What is an ATC?

Also Referred to as ACEO or Art Cards

An ACEO or art card editions and originals is an art movement that was started recently and is based on a fellow movement called ATC or art trading cards which became trendy in the late 1990's. ACEO was started in the early 2000's as a reaction to the ATC movement.

ATC was specifically a way for artists to get together and trade miniature pieces of their art work. These mini pieces, art cards, are like a business card or calling card for the artist. An artist would paint a mini painting and hand them out to other artists at an art card trade show. These mini art cards,  measuring 2 1/2" x 3 1/2", allowed other artists to get a feel for the style and range of an artist without having to buy a large piece of artwork. They were economical advertising and a good way to get out and socialize with other artists. Trades for art cards are done by mail or at trading shows. The trading shows can be held at a gallery, a museum or even a small venue like a bar.  Artists never sold their ATCs. ATCs are always traded.

ATC has also become a popular form of expression for people other than professional artists. Many like to collect these mini works of art and do so outside of their original intent. Instead of being a calling card or business card for an artist, many people have caught on to the fun of making art trading cards and have developed online forums and swap groups for ATC. The ATCs are still original pieces of art work but the majority of traders could now be considered craft connoisseurs vs. professional artists. It is typical to see an ATC made of collage materials like pieces of magazines, scrap-book papers, buttons, cloth and even sewn on a sewing machine. Often an online ATC group will have a moderator who picks a theme for the month. Members of the group create an art card or several based on the theme and mail them to the moderator by the due date. The moderator will mail back a different set of ATC to each member who participated in the swap. Collections of art cards can be built quickly and readily using the trading method. There is one problem; you never know what you are going to get. If you are an artists of some skill, a trade could disappoint you. It is possible that you may receive lower quality cards in the mail, hence, the need for ACEO.


Set of Art Cards
Credit: by Corey Poole Brown

What is an ACEO?

A Need Fulfilled

ACEO or Art Card Editions and Originals sprouted from the ATC movement. In order for a collector to get cards that were not considered substandard, the need to buy art cards was necessary. The ATC movement frowned on the purchase of art cards. Die hard ATC enthusiasts have been known to deny collectors who sold and purchased ACEO from joining forums and online groups. Selling ACEO was unheard of. Selling ACEO caught on like wild-fire despite initial resistance. There are several reasons for this. 

Reason Number One

If an art card collector could purchase cards, then it stood to reason that the collector would be able to view the card before the purchase. This ability to preview the miniature art work eliminated the risk of acquiring a substandard piece of art work. The risk of the unknown piece of work typical in making an art card trade had been eliminated. That was reason number one.

Reason Number Two

Reason number two; has to do with the apt description of an artist as a "starving artist". Artists struggle to make ends meet and ACEO proved to be a way for artists to earn a tidy sum outside of large expensive pieces of their work. The ACEO movement on Ebay kept collectors happy while lining the pocket of the artists who produced these mini paintings. 

Reason Number Three

Here is reason number three and it is the best of them all. Remember that ATC are traded and the current fashion is to make the majority of ATC from collages? Not all ATCs are collage material pieces. This is just the current trend and it does not seem to be fading. Selling and buying ACEO opened the door for artists to be artists again and ACEOs are created in a myriad of materials. What this means to a collector is that the true skill of artists are usually rendered in an ACEO. Typically, they are hand drawn or hand painted.  It is common to see miniature oils on canvas or watercolors executed amazingly on these art works the size of baseball cards. The skill is amazing. The talent is amazing. The fine quality exists in these cards because the artists are getting paid for the card. Not all ACEO are equal, however, and this is why it is great to be a collector. A collector can bypass substandard ACEO. They do not have to accept substandard quality as they might have to in a swap. 

Reason Number Four

ACEO allows people who have no artistic skill what so ever to enjoy art work at an affordable price.  In the past, if you wanted to collect art cards but could not make an art card because skill was lacking, you were out of luck. Now a collector can buy these cards without having to worry about creating something in return. Collectors can frame these tiny gems or keep them in binders like baseball cards are kept.

Reason Number Five

The price is right. It is common to see ACEO sell online for about $10 for a decent little piece of art work. Well known artists can sell their cards for hundreds of dollars. A collection is built easily and inexpensively. Spend hundreds for a nice little collection or perhaps thousands on one large piece of original work from an artist. This medium allows people who are on a budget to acquire original art. ACEO is a movement that is here for the long haul.

It is important to note that all ACEO are not original pieces. There are Art Card Editions and Originals. Editions of an art card are usually a print from the artist. A print ACEO will commonly be numbered by an artist and limited. A collector is not getting the same value from the artists as they would when purchasing an original ACEO. Prints are a welcome addition to ACEO because a collector who appreciates a popular artist may not be able to afford an original art card. The print allows a collector to add a favorite artist to a collection without huge cost.