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Artist Trading Cards

By Richard Rosenbaum

The last time you thought about trading cards, maybe there was a picture of, say, Wendel Clark, or that Bo Jackson guy on them, and a length of dusty, petrescent bubble gum stuck to the back, obscuring your view of some Vital Statistics such as RBIs or FBQ or whatever. Or maybe there was a competently rendered Shivan Dragon on the front, and you had to tap four mana to unleash its rage on your op­ponents’ Goblin Raiders (or tap an additional mana to imbue it with the power of flight, and soar right over their Wall of Thorns).

Sorry. I was having a high school flashback there for a second.

The point is, most people associate trading cards with sports or col­lectible card games. Stuff that rarely has much, if any, artistic merit (even if they can be entertaining), and at worst represent the threat of turning into an obsession. And even the rarest of them are still mass-produced by the thousands and sold for way more than they’re worth.

Not so with Artist Trading Cards, a fast-growing phenomenon where artists create their own 2.5″ x 3.5″ cards (the size is the only limitation). Cards are usually on card stock, then artists draw, paint, write and stick anything they want on the front, creating their own card which they then give or trade to someone else–totally personal and individualized. It’s a fascinating new art form; the standardized size makes the pieces in­stantly recognizable for what they are, but beyond that, there’s nothing that a creative person can’t do with them. Typically an artist will include their contact info on the back of the card as well.

Some artists use the trading card format as a business or calling card, with a little example of his or her art to give out to people that might want to keep in touch. Others will print a copy of a larger work (say, a full-sized painting or photo) onto cards to give people a taste of what the artist’s work is all about. But many, if not most, treat each indi­vidual card as a work of art in itself. Rather than being mass-produced and sold by the millions, artists create one-of-a-kind pieces that you can fit in your pocket, and give away to friends or strangers, or trade for an equally unique piece of art created by someone else. There are even in­ternational networks of artists who regularly exchange cards through snail-mail. The cards are infinitely customizable, eminently affordable, and the perfect DIY ID or gift card. You can go around carrying an entire art gallery in your pocket. What’s more original than that?

For an intro to Artist Trading Cards, and a guide to getting starting creating your own, check out

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