Art Trading Cards (ATC), Collage and the Fear of Drawing

The joy of creating art


I’ve been considering branching out into some types of art I don’t ordinarily work in.  I have been producing Art Trading Cards (ATC) recently, and my fascination for these tiny pieces of art have led me to examine what I might do outside my normal routine of drawing, painting and illustration.  As long as you stay true to the size of the cards, you can paint, draw, scratch, tear, glue, melt, smear, staple, sew, sculpt or otherwise enjoy any creative effort that appeals to you.  Most recently I have looked at these small white cards and wondered how to integrate elements of collage or calligraphy into my artistic style.  I believe Art Trading Cards to be the perfect venue for such experimentation.  The format is small and there is little sacrificed if I ruin a card or two in my efforts.  I made some preliminary sketches in search of ideas, and soon felt ready to begin. 

I was deceiving myself.


Rough Sketches for Art Trading Cards

Bird on tree branch
Bird on tree branch
Mountain range with blue sky
Mountain range with blue sky
Leaves on a vine--the image for my textured art trading card
Leaves on a vine--the image for my textured art trading card
Creation is a journey, and I'm going to continue on my path until something good happens.  Wish me luck, okay?
Creation is a journey, and I'm going to continue on my path until something good happens. Wish me luck, okay?

Not as easy as it seems sometimes

I looked at the tiny white sheets and froze. My hand gripped my pencil but wouldn’t push it across the card. I walked away and returned to the safe familiarity of my sketch journal. In this book, there is no good or bad—no right or wrong. I scribbled feverishly, drawing faces and landscapes and muscular super-heroes. I signed my name a dozen times with a resplendent flourish. I soon believed I had worked out the jitters and returned to my bright little card. I was again unable to draw on it. In defiance of the neuroses which held me in its clutches, I illustrated a tiny cartoon on the card with an art marker. It was nothing special, but looked okay. I initialed the back of the card, slipped it into a plastic cover and moved to another. My line work was frenzied and bold, but the card was ruined. I reminded myself that no one gets it right every time. If a baseball player gets a hit three out of every ten times at bat, he’s an all-star. I told myself I can surely make something decent thirty percent of the time. The baseball analogy stuck with me, and I began to see the card as an opponent. If the card looked decent, I had a hit. If I could show it to someone then I knocked one out of the park. I glared at my small sheet of Bristol board as if I were having a stare-down with a hit man and realized I needed a break.

I relaxed on my living room couch and thought back to my earliest efforts at painting: staring at my stark white canvas, afraid to make a mistake. I conquered the fear of ruining a 4x4 foot canvas then, and I knew I would soon feel the same freedom to mark on a 2 ½ x 3 ½ card. I never expected at my age to be nervous about drawing on a small card that cost nearly nothing, but life throws odd twists at us. An hour later, I felt rejuvenated and returned to my task. I reached for a new card and, brandishing my pen like a rapier, lettered a complete alphabet on my small piece of Bristol board. It wasn’t calligraphy yet, but I did make letters. I even congratulated myself for how nice they looked.

I moved into my basement and rummaged through my supply cabinets. I sifted through paper, felt, buttons and even a few old coins. I came across some small pieces of foam and finally found my inspiration. I cut the foam into small pieces with a scissors and glued them randomly to the art card. Next, I applied a small coating of gesso to the card and its attached pieces of foam. This gave me a textured surface on which to paint.

The next day I returned to my Bristol, foam and gesso creation. It was raw and uneven. I set out my paints and brushes and began dabbing paint onto the card. I worked it onto and around the foam, ensuring the entire card was covered. Mixing several colors, I abandoned the brushes and applied paint with my fingers. This was no masterpiece, but the process felt strong and positive. I was conquering my fears. I thinned my paint in an effort to create multiple textured surfaces: the original card with foam glued to it, the gesso coating, and the acrylic paint that covered the gesso.

Pleased with the synthesis of color and texture, I set the card aside to dry overnight. I wasn’t certain if I was finished with my project or not—the next day would reveal this to me. I lay in my bed that night and ideas for projects passed through my head. I looked forward to utilizing Oriental art and text into a series of cards. I also envisioned using images from my latest AARP magazine in a small collage. The realization that things were coming together allowed me to relax sufficiently to drift into sleep.

When I returned to my card the next day, I felt the need to work it a little more. It didn’t impress me as an abstraction, and I sought to add an identifiable image to my multi-layered artwork. On my way to the mailbox to see which monthly bills were waiting for me to ignore, I saw a small vine growing around the bottom of the mailbox pole. I had my image. Tossing the bills on the kitchen table to be reviewed in a few weeks, I returned to the basement and drew a small green vine with leaves extending from it. The drawing was unspectacular by itself, but I believed it would augment my textured art card perfectly. A little green and yellow paint and ten minutes later, I had my image. The simple shape and colors augmented the rich texture of the card perfectly.

More importantly, my reluctance to attack the Art Trading Card seemed to have been conquered. In the next few days I created several images simultaneously, moving from one card to the next as the mood struck me. I began to incorporate images from Oriental art, and soon I will incorporate still more three-dimensional images. The 3-D aspect of the cards currently thrills me, and I look forward to more adventures in creating tiny works of art. Perhaps more significantly, I look forward to working through artistic challenges and progressing, both as a persona and creator.

Wish me luck, okay?

Art Trading Cards and You: a Poll.

Were you familiar with Art Trading Cards before reading this article?

  • No, I had never heard of them.
  • I heard of them but didn't know what they were.
  • Yes, I collect them.
  • I create my own to trade with others.
  • Yes--I invented them.
See results without voting

Comments 14 comments

Truth From Truth profile image

Truth From Truth 6 years ago from Michigan

Great hub Mike, I had little knowledge in this area. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge. How is your Jay Hawks recruits looking for next year? anything new?

billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Nice hub and looks very challenging - the small size as you say makes it look deceiving.

JannyC profile image

JannyC 6 years ago

Good luck my friend! I so know what you mean but we come out better in end. I know I have tackled things in writing that are outside my venue. It can be nerve wrecking. Seems you overcame it though so you are already a better artist for working through it.

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Truth, thanks for stopping by. Jayhawks got a commitment from Josh Selby,'s #4 rated player. They are still in the hunt for their #13th rated player also, a 6'8" forward. Next year should be fine. I noticed today that Kyle Singler is coming back for his senior year at Duke, so they should be in good shape, also.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my article on art trading cards. I appreciate it.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

billyaustin, thanks for reading. As you say, the small size makes it seem like it should be easy to draw on those cards, but it is deceptively challenging. I think I'm getting the hang of it, though. Stay tuned and we'll see.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Janny! I always like finding that you've stopped by and left a comment or two. I am feeling pretty good about the art thing right now--just in time for what felt like a little writer's block. (When in doubt, write about an artist's block, huh?) I will post another hub when I return this evening, so hopefully that's out of the way, also.

Thanks a lot for stopping by. As I'm sure I've said at least someplace else--you're always welcome.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

Cool hub, thank you!

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Thank you, Paradise. I appreciate your stopping by.


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

I am cheering you up and I believe in you Mike, Cmon, Thank you for the share and you are a talent, Maita

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Maita, thanks so much for your encouragement--it is greatly appreciated. I have continued to struggle a bit, but things are luckily going a bit more smoothly now. Thanks again, I appreciate your support.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Sounds as though you are no longer intimidated by those tiny cards. I think that every artist is intimidated at one point or another while looking at a blank canvas, blank piece of paper or other medium. Been there! Now...I have to read more about these trading cards!

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Peggy, yup--I got past my stare-down with the blank card and now it's going pretty well. I will confess my next obstacle is the notion that because they are small they can be finished quickly. I now set them aside for a few days or even a week and then work them a bit more. It's too easy to say I'm done a few minutes after beginning, otherwise.

Well, thanks again, I appreciate your comments a great deal.


rml 6 years ago

Your illustrations are very nice. I'm sure your cards are treasured. Keep up the good work.

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

rml, thank you for your kind words. I sincerely hope my little cards are appreciated.


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