When I was a kid, I had a baseball card collection. It was a natural extension of my love of baseball. The American pastime grabbed hold of me in elementary school. I received a reward for something or other, I don’t recall what exactly, but it was school related because I got the reward from my school. The reward was two tickets to a regular season night game to watch the San Francisco Giants play in Candlestick Park. At the time that I won the tickets I didn’t know a whole lot about baseball. Sure I’d played it in school during P.E. but I didn’t follow the major leagues or anything like that. I went with my dad, I think that it helped that he was excited about being able to go to a game and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the Giants were pretty bad that season and they lost the game. But the memories of the game and the thousands of people in the crowd all cheering together. The icy chill that settled over the stadium around the seventh inning stretch and even the peppy songs that would play on the organ were infectious. My dad and I bonded over the game and soon we would bond over listening to the games on the radio.
I didn’t catch the games on TV all that frequently, but I caught many of the games on the radio. KNBR 680 or “68″ as they called it broadcast all of the games over the radio and I was always checking to see if the game was on. After a couple 168 game seasons, I became pretty well acquainted with the game and all the players in the National League of the majors in which the Giants played.
I became such an expert that, solely based on the play by play on the radio I could argue with the calls that the umpire made. Those hours spent listening to baseball really sparked my imagination. I could see the game being played in my mind as the announcers called it. The sunny grass of Wrigley field, the oddly sterile plastic smell of the Astrodome in Houston, it was all there in the baseball universe that played out in my head. Around that time I discovered baseball cards. Not only did Topps create wax packs that contained 10-15 cards with randomized cards inside, but there was a stick of gum in the packs as well.
Here were all of the players that had been the actors in the play narrated on the radio and shown on the silver screen in my mind. Full color pictures on the front giving me an idea of what the player actually looked like and on the back I got a full range of stats to discover how they performed on the field. Of course every pack had good cards and bad cards in it. At first I didn’t understand the way that most people attribute value to cards. How rare the card was, whether or not it was a rookie card or even condition of the card meant little to me. I valued members of the Giants most of all, they were the cards that I was most excited to find in the packs.
Oakland A’s were OK since they were local as well, but they were American League so naturally they were inferior. Members of the Los Angeles Dodgers being the long time rivals of the Giants were shunned. Apart from that, the cards out of the remaining pool that stood out were the ones that I could remember from games that I’d listen to so I knew they were famous players. Next came the players that had good stats on the back. Whatever was left was just bulk and filler no matter what their actual value. There was a time when I had some birthday money and I worked it out with a friend of mine that we would go over to the baseball card shop together. Our plan was to buy a box of booster packs and split them.
This was pure collectors nirvana. I had this seemingly endless stream of new cards. Pack after pack to open and stacks of bubble gum to chew. I spent days sorting, reading, organizing and chewing. It is hard to explain the excitement if you don’t already get it. It sounds odd to get so worked up about the endless variety, the different ways of storing, sorting, tracking sets and years and then later on trying to find different players that I wanted to focus on collecting.
If you already understand it, I don’t need to explain it. If you don’t get it and never really got into collecting something that you can use to draw a parallel, well I am not sure you will understand. If you do understand it, then you know what I mean when I say this. That is the feeling that I want people to experience when they collect art cards from myself or any other independent artist that is selling them. That feeling and also the similar feeling that you get from collectible card games.
Not too long after my baseball collection reached its maximum size, collectible cards games began to make their way onto the scene. These card games such as Magic the Gathering, Legend of the Five Rings and Pokemon took the elements of the baseball card and added a set of rules that could be used to turn your collection into an army of sorts that could be used to play a game with your friends. Your cards would be selected from the thousands of available cards and while that selection process could be somewhat simple, it often escalated into a carefully planned collection and card acquisition strategy that culminated in a series of games where more than simple game play was on the line. Additional aspects of deck building, choosing the correct cards and the balance of one type of card vs. another type were often just as important as the skill of the player in the game it itself. It took the hobby of card collecting and added an element of competition to it. A competition for bragging rights which as we all know are important to own. All of this added up to an even greater importance to sorting, understanding and getting the right card in a booster pack. Since the obvious power cards often had high dollars associated with them, being able to group less valuable cards effectively became just as exciting as getting lucky and finding a high value card in your booster packs.
As an artist that makes art in the trading card size, I want to make more than just a work of art in a small size. I want to make a work of art that is both good art and also delivers the same excitement I felt when collecting other types of trading cards.
If you make art cards I am sure that you feel the same way too. I have assembled some components that you can find in other types of trading cards that you can use in your own creations to help create the same level of interest in your own work.
All this naming nonsense
Before I move on to the things that you can do to help spark that interest, I want to mention one thing that the community as a whole needs to sort out to help break down the barriers for artists interested in working within the community. That barrier is all the confusion about names. So what exactly do I mean when I say art cards? I mean any kind of original art that is made on rigid card like material. The dimensions for this card are 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches which are the standard dimensions for other types of trading cards. I am specifically talking about hand painted original artwork, because that is what I do. However, I am not discriminating against any of you assemblage or collage people out there, these tips will help you too, I just don’t work in your media myself so I can’t speak specifically to it. This terminology of art card that I am using includes all of the following card types:
- Artist Trading Cards (ATC) – Even though these cards are meant solely for trading with other artists rather than selling, there is no reason why you shouldn’t work to make these as interesting as possible.
- ACEO Originals – The term for artist trading cards that are not meant specifically for trading. I first saw this term on Ebay to distinguish cards that artists meant to sell rather than trade, sort of like an invisible stamp that makes it OK to sell while artist trading cards should never be sold.
- Sketch Cards – Also Artist Sketch Cards, this is essentially the same as an ACEO Original, this term is more commonly used by comic book and commercial collectible card artists and comes from special extra rare cards that were made available to certain collectors.
- Lunar Monkey Rattleback Jimminy Cards – Really? Can we just all agree on a name already. I really don’t care what they are called, but if everyone spoke the same language we would all benefit from it. There are talented artists making all of these styles of cards and if we could break down the meaningless terminology barriers and start working together; well it would be a brighter future filled with unicorns an rainbows.
Top 10 ways that you can bring magic to your art cards
Numbering your cards
I didn’t number my cards at first, and to be honest, I have only numbered my ACEOs (or sketch cards if you prefer, the ones that aren’t just for trading). However in doing so, I have noticed that it has done three things. First of all it creates a chronological progression that makes it simple to tell when the card was made and what other cards were made in the same time period.
This sets up one grouping method among your cards. These are important. If I want to look at all of the cards within a certain time period, it is much easier to look up cards 150 – 175 than to try search for the dates that each of your cards created. Secondly, the numbering enforces the unique identity of the card. You only have one card with each specific number, it is unique. Uniqueness is important to artists because the original artwork by definition is more valuable than a printed copy.
Show your fans that you care about that by numbering your cards. Finally, the numbering makes an easier way to refer to each card. Because of the number’s uniqueness among your entire body cards you can refer to specific a specific card and identify it exactly.
For instance let’s say that in time you have created a total of 130 cards and are developing a fan base especially among your cards representing Dr. Flantastic the arch nemesis of The Great Spumoni. You have 15 cards of Dr Flantastic that you have created over time and you want to write an article about the progression of this evil villain over time. If you do not have card numbers to identify each card, you will spend a good deal of time trying to come up with a way to identify each card you want to say something about precisely so that there isn’t confusion between it and other cards. If you had numbered your cards you could give a brief description along with the card number allowing those who were interested in knowing exactly which card you were referring to to find it, simply.
Creating sub-series within your work
Lets keep using the example of Dr. Flantastic and his nemesis The Great Spumoni, who live in the great city of Dessertsdale. These are characters that you have created. You like to draw them and develop the story in the world that they dwell in. However I am sure that they are not the only thing that you enjoy drawing. Perhaps you also enjoy drawing cats for people on the inter-webs. The internet is a great place to show off cats and cat related images and being a cat owner yourself you like to draw your fluffy pet named Spartageddon. As a fan of the TV show The Addams Family you also create cards based on its characters. These are three distinct groupings of cards. You could create these cards in random order as the muse strikes you. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. However, as a collector of cards myself, I can say that making groupings of cards within a greater group creates interest. If you have decided to start numbering your cards you have already created one method for collectors to being grouping your cards. Adding additional ways to group your cards means more ways to group and enjoy what you have done. Artists in other media are known to do with this with their work as well, releasing groups of work on a theme rather than a single work. The grouping creates interest and tells more of a story than any single image on it’s own. Looking at the collectible card game Magic the Gathering. Wizards of the Coast, who makes the game, releases 4 sets of cards a year. There is a core set which is simply the non-themed cards, then they release three expansion sets. Each expansion set has a name that ties them all together and it also has a story that goes along with it. I mean this literally, there are actually novels written by professional writers to tell the story of the cards. This adds depth and another level of interest to the cards as they become more than either the actual trading card, or the game to be played with them, they are also illustrations from a story. Each of these three expansion sets is an act in the story which begins and concludes within the release year.
Make sure you clearly identify original art vs. reproductions
This is something that all artists know to do. The original art is more valuable than the reproduction even if it is limited, signed and comes with a DNA sample. For the most part artists are good about communicating original vs. reproduction. However, sometimes an artist doesn’t make it clear that a particular item they are selling is a reproduction, or maybe you just have to go reading through the text to see where it talks about original art vs. prints. Anyone serious about their art isn’t going to try to pull a fast one on their fans; so make sure you are upfront with this information when you are selling it. There isn’t anything wrong with selling reproductions of your work, just put it in the title of the item. As a buyer, I can tell you that it is appreciated.
Similar to the sub-series, themes add an additional grouping within your work. What is the difference between a sub-series and a theme? I think of themes as less obvious ways of grouping cards. For instance,maybe you like geckos and include geckos on some of your cards. You have a two cards of Dr. Flantastic, one of The Great Spumoni, 5 of Spartageddon and 12 other cards in your work that have geckos in them. These geckos aren’t the primary focus of the cards, but they still establish a grouping. Themes cut across series and sub-series to create commonality in your work. They could be geckos, use of certain colors, a particular unique style, a retro look or any number of other things. The purpose here is to put a little more of your personality into your work and add more interest to what you have done.
Develop a primary focus or subject
There are some artists and will create art with just about anything under the sun. Most artists devote their attention to a few different topics. Finally there are artists who have a passion for a particular thing and they devote their entire body of work to perfecting that single subject. If you are in that final category, you are working on massive amounts of dedication and I admire you for your focus. Let’s say you devote all of your work to painting belly-dancers. You may have paintings that are big and paintings that are small and some that are trading card sized. In doing this you are breaking all my rules and making your trading cards interesting simply because they are your only belly-dancers that are trading card sized. I think most artists fall into the category of focusing on a handful of different things that interest them and that is a good thing. Just as the artist with a single laser beam focus can draw interest for being so devoted to that one thing, but maintaining a minimal set of subjects you are committing to them which is draw the attention of people who like whatever that thing is.
As an example, let’s say I am a huge fan of belly-dancing and I come across one of your paintings on the internet. If I take the time to click on the link to your website and see 50 paintings of belly-dancers, I will be much more likely to stay and look around than if that painting was the only belly dancer that you painted.
Create cross pollination between series
Just as themes can cut across various groupings let your series cut across them as well from time to time. Introduce the followers of Spartageddon to Dr Flantastic and The Great Spumoni with an image containing all three. Make something crazy mix them all together from time to time and make something magical happen.
Involve other artists
I would say that the art card community is fairly fragmented at the moment. There are people who have arrived at the same things from many different angles. There are independent artists primarily focused on selling their work in online stores that are looking for a product that is easy to ship. On the opposite end of the spectrum there are artists who have found a community of traders that they share their company and love for art with. Comic book artists have found a way to make fans happy at conventions and special events making original art while people watch them make the paper come to life. All of these groups of people and others have found their way to working with cards. There is a lot to be excited about and many people from all different walks of life doing it. Get involved and find a community you enjoy.
Use consistent backing
The back of your art may not be the focus of your piece, but it can say a lot about you. When your space is so limited, don’t squander half of it by simply scribbling a word or two on the back. Make it your own. I draw up a different artwork for the backs of my cards each year, with specialized backing for specialized sets. The simplest way that I have found to do this is to draw and scan in the work and then use Gimp or your image editor of choice to create your finalized back image. Add a text for commonly used stuff like your name and contact info, and leave space to write information like the name of the card and what card number it is. Then take that and shrink it down to about 1.5″ x 2.5″ and fill a sheet with as many of them as you can leaving borders between them. Print and pre-cut. Then when I have a sheet of cards complete, I use spray adhesive to put a patterned card-stock on the back of the art before I cut them from the sheet. Once they are cut I will adhere one of my pre-cut backings to the card and customize and sign it. It is a little bit of work, but really finishes off the card nicely. Having different art for each year or special set also reinforces that the card belongs to one set or another.
Sign your work
You are probably already doing this. If not you should. You put the work in, now proudly put your mark on it. I do it on the back with sharpie, but you can do it your own way. That’s fine.
Publish Card Catalogs
Want a great way to let people know all of the work that you have done in the past year? Create a listing of cards with numbers and names and even images. Remember those checklists that you used to get in your booster packs? Make it like that but add thumbnails of the art. Make it a showcase for all that you have done. You deserve it.
What excites me?
I would love to get a group of artists together and make booster packs of art cards. I am not exactly sure how it would work. I am thinking something along these lines. Create a set of maybe 100 cards between 10 artists. Each artist creates and signs 10 limited edition prints of each card. Then the cards are divided into semi-random booster packs. Each pack would have 10 limited edition cards and one original card. I think that this would make an absolutely awesome way to get artwork out there and enjoyed in a non-traditional way that is still familiar to people as it mimics trading cards so closely. I would have to but a handful of booster packs just to enjoy opening them up to see what I got. Would this appeal to you? Are you an artist interested in doing something like this? Have your own thoughts on making your art cards special? Leave me a comment below. Written as part of MoJoWriMo, my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo writing spree in 2013