"Ninety-seven, ninety-eight ... Mom, I need to make two more!"
My 7-year-old son, Quinn, yells as he heads for our jumbled art shelf in the kitchen. He pulls out two pieces of blank white paper the size of a baseball card, colored pencils, and a fine-point Sharpie pen. Briskly, he turns out his 99th and 100th Artist Trading Cards, titled Scandinavian Death Worm and Tennis Ball. He tucks them into plastic sleeves in his three-ring binder, alongside a riot of companions of every color and style. Then he counts them again.
Quinn isn't alone in his obsession with creating tiny works of art on rectangles of paper, either cut by hand or bought in an art-supply store. The Artist Trading Card (ATC) movement, begun in a Zurich, Switzerland, art gallery in the late 1990s, is sweeping the globe. Adult artists swap work in their communities and online -- and, increasingly, kids and families have discovered the trend's charms. Sharing the "collect-'em-all" appeal of other types of trading cards but featuring handmade and utterly one-of-a-kind designs, ATC cards beg to be counted, lingered over, shown off, traded, and treasured.
"There are just two rules in ATC," announced West Hartford, Connecticut, artist and teacher Erika Davis-Pitre at the beginning of the first ATC workshop Quinn and I attended. "Every card must be 2 1/2- by 3 1/2-inches in size, and they can be traded but never sold. Otherwise, no rules: your card is waiting for whatever you can dream up." As proof, Erika handed out binders bulging with cards painted, sewn, stamped, dyed, printed, collaged, and bursting with landscapes, portraits, and poems. The classroom buzzed. As we sifted though collage supplies at our long art tables, Erika laid out a few guidelines. "Write your name and the year on the back of every card," she said. "And think about giving it a title when you're done." As we worked, she passed along more valuable advice: take your time, do your best work, use the whole card, and remember, there's no such thing as "wrong" in art.
Ready to make mini masterpieces? Read on for some of our favorite techniques for creating amazing cards, plus pointers for trading them and resources for supplies.