Saturday, April 20, 2013

Artist Trading Cards: You Know You Want To

I participated in a thrilling Artist Trading Card exchange last week. Several participants became alarmed when they looked at my cards and realized that I cut into an actual dictionary - a disintegrating, 1960 student dictionary, I hastily explained in my defense.

The idea of libricide appalled me, too - at first. But  since discovering ATCs and their ilk, I've become much less squeamish. I only cut into out-of-date reference books, falling-apart books, or bestselling books of which used bookstores have far too many (How many paperback copies of Angels and Demons are at your nearest thrift shop? I counted nine in mine.) When in doubt, I check Amazon or ebay, to make sure I'm not about to eviscerate a Gutenberg Bible.

The base of an ATC is a stiff material of your choice, cut to  2 1/2" x 3 1/2".  Depending on how strong you need it to be, you can cut it from a Cheerios box, or buy pre-cut mat board, watercolor paper, chipboard, etc. Blank ATC packs of various materials are sold online or at an art supply/craft store. 

For this set of ATCs, I used Kraft-tex which is like a cross between fabric, leather and interfacing. It takes paint beautifully, with a misty dappled effect, and allows all kinds of watercolory techniques (learned from  Sherrill Kahn). I sprayed the Kraft-tex with water, then did mostly horizontal strokes with blue, purple and green shades of Dye-Na-Flow, letting the colors run together. Once dry, I cut the Kraft-tex into card-size pieces, and stenciled a seagull onto each, with shiny opaque silver acrylic paint. 

Then I found a comfortable spot in the middle of the floor, surrounded myself with bead and button boxes, Crafter's Pick The Ultimate Glue (my current fave for the 3-D embellishments), a glue stick (for paper and fabric), toothpicks (for precision glue delivery), a wire cutter (for snipping shanks off plastic buttons), a scissors, an X-acto knife, and ye olde dictionary, open to the "aero" page. 

Here's where the real fun began: Seeking definitions to fit my embellishments, and vice versa.  

The definitions had to be cut with an X-acto knife (or small sharp scissors), because the lines are so crammed together. The next card has a vintage propeller airplane button.
Below the next bird is a square chunk from an old French map:
 Here's a floating, lacy, metal UFO (broken earring?)
At one point, I became bored with the "ae" section of the dictionary, and flipped randomly to the fl's, where I spotted the soothing illustration below of a flageolet. (Never flog a flageolet, which is an offshoot of the flipple flute family - I kid you not). I also adhered a tiny woven label that says "Sweet Dreams." My  friend Kay gave me the label. I wish I had 100!
What I do have a 100 of is that question mark bead on the lower right. I found a pack at a store a few months ago. Those poor identical little beads, peeping out from behind the plastic, looked so lost and pathetically quizzical, that, of course I brought them home. Now I'm gluing them to everything but my forehead. It's the all-purpose existential embellishment, without the commitment or blood of a tattoo.
(Deja vu? Yes, you've already met that gal's identical twin, on my Elvis toy sewing machine.)
Once everything was glued down, I gave the cards a couple of coats of matte Golden Gel medium, brushing it carefully around but not on top of the 3-D embellishments. It created a nice even surface, and took the shine off accidental glue smears. Unfortunately, it also took the shine from the silver gulls. With not enough time to repaint the birds, I quickly learned to love grey, signed and dated the backs, and was good to go.

So easy!  So fun! So you-don't-have-to-be-an-artistic-genius! And that's not even the best part! The best part is the swap. This particular event was set up by a friend of a friend. I only knew one participant, and met 5 such interesting people, and learned so much from them through their art. We ate and drank yummy things, socialized, asked questions, and enjoyed each other's wildly diverse cards and ways of thinking. Thanks, Jenny, for putting the whole fantastic event together!

Now you know you want to do this, right? If you don't have enough like-minded friends, ask about swaps at your local art and/or craft store. Or go to and type in "Artist Trading Cards." Some groups trade through the mail; others arrange face-to-face meetings in specific cities. There are also lists of local exchanges at

If you're primarily into fiber arts, you might find that this article I wrote a couple of years ago for Quilt Life magazine helpful. It is mostly about making fabric ATCs, especially from quilty UFOs. (In this case, the acronym stands for non-aeronautic Unfinished Objects). Some of the links listed in that article are extinct, unfortunately.

A final tidbit: ATC makers don't sell them. If it's called an ATC, it's individually made for the sole purpose of trading. If you make a card to sell, call it an ACEO, which stands for "Artist Cards, Editions and Originals." Zillions of ACEOs are sold online. Just search ebay.

PS: I have no financial affiliation with any of the products mentioned by name in this post, except that I did receive a free roll of Kraft-tex in exchange for a completely different project. I truly  love the stuff.

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