Have You Heard of ATC’s? Did you wonder what they were?

Let me explain:

ARTIST TRADING CARDS are miniature works of art created on 2 ½ X 3 ½ inch or 64 X 89 mm card stock. ATC’s are originals, small editions and, most importantly, self-produced. anybody can produce them. The idea is that you trade them with other people who produce cards, either at TRADING SESSIONS or wherever you meet another ATC trader in person. The concept of ATC is the person-to-person trade, as well as trading by mail. The most fun is to trade person-to-person though. The basic idea is the card-for-card trade. [Although sometimes some people think one from their cards is worth more than one from the others - mostly with the argument that they put more work into their atc.]


There are two ATC centers which organize Trading Sessions on a regular basis: one in Zürich and one in Calgary. The idea of the centers is not the private collection (there are many of those around of course) but the communication. The centers are open to the public and they also organize the ATC Trading Sessions. The centers are places to communicate the idea of trading cards and to hold the events.


Hopefully there will be more centers soon : ANYBODY CAN ORGANIZE A Trading Session. The only stipulation is a certain continuity (eg. every month on a regular day).

It is important that you meet other people in person to trade – i.e. it is ok to trade by mail or to participate in editions but the main purpose of this performance is the trading session and the personal meeting. It’s not about money: participants in trading sessions and editions should not be charged any money: the point of the project is the exchange of cards as well as personal experience. There have been other TRADING SESSIONS at irregular intervals in other cities.

The project was initiated in 1997 by Zurich artist M.Vänçi Stirnemann. Since then several hundred people from all over the world have traded ATC’s during TRADING SESSIONS, through mail or by participating in TRADING SESSIONS and SISTER TRADING CARDS (STC’s).

I found a great deal of information on the web. Below are some places for you to find more information so that you can get started trading your own creations.

Ed Beal’s stated it this way:

ARTIST TRADING CARDS are a variation of the popular mass-produced trading cards available for sale all over the world. The difference is rather than buying them, you make them. This means that each card is an original work of art, or one of a small edition run that you can trade with other people who have created their own cards.

ANY AND ALL MATERIALS and techniques are permitted (drawing in pencil, pen, marker, chalk or crayon etc., painting, photographs, collage, found materials, mixed media — anything!).

There is only one rule– the cards should be the same size as traditional collector cards: 2.5 inches wide by 3.5 inches tall (64mm x 89mm). On the back you should sign and date your cards. If they are part of an edition you should number them as well.

Many ATC artists create a “business card” or “signature card” ATC that features a self-portrait on the front and a fact sheet about themselves on the back. They then send it out with sets they are trading. This idea allows artists to get to know each other better. Make it good — this is your image in the ATC-trading world!

Design issues to consider before you start would be that as you sit down to create your own cards, don’t think of them as just works of art scaled down. Think about the scale of the card, don’t try creating techniques that are only suitable for larger projects, but on the contrary think of what the small size allows you to do that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. You know how a group picture becomes so uninteresting when scaled down too much, because you are unable to even see faces anymore? This is an example of a subject that would be wasted on a small size.

There are several ways to achieve the correct format. First is to cut the foundation to the right size before you start working; second is to work on a large surface and then cut the cards out from; third would be to use commercial trading cards or playing cards, cover them with a layer of paper or paint, and use them as pre-made canvasses.

The first method is especially useful when you have paper scraps that can be cut to the right size and saved for later. When dealing with themes that require spontaneity.

Classic techniques

Almost all fine arts media can be used for the miniature canvas of an ATC, either alone or in combination. Fine arts media includes: pencil sketch, charcoal, cartoon, watercolor, markers, colored pencils, pastel, crayons, inks, dotting, collage, photography, calligraphy.

A specialized collage is what is referred to as cut-outs, shapes cut out from flat-colored paper and arranged in a composition. The shapes can be abstract and assembled together like a mosaic to create an image, or they can be cut into specific shapes. Flat colored compositions have a bold, clean feel to them and they can be combined with images cut out from magazines or can be drawn.

Making cut-outs that require careful assembly: draw your composition and then use tracing paper to trace every shape you’ll need separately. Then trace each shape onto the paper of the appropriate color and cut them out and put them back together.

Another method is “reserving” areas before painting, which yields beautiful results. Use a white candle (or colored) to draw a motif (s) on the card. Make sure you get plenty of wax on the paper. Then brush ink or watercolor paint all over it, the paint doesn’t stick to the wax.

A good and slightly older method is rubbing, especially with a white crayon or wax rubbings with an ink wash. Use lightweight paper to do the rubbings then use a glue stick to secure it to the card support. You can use any and all surfaces you find in the house or outdoors for rubbings, or create your own by cutting out thick board in the desired shapes and gluing it strongly to another piece of board.

Stenciling can be achieved through a variety of means, from commercial stamps to carved potatoes to fallen leaves to your own homemade stamps cut out of board or carved in an eraser. Create and cut out your own stencils using an X-acto knife. You can use any kind of paint dabbed with a special brush or a piece of cloth, or spray paints.

The transfer technique is simple, use acetone (pure, can be found in pharmacies) to transfer from xeroxed pieces of paper. The best result is obtained with traditional photocopies (not laser).

ATC envelopes are a very creative and fun alternative to transparent sleeves. When sending several cards create an ATC envelope. This template allows you to print the outlines for two envelopes on a sheet of paper (pretty paper, gift wrap, or anything else cut to printer size), or to decorate your envelopes digitally before printing. You may also make your own template and come up with your own envelopes.

What to do with your collection is to use the albums with 9-pocket sheets available for commercial or baseball cards. But many people also keep them in boxes so that they can enjoy taking them out. Many others collect them in panels or picture frames to display in their home. Some even make special handmade books to display theirs.

There are really no limits to what do!

The following sites are great for information on ATC’s and for sharing your talent with others. – This is my member site, I have a very small group but would love for you to join and participate with us!

Artist Trading Cards - This site is devoted to ATC’s and has some great information for everyone, not just us beginners!

ATC Quarterly - This is a great website! It is also the only ATC based magazine that I know of, and well worth a subscription!

As a final note, ATC’s develop a sense of community, friendship and equality among the participants. Join local groups and share your ATC’s online for others to be inspired by your art.

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