ATC History and How-to

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History of Artist Trading Cards (ATC)


Artist Trading Cards are individual art miniatures which pass hand to hand. Some sources have credited M. Vänçi Stirnemann, who began trading sessions in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1997, as popularizing ATCs in the modern era, although modern ATC's can be traced back to portrait miniatures and to a kind of business card popular with Impressionistic era artists.  Artists have produced miniatures for trade or self-promotion in many eras and places, and the current trend is thus part of this larger context.

Historically there were few standard rules or guidelines to art trading cards, and many variances in sizes can be seen in older cards. Today the only rule for these cards is their 2.5 by 3.5 inch size (64 x 89 mm).

There are, however, certain conventions usually observed by those who make and trade these cards, such as the expectation that they be traded, not sold, and that they be created as unique works or small limited editions of prints. Artists generally sign and date the back, and may also include a title and contact information.

Artist Trading Cards are typically made on a base of card stock. However, ATCs have been created on metal, stiffened fabric, plastic, clay, glass, balsa wood, leather, embroidery canvas, acetate, heavy watercolor paper, and many other materials. The art on the cards can be done in any media: textile arts, pencil, watercolor, acrylic, oil, collage, scratch board, mixed media, assemblage, digital art, calligraphy, beadwork, rubber stamps, carved soft block stamps, pen and ink, colored pencil, airbrush, pastels, and many others - anything artists use. 

Information source:  Wikipedia.


How To
Start with a surface or 'canvas' that is exactly 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches. These examples are pieces of matboard and are sturdy enough that they will not need additional support. However, if you are using paper or another material that is thin or flexible you may want to provide an extra backing of sturdy material, such as cardboard.




You can paint or draw a design directly on the card or you may use a variety of materials to create your design.

Quality workmanship is a key componant of creating ATC's. Your design does not have to be elaborate or technically difficult, but it should reflect a high level of commitment to quality and creativity. Your artwork is a reflection of your creative self. Be meticulous.
After you have completed your design you may want to coat the surface with an acrylic matte or gloss glaze to provide a protective, uniform surface finish. Be sure to perfect fine details such as smoothing the edges of the card with sandpaper and gliding a permanent marker along the outer perimeter. Re-glue any materials that may be loose.
Finish the backside of the card with a flat color or a simple texture/design. Include your name and the year. You may also want to include relevant information such as a title for your artwork or the name of the swap you are participating in.




Storage tip: Some acrylic finishes and adhesives create a surface that remains tacky for quite a while. To insure that your card surface won't stick other materials place it between a folded sheet of parchment or waxed paper when storing or shipping.

For more information on creating ATC's visit our LINKS page.