckling. I use dimensional adhesive to secure ribbons, brads, and other embellishments. If I am adhering layers and securing ribbon ends between layers, I use dimensional adhesive to secure the edges, with small plastic clips to hold the layers together until the adhesive dries.

When designing the layout of your card, it’s important to think of the scale of the card. If you simply “shrink down” the design and lay-out of a larger card, much of the detail will be lost. Instead, lay out the elements you want to include and choose portions of images judiciously. And look for techniques and finishing touches that lend themselves to small canvasses. A single tree branch or a flower stem or two, or a portion of a clock or building can make a wonderful image, whereas a large tree or flower garden, miniaturized to fit, will be lost in the small size of an ATC.

The typical swap will ask for a minimum of “at least two card stock layers and one embellishment”. Any and all techniques and materials can be used in fashioning an ATC. Metal, fabric, paper, clay, and acetate have been used to create ATC’s. Embellishments should be tasteful and securely applied. The only caveat is that whatever is used, the cards must be thin enough to fit into an ATC envelope or sleeve and they must be sturdy enough to be mailed, stored, handled, and used in a variety of ways.

There are a variety of ways that the back of the card can be finished. Many artists simply leave it plain and sign it. Others add a tag or label with identifying information. I tend to decorate the back in a small way to coordinate with the front, and I often use an ATC stamp or other stamp that provides an area to journal on the back of the card to record identifying information. I also occasionally use the back of the card as a mini “business card” and I include one with things I sell, especially when I am selling vintage china or an elaborate album.

Once they are finished, ATC’s that are being traded are usually stored in plastic bags, transparent sleeves, or paper or vellum envelopes. Collectors keep them in a variety of ways; they may be stored in boxes or albums, or framed to be displayed. They can be used to embellish scrap books or cards or altered items, or used alone as miniature cards, such as Valentines. Here are some samples of cards I’ve made.


Tam said...

Cathy, what an AWESOME job on your tutorial, and I love your samples!! Thanks for sharing these with us - I can't wait for our swap!!

Leah said...

Great job explaining! I am super excited for our swap:)

Anonymous said...

Hi, what a great job explaining ATCs. I haven't mailed mine yet - yikes - I'll do it on Monday. Hope you're feeling okay, Ali in MA.

peata said...

wow, fantastic cards.

making mini albums
mini album blog