Monday, May 19, 2008

ATC = Artist Trading Cards (Portable Art)

Art for your pocket!

Floral Sun by Stacy Zimmerman

Artist Trading Cards (AKA "ATCs") connect people. They make art more accessible and they serve as calling cards for artists whose work will be thought of each time someone looks at the card. I have received them from artists all over the world, people whose names I might forget if not for this tiny artistic reminder of their styles and senses of design and color.

Dismissed by some as not being "real" art, artists such as Andy Warhol and Jean Michele Basquiat made and traded ATC's back in the 60's. These rare treasures are now priceless.

Adam Puryear's work was on display at the NY MOMA last year. Museums in Germany, Canada, Switzerland and the United States have held exhibitions exclusively dedicated to Artist Trading Cards.

India Bollywood Series by Stacy Alexander

I first began making ATCs around five or six years ago. The ATC genre consist of collectable pieces of miniature art that are created by artists of every skill level from across the world and then traded with no exchange of money.


Although ATC's existed throughout the 60's, the more contemporary version of the concept was born of the older sports-themed trading cards and is attributed M. Vänçi Stirnemann, for being the primary person to begin organized trading sessions in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1997. However, ATC's can even be traced back to portrait miniatures and to a kind of business card popular with Impressionistic era artists.

Bellah II.

ATCs are typically made on a base of card stock. However, they have also been created on metal, stiffened fabric, plastic, clay, glass, balsa wood, leather, embroidery canvas, acetate, heavy watercolor paper....You name it! 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.

Wild and Free by Ahkeraliisa

Prayer by Mollycakes

Entire art organizations exist that to hold elaborate theme-based ATC swaps that have deadlines and certain restrictions . These groups often produce museum quality artist trading cards. Alternately, there are casual groups across the world that meet weekly for the express purpose of creating ATCs as a social outlet. In the latter case, the face-to-face trading session is considered an integral part of the concept, although many people find each other via the internet and trade by mail.

Stacy Inkblot by Stacy Zimmerman

ATC artists observe certain conventions 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 each card. The only standard rule for these cards is their 2.5 by 3.5 inch size, the same as baseball cards and collectible card games.

A group of ATC artists in Wisconsin.

An offshoot of Artist Trading Cards are the "art card, editions and originals" (ACEO). ACEOs originated when some artists began to create cards to sell, in addition to trading among themselves. The selling of these cards is a sore point with some ATC enthusiasts; but, of course, the provision that cards should not be sold is not an enforceable one. Trading cards in other areas such as sports have also been traded and sold. The practice is meant to explore the temporal miniature in art, to augment the income, increase visibility, circulate small works more widely, as well as increase their patronage. These cards sell from five cents each to hundreds of dollars.

Birds in Paradise by Greer Gschiwnd

If you would like to try your hand at creating artist trading cards, there are a number of great books out there to help you get started. One of my favorites is:
Artist Trading Card Workshop: Create, Collect, Swap (Paperback) by Bernie Berlin available on

There is also an online forum called the Worldwide Artist Trading Card Meetup Mesasge Board that connects artists from all over the world who are interested in ATC swaps.

1 comment:

Altered Route said...

I had no idea about Warhol...great article. I still get people asking what ATC's are. Thanks for stopping in at my blog and for linking to me.

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