The World of Artist Trading Cards

Artist Trading Cards (ATC) are miniature works of art created on 2 ½ x 3 ½ inches cards. They are totally original expressions of an individual’s craft or artistic bent and were the brainwave of a Swiss artist called Vanci Stirnemann, artist-in-residence, at Calgary’s The New Gallery. He wanted to produce a catalogue in playing-card format to document work in the gallery but because of printing costs were so prohibitive, the project was shelved until 1996.

His solution was to produce the cards by hand and this led to the first exhibition of 1200 cards in 1997 in Zurich where visitors were able to create their own cards and trade for his.

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The ethos of ATCs is based on exchanging creativity and there is no monetary value to the cards, nor should there be. By taking part in a swap, you can build up your own creative reference library and share your talents with others without leaving the comfort of your studio or keyboard.

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Freida Oxenham produced over 1000 of these little gems and has set up many swap groups around the globe. She says that there is nothing quite like the moment of receiving and opening an ATC received in the post. Sometimes ATCs arrive unexpectedly in the post, unprompted. They are spontaneous gestures known in the ATC world, known as RAKs or “random act kindness”.

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Freida described the process of making ATCs as a great way to “flex your creative muscles”, particularly if you have a large project on the go and stumble upon the creativity block.

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Her designs, whether they be created using ink, paint, felt, beads, fabric, embroidery thread, buttons, lace, ribbon, photographs, metal, paper… all of the above are transferred to the standard sized card which can be purchased in packs over the internet. Each card once completed must fit into a plastic sleeve to ensure protection and conformity to the size limits.

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In much the same way as collectors store collections of football cards or playing cards, the finished ATCs can be put into plastic sleeves, safe from coffee cups and eager fingers. Every ATC should carry the name of its creator, the date, a title and reference i.e. 1 of 6, to indicate a batch. You can even buy pre-printed labels online!

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