I can't believe I haven't written a blog post before about ATCs, considering how much they are a part of my life. Oh lordy - where do I begin? At the beginning? Alright.
I was on my lunch break at The Reporter in the summer of 2006. It was a routine of mine on my breaks to hit my favorite haunts downtown - The Knitting Room, As You Wish, Bookworld, the Fond du Lac Antique Mall and of course, Bagelmeister. This particular day, I believe it was in August or September, I had gone to Bookworld for my latest stash of magazines (I was, and still am, a magazine junky. I'm getting better, though). I was looking through the knitting magazines, as that was my hobby/obsession at the time, and came across a magazine called Cloth Paper Scissors. I've always loved paper, and the title was intriguing, so I thumbed through it.
I was instantly mesemerized. I bought the magazine, pored over it at lunch, and then read it cover to cover when I got home. I had always been interested in doing some sort of artwork, but I didn't realize there was a whole culture of people who had the interest but may not have been classically trained or educated as an artist. Like me.
Throughout the magazine, the articles kept referring to ATCs. The problem was, nowhere in the magazine did it give a definition about what an ATC was! If only there were some way I could find out....well, once I got online, I found an entire universe filled with people who were making Artist Trading Cards. This intrigued me even further, so I spent every night for a week researching how to make them, how to trade them, where to trade them, etc. It was like discovering the Holy Grail. (For those of you who are reading that don't know what an ATC [Artist Trading Card] is: it is the size of a baseball card, 2.5" X 3.5", made from any material [paper, quilted, polymer clay, etc.] with any medium. I prefer collage, but others do just watercolor or metal. It's all up to the artist. When you're done with your cards, you NEVER sell them; you trade them with other artists, either online or in a live trade, which is what I prefer.)
I began trading on Swapbot.com, which is an online community where you trade not only ATCs but all sorts of things. Because it's Swapbot, however, that means that you're paired with someone via a bot, not a real person. So you never know who you're going to get. Some people that I've met on Swapbot I am still online friends with; however, once bitten, twice shy. I made what I thought were quality items and many times never got anything in return. So I quit Swapbot and turned to Flickr and ATCsforall.com. These are far better, in my opinion; first of all, you get to see who you're trading with. The quality of cards is far superior, too.
Because of my connection with ATCsforall, I met Carolyn Brady. She was trying to set up a live trading group in the southern WI/northern IL area for quite a while when, in the summer of '07, it just clicked. The first-ever meeting of the Milwaukee ATC group was in August of that year. I attended my first one in September, and have been an active member ever since.
Since that fateful day nearly three years ago, as a direct result of that group I have:
*Met about 100 new people with a common interest
*Learned thousands of new art techniques and tips
*Set up my own Etsy shop
*Taught three classes
*Posted all of my work on my Flickr photostream and gotten paid work from it
*Gained enough confidence to forge ahead and quit my day job and become a full-time artist
So now you can see why I can honestly say that ATCs have changed my life. They are no longer a "hobby"; they are a passion. I have no idea where this passion will lead me; all I know is that I'm along for the ride.
(The image is my name tag that I made for our live trades.)