"When people ask me, 'What can you do with such a small space?' my answer is, 'Everything — everything and anything,'" said Marie Buckley, coordinator for Artist Trading Cards in North Plains.
The small space in question? A meager 2.5-inch-by-3.5-inch piece of thick paper or cardboard, the size of a typical trading card, that artists participating in Artist Trading Cards (ATC) events must bring, designed with their personal art on one side and their contact information on the other.
Artist Trading Cards (ATC) is a community exchange — some even call it a performance art — that originated in Switzerland during the late 1990s by Swiss artist M. Vanci Stirnemann. The only real rule of participating in ATC is that the cards must be 2.5-by-3.5 inches. Artists are welcome to use any material that appeals to them and are encouraged to experiment with textures and designs.
At a typical ATC meeting, artists exhibit their trading cards, explaining their inspiration and methods, then swap their cards with other members of the group. As artists frequent more meetings, they begin to amass a collection of ATC cards created by their fellow artists.
Today, nearly every major city in the world has ATC swaps and can even be found online.
Buckley, a former teacher and writer in Washington County, began experimenting with visual art after her retirement. One day, she found ATCs and, thinking that it could be an interesting way to bring people together, decided to make a workshop in February 2016 to teach others in the community about Artist Trading Cards, how to make them and what an ATC event looks like.
"When I was first introduced to Artist Trading Cards," Buckley said, "I thought, 'Oh my goodness, how could I ever make anything that small?'"
A month after giving her ATC workshop, Buckley worked with the North Plains Library to establish a monthly ATC group. The group, since its beginnings in 2016, has met every third Thursday for artists to exchange their cards with other local artists.
Like traditional ATC meetings, the North Plains monthly gathering has a theme that inspires the cards. The themes are kept somewhat open-ended to encourage a creative interpretation by the artist. This year, monthly themes at the North Plains ATC exchange have ranged "opposites" in March to next month's theme of "bugs."
Buckley, who, in addition to hosting the ATC meeting at North Plains, also hosts ATC trading in Sellwood and works as an ATC card trafficker between the groups so that people living in the Sellwood area and people living in the North Plains area can exchange with people beyond their immediate group.
ATC meetings have become a wonderful way for artists to experiment and challenge their skills, while offering a supportive community in a line of work that can sometimes be isolating.
After years of making ATC cards, Buckley reflected, "In the beginning, that space seemed so small, but now it seems so big."
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