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Artist Trading Cards

by Bridget Geegan Blanton

Artist Trading Cards have gone global! Truly, it's a world wide artistic phenomenon. It all started back in 1996, in Zürich, Switzerland. The artist M. Vänçi Stirnemann, created 1000 cards for an exhibit entitled, ‘A Collaborative Cultural Performance’.

The cards he created were within the size specifications of 2 ½” x 3 ½” that are observed for traditional trading cards. These Artist Trading Cards were displayed on the wall of his bookshop. Interested observers were encouraged to make cards of their own for trade. The rest is history.

There are groups all over the world that meet monthly to trade cards face to face. Stirnemann stipulated that trading cards face to face was of paramount importance. He felt strongly that meeting the other artist was an intrinsically important aspect of the trade.

There are a few rules associated with the creation of Artist Trading Cards. Size specifications are etched in stone. The card must measure 2 ½” x 3 ½”. Once the Artist Trading Card is complete, the artist needs to include the following information on the back of the card. Name of Artist. Date of Creation. Contact information. Name or theme of the card. Number of card.

If the card is part of a Series, they should all include the name of the series on the back. A Series is defined by a group of cards that have the same theme or a similar element shared by all cards. It can be a single color theme, creative theme or an identical background but with unique embellishments or focal images.

As the Artist Trading Card movement grew, on-line trading groups popped up on the internet as a solution to people who wanted to trade but did not have a local organized trade meeting to attend. One such group ATC_Zone, a yahoo group started by Ann Marie Phipps does a great job of simulating the face to face meeting by encouraging members to discuss all aspects of Artist Trading Cards in a forum style discussion group.

These members get to know each other and naturally new on-line friendships are formed. Phipps organizes Artist Trading Card Swaps for the Group’s members from start to finish. Themes are posted along with details about the types of cards that can be submitted for the swap. She also personally distributes the cards amongst the members via the postal system.

As the desire to sell and purchase Artist Trading Cards gained momentum, a new marketable piece of art referred to as Artist Cards, Editions and Originals, (ACEO) came into being. Not everyone agrees with this development. Purists resist the ACEO movement, as it is in direct opposition to the Stirnemann’s original idea. Whichever side you take in that debate, we can all agree that these little pieces of compact art are beautiful.

An Edition is an original card, unique unto itself. If more than one identical card is created of a particular Edition they are numbered consecutively. For example, the artist would write “1” on the back if only one card is made. If the artist goes onto make 4 cards, the cards would be numbered as follows: 1 / 4, 2 / 4, 3 / 4, 4 / 4.

It is Artist Trading Card etiquette to enclose the finished piece in a protective sleeve of some kind.

The majority of traders prefer a card that can fit in a sleeve, however I’ve seen cards made of clay, cards made of chip board and cards made of fabric, metal and wood. All of these cards fit the size specifications but not all of them can be placed in a protective sleeve.

Interpretation is up to the individual artist.

Once you’ve got the blank canvas in front of you, there is an endless supply of tools to use in the creation of a card. It’s always best to start with a theme, it helps you focus your creative energy in a single direction. Start with the background of the card. Sponge paint it, stamp it, cover it with decorative paper; the options are endless. Now that your canvas has a little depth, a little color it’s time to focus on the theme.

Most Artist Trading Card enthusiasts have a plethora of 3-D embellishments that they’ve collected. In addition, they create their cards using collage elements such as vintage photos, paper flowers, rubber stamped images, words, ribbons, beads, postage stamps, etc. The list is endless.

Like all things you’d like to get yourself involved in, just start! There are several books on the market that offer inspiration and ideas. In addition to the basic 2 ½” x 3 ½” format, I have seen Artist Trading Cards in a Triptych style. Essentially, this type of card has small side extentions that fold to the middle, thereby giving the artist a little more space to embellish.

The best part of making Artist Trading Cards is the opportunity to really focus your creative thought along the lines of a single theme.

Recently, I participated in an Alter Ego Swap. It truly gave me an opportunity for introspection. What are the hidden sides to my ego? As I begin to assemble a single Artist Trading Card, I fully enter into the creative process. I’m not worrying that there’s less than a half-scoop of laundry detergent left or that the septic tank is cracked and needs to be replaced at the tune of $3,000.00. No, I’m digging through my rubber stamps or my ribbon trying to find the right image or the right color that expresses the idea I have in mind for a particular theme.

It can be compared to way back when… you were 8 years old and playing outside until dark on a summer night with your brothers, sisters, cousins or friends. You were fully plugged into the moment. All that you cared about was the game of tag you were playing just as the street lamps began to light up. You were free from worries about yesterday or tomorrow. So go liberate yourself. Get creative. It’s the best therapy out there and it’s free. Well, almost free I mean there was this really cool rubber stamp I saw the other day….

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