Artist Trading Cards

Artist Trading Cards
No, it’s not kids sitting around chewing bubble gum and saying “I’ll trade you two Holbeins for a Rembrandt.” (Although I love that idea.)

Artist Trading Cards are small, usually original, works of art by contemporary artists (or non-artists) that meet certain criteria and are swapped between artists and collectors.

The original concept came from Swiss artist M. Vänçi Stirnemann who conceived of the idea in 1996 and launched a project in 1997 with a show of 1200 cards he created.

The idea blossomed and grew and there are now hundreds of participants around the world. Many get together at artist trading card meetups to talk and trade cards.

Several art galleries offer ATC events. There is a brief description of the basics of the cards and the activity surrounding them on the New Gallery site and the Alternator Gallery site as well as this artist’s site, and a more extensive one on the site.

Also a number of individual artists and collectives (and here) post images of cards, both their own and others they have traded for.

The general rules for Artist Trading Cards (ATC) are:

The card must be the size of a standard trading card: 2 ½ x 3 ½ inches (64 x 89 millimeters).

A card can be ether an original work or a very small edition.

The back of the card should have a signature, the date and the number (if the card is part of an edition) and ideally an address for the benefit of contacting the artist for additional trading.

Techniques and materials can be almost anything: paintings, drawings, collages, photographs, rubberstamp works, mixed media, found images, assemblages, beadwork, woven, string, doctored existing trading cards, etc. The only real rule here is that the card should fit into the standard plastic album sleeves for trading cards, which leaves out anything too dramatically thick or three-dimensional.

The cards are not to be sold, only traded or given away. (This is a noble attempt to keep the practice non-commercial, but as with comic book artist convention sketches, that trust is sometimes betrayed; artist trading cards can be found on eBay.)

The cards should ideally be original, but reproductions or “editions” are permissible. There is some controversy about this, mostly centering around the failure of someone to be up front about the nature of the work when swapping.

There is also controversy about suspending judgment when swapping to avoid assigning value to the cards (the “quality” and amount of effort put into the cards varies wildly). Stirnemann himself has struggled with the issues of copies vs. originals and the suspension of critical judgment.

Look through the links on Stirnemann’s site and do a Google search for “Artist Trading Cards”. There are numerous forums and community sites devoted to the subject. There is a large Flickr group devoted to the subject with over 400 members and more than 2,000 images.

Community, and sharing art with others, seems to play a large part in the appeal of the practice. At the very least, it’s a fascinating concept.

Link via Metafilter.

6 Replies to “Artist Trading Cards”

  1. Thanks for stating where this concept originated. I love artist trading cards. I’ve made a few beaded ones for just for fun. I like them because they make art even more fun to collect…

    You can view my ATC’s HERE.

  2. I recognize a few of those cards you have posted….I’m assuming you have permission from the owners to post them? I don’t see the original artists names referenced…
    While I’m glad that you are raising interest about ATCs, its’ good to make sure it’s done the right way.

  3. HELLO!

    Diane Hall
    63 Ash Road
    Northway Tewkesbury
    Gloucestershire Gl20 8QA

    Joanna Wolska
    ul. Krzyzanowskiego 9/10
    80-271 Gdansk

    Małgorzata Krefft
    Ul. Zwinisławy 2a/11
    81-572 Gdynia

    Małgorzata Golec
    ul. Wita Stwosza 10/27
    44-100 Gliwice

    Joanna Ruszkowska
    ul. Szczęsliwicka 2/5
    02-352 Warszawa

    Joanna Grabowska-Knapek
    ul. Rzemieślnicza 22
    34-130 Kalwaria Zebrzydowska

    “This is the first ever ATC (Artist Trading Card) “Play it Forward”
    letter- where stampers, scrapbookers and other artists join forces
    to create a fun swap that will hopefully never end.
    The basic requirement is to make six (6) ATCs and snail mail one to each
    person on the list below. Then remove the TOP name from the list and add
    your name and address to the BOTTOM. Either print this letter out and
    send it to six new people, or if you prefer as I did, e-mail it to
    six new people. Keep in mind that we would like this swap to continue
    so please forward it to like-minded stampers &/or artists who will
    follow through with this project.
    You will hopefully receive a large amount of ATCs and this swap
    will continue to thrive for a long time. If by chance you do not know
    six other ATC artists or six other people who would be interested, try
    e-mailing artists from the back of your collected ATCs.
    Rules for trading cards:
    ** Size must of course be 2 1/2 inches x 3 1/2 inches
    ** No thicker than 1/2 cm (about 1/4″ with embellishments)
    ** Open theme (any topic and all can be different)
    ** Please put contact information on the back of the ATC
    ** Please forward cards and letters within four (4) weeks of receiving this letter


  4. artist trading cards are my life! im obssessed with them! i cant leave my house with all my blank and drawn on cards to work on and show every one. art is my favorite subject and when i found out about these cards last year i had a blast.

  5. Thanks for the comment, Britney.

    I was in the Dick Blick store here in Philadelphia the other day and noticed they were selling packs of “Artist Trading Card” blanks at the counter; with various surfaces, bristol, watercolor, drawing paper, etc; though I don’t see them in their online catalog yet.

  6. Hi there, just loving your site! I have added a link back to this from my site as I am starting an ATC group and think this is a great place for artists to stop by, also I have added your photo above of some cards to show artists what they look like, I do hope that is ok. I have credited your site for use of it.
    Many thanks

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