Artist Trading Cards


What is an ATC?

Artist Trading Cards, (commonly referred to as ATCs), are original miniature works of art, similar in size to baseball cards, that are traded with other artists.

An ATC is typically the same size as a regular playing card—2.5″ x 3.5″—and is mounted on heavy card stock. The face of the card can be stamped, painted, collaged, beaded, stitched—anything goes.

ATCs have gained worldwide popularity among many different types of artists including printmakers, collage artists, stampers, even fiber artists. Often artist groups will host swaps where each artist makes a certain number of ATCs, depending upon the number of participants. In turn, each artist receives an ATC from all the other contributors—a wonderful way to network and expose artists to different styles of art.

Excerpt from “I’ll Trade Ya” by Janey Ghio from Quilting Arts Magazine Spring 2004

The History of Artist Trading Cards

The trading card started out as a “trade” (as in commerce) card, an advertisement for goods or services, or as an enticing premium in tobacco pouches or cigarette boxes. While some premiums were actual cards, others were printed on silk.

A historical example of ATCs, from the “Finding a Way to the ATC” article in Quilting Arts Magazine Winter 2004
The introduction of colorful trade cards at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia was a huge innovation in advertising. Prior to 1876, advertising was most often in black and white and consisted of cards, handbills, posters, and fliers. But the people of that time were madly in love with the chromolithographic process, which permitted high detail and rich color. Nearly everyone could and did have a “chromo” art print on their walls. The process was also used for printed scrap and album cards, another Victorian collecting passion. Advertisers took note.

But when did the modest trading card become the Artist Trading Card? It was 1988, and the place was the Calgary Olympic Winter Games. Swiss artist M. Vanci Stirnemann was visiting fellow artist Don Mabie during that time and they found that, besides the arts, they shared a common interest in hockey. Mabie revealed that he collected hockey cards. Soon Stirnemann himself was collecting, enjoying sitting at tables swapping cards and ideas with other fans and artists.

Later, he wanted to document his time as an artist in residence in Calgary, and the card format seemed best suited to his purpose. In 1997 he held a show in Zurich where he displayed more than a thousand of his cards, each hand made. Mabie remembers them as “…pencil drawings, watercolors, rubberstamp works, and text works done on an old-fashioned typewriter.” None of the cards at the show was offered for sale, but Stirnemann did offer to trade them for similar works by other artists and visitors.

One of the best aspects of ATCs is that to make and trade them, you don’t have to be “an artist,” a title some people feel shy taking on. The ATC is small and inviting, and very versatile. You can use a technique you are hugely confident in. You can try something you are a little afraid of. The cards can be highly detailed, or decidedly simple. And when it is time to take your creativity out to play with others, you can find a “meet-up” or a trading session in just about any part of the world via the Internet.

Excerpt from “Finding a Way to the ATC” by Deborah P. Abramovitz from Quilting Arts Magazine Winter 2004

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