original ATC by Cheryl Poulin

I thought everybody knew about artist trading cards. But I was totally wrong! So for those of you who are curious about making them and trading them, this page is for you.

Let's just start with the one and only rule for ATC's (as they're known)...they can be no larger and no smaller than 2-1/2 inches by 3-1/2 inches.

These little canvases, as I like to think of them, are traded around the whole world! That just amazes me. From crafters to amazing fine artists, artist trading cards carry along our artful messages around the entire globe.

On this page, you'll see the step by step creation of artist trading cards. And then you'll learn where to look for trading groups or even how to start your very own trading sessions, known as swaps.

The ATC featured above is from a theme called "Self Portrait". It's titled "Bubbly Personality". Yep, that's my attempt at drawing myself! Oh well!

For your viewing pleasure, you can access the Artist Trading Cards Images Gallery. You'll be amazed at the imagination of some of these artists!

I'll keep adding more and more artist trading cards as I collect them.



Making artist trading cards is easy. All you need is a pretty vivid imagination, lots of doo-dads, card stock, old pieces of yarn, lace, pretty papers.... you get the idea.

Because I was making cards for the purpose of a demonstration it seems I just couldn't think of a theme for myself. Not that you need one, but I wanted to have one. So I asked my unsuspecting husband, out of the blue, "Give me a theme!"

Shooting me a perplexed look, I explained further. "I'm making artist trading cards for the website and I can't think of a topic."

He said, "Life's mysteries." I don't know if he was being sarcastic but I took it to mean that the theme would be "mysterious". Off I trotted.

assorted card stock

First you have to select the "support" for your ATC. You can choose sturdy card stock, plain or colored. Sometimes you can find playing cards that are just the right size. And another good source for pretty cardstock are the rigid pages that come from fabric sample books. (Free if you ask an upholstering shop for their discontinued books.) Also, 140lb hot or cold pressed watercolor paper is great.

handmade papers, precut

I love to use hand-painted cardstock and I precut a whole stack of supports so that I'm ready for any trading opportunity. Sometimes the design on the decorated cardstock itself will dictate what my theme will be.

Below is an ATC viewfinder that I made. By positioning it over a large sheet of hand-painted cardstock I can choose areas that I really like. Then I trace inside the viewfinder with a sharp pencil and I cut out my cards.

ATC viewfinder

To make an ATC viewfinder, cut out a piece of sturdy cardboard to the size of 4-inches by 5-inches. Cut out a window in the middle that measures 2-1/2 inches by 3-1/2 inches.

handmade cardstock

I chose these two pre-cut hand-painted cards. The color was moody and perfect for what was beginning to form in my mind.

I started to think about things that were mysterious...

At least, mysterious to me. You would likely choose very different objects and that's part of the fun. Everyone creates their own interpretation of a theme.


So I picked out some of my collectibles and stuff, referred to as ephemera, pronounced eff-fem-eera...or something like that. Notice the old cat earring, puzzle pieces, snake skin, and brass hearts (love is mysterious, don't you think?).

This was a good start. Sometimes I'll use the ephemera I've selected, other times it just sits there as I dig for better goodies.

Golden Matte Gel Medium

To glue down papers and fibers and lightweight objects I really like to use Golden Matte Gel Medium.

Some people use glue sticks for paper to paper glueing, but I have found that this type of glue in time becomes brittle and the integrity of the cards is compromised. Things start to come unglued.

I want my artist trading cards to travel the world, to get handled a lot, and to last a lifetime. So I use the Golden Gel.

To apply the glue, use an old brush and clean up with soap and water. Don't let the gel dry in the brush. Rinse and blot dry the brush as you work.

more ephemera

Rooting through more of my ephemera I select fibres, threads, brads, European paperclips (those spiral brass doo-hickeys)and drywall mesh tape that's seen better days.

I am now poised and ready to create one or two artist trading cards with the theme "Mysterious".

atc in progress 1

I found a torn piece of polka dotted paper. It wasn't cutesy polka dots and I liked the blue and grey. Then I glued down some black fibres in an unplanned way. Just wherever the fibres landed was where they got glued down. Then I selected a blue puzzle piece and glued it down.

So far so good.

atc in progress 2

I cut a square of old drywall tape and glued it down. When it was dry, I drybrushed some white acrylic paint across the mesh. I just loaded a dry flat brush into white, wiped the brush and dragged it lightly across the drywall tape.

When I did that, the blue of the puzzle piece was irritating to me, so I painted it with black acrylic paint. The little canvas was suddenly way too dark. I needed a neutral unifying something.

Up to the spice cabinet in the kitchen I went. Star anise... that's what this needs. I found my jar of that licorice-scented seed pod.

I selected a half star anise and glued it on top of the mesh. This caused some imbalance. So I found a dried stem among the pods and glued it down on the left-hand side.

The finished ATC!!!

original ATC by Cheryl Poulin

There you have it. I was going to make multiple artist trading cards, but I ran out of time. Trust me though, I'll be making more!

There's one last thing...

On the back of the ATC you need to write down the following:

The theme, if there is one. In this case "Mysterious".

The title, if you have one. In this case, "Untitled".

The artist's name, Cheryl Poulin.

Where you can be reached.

Phone number is optional but e-mail or your website is a good idea.

And then sign your miniature work of art!

Here's where you can get a whole lot more in-depth information on Artist Trading Cards.

Stay tuned for "how to Trade Artist Trading Cards."

Take me to the HOME page.