Unfortunately having a large collection of big paintings or drawings is not often possible because original artworks and their shipping around the world cost money and they also need lots of space at your home to be presented in the best possible way. However, this does not mean you couldn't own a piece of art from your favorite artist: the solution is artist trading cards, also known as ATCs or ACEOs.
At the beginning of this article I introduce what these little cards are. To trading and creating ACEOs in DeviantArt us take the artists themselves by interview: The artists let us know how they started trading and what keeps them doing it. They also share their best tips of creating and trading these cards!
What is ACEO?
ACEO is an acronym that stands for Art Cards, Editions and Originals. ACEOs are variants of Artist Trading Cards (ATCs) and the arconym ACEO often refers to cards that are being sold. They are usually originals, but ACEOs can also be editions of small prints or sometimes even photographs. However, here in DeviantArt term ACEO is widely used to refer all kind of cards in certain size so for sake of consistence, in this article I use term ACEO for both traded and sold cards.
With ACEO there is only one rule: the card's size is 2,5 by 3,5 inches (6,4 cm x 8,9 cm) which is ideal for standard sized card-collector pockets and sheets. The cards can also be framed and hung on the wall - the way you want to store these miniature artworks is up to you!
ACEOs are created by hands with any media artist desires, for example from pencil drawings to acrylic and watercolor paintings or collages. ACEOs created on flat surface are the most common - and easiest to collect and store in sleeves - but the artists can also add fabric, ribbons, gems, wood etc. to make their cards 3D. Some cards are completely made of clay or metal! There are as many styles as there are artists creating these cards.
Also themes and styles are varying all the way from hyper-realistic to more stylized. The groups dedicated trading cards are often based around certain themes, for example a fandom or original characters created by artists themselves.
Interview with ACEO artists
How long have you been creating and trading ACEOs?
How did you learn about ACEOs and what made you start?
I didn‘t know anything about these little cards till I got an invitation to join ACEOfursXchange club operating at Livejournal. I was immediately excited about the idea of trading ACEOs and back in 2008 I participated and created my very first ACEO! Only a few months later I became a new admin of this club and traded many ACEOs with talented artists from all over the world. In 2010 the ACEOfursXchange moved to deviantArt where you can find it even now, up and running
I made some cards back in 2011 because I had some paper leftovers of similar size... I had vague idea about these cards back then, I knew something only from what I deducted from artists' comments under few cards that appeared in my messages from people I watch. When I joined my university in 2012, I realized there will be no time (nor space in dorms room) for any bigger works, so I did some proper research and decided to try trading... So I made a few more cards so that I have something to show, and then I asked a few people, and they agreed... And I was hooked.
It´s been about five years - I've been trading ACEOs from 2010, which seems to be really long now
I remember that I never wanted to draw such small cards, I always prefered bigger drawings, but then I made an ACEO for Dragarta's birthday - she is collecting them, too, so I wanted to give her something nice. After few weeks one of my friends opened ACEO trades and I thought: Hey, it wasn't so bad last time, let's try it again! And that's how it happened
I made my first ACEOs in 2009 and have made at least one per month since March 2010. I don't remember especially where I saw the term at first, somewhere in dA anyway. Then I read more about them and just thought 'hey nice idea let's try'.
I've only actually been making and trading ACEOs for about four months. I started getting interested in doing art trades, but wasn't sure the best way to do it as a traditional artist. I figured there must be a group that would help organize trades, and came upon ACEOfursXchange. I had never heard of an ACEO before, but it seemed pretty straightforward, and the work I saw in the galleries was fantastic! Everything was very organized - the trades were monthly, you got assigned a partner, and there were repercussions to not fulfilling your half of the trade so you were less likely to be burned. Plus, because ACEOs are so small, shipping them (even overseas) is cheap and easy.
For around four years or so. I had seen some around various websites, mostly DeviantArt. I only started drawing and trading them when I suddenly got an invitation to an ACEO trading club on DeviantArt and accepted it. That's when I made my very first one.
The first ACEO I created was made in 2008, but trading on a regular basis came two years later, in 2010. Another important year for my ACEOs is 2012, when I started to decorate the cards with a frame, which is now my recognition sign.
I honestly don't precisely remember, what made me start. I remember that back in the 2008 I saw those cards at my favourite artists' galleries, such as Dragarta's, and that was the initial stimulation to try it too. However, I was only 14 years old at that time and my art wasn't very good, so the trading was rather a rare thing, done among some of my friends. The turning point was acquiring a membership in OC-Trades and ACEOfursXchange, and since then I make ACEOs quite periodically.
What is the best part about trading ACEOs?
Receiving an envelope and opening it, seeing the card in real sunlight, and watching the collection grow, of course... But I also really enjoy the challenge of people wanting me to draw stuff I wouldn't normally draw, like, ever. Even though I sometimes struggle, I always gain some valuable experience from it in the end!
There are so many awesome things that come with being an ACEO/ATC artist, but the best is definitely getting to be blown away by the insane creativity and talent of your fellow artists! I love being surprised by a card I wouldn't even have thought to ask for. Even when a very specific theme is given, I'm usually floored by what I get! Plus, there's the simple pleasure of getting mail that isn't a bill - something I've grown to appreciate the older I get .
I really love the whole concept of the cards. It is much easier to acquire a piece of art from an artist you admire, both if you want to trade it or buy it. If the artist is busy, (s)he is rather willing to agree upon such a small thing as an ACEO. The second benefit is that you receive a real piece of paper, not just the image, that you can see only on screen. Also, we all know that during the digitisation process (scanning etc.), you may lose details and change colors, but the original is simply the original. And finally, you can collect them, one by one, and every card is different from the other and it comes from a different part of the world. I personally like to keep the post stamps, too. I think it is quite a cheap hobby with a product of a great value.
Giving & getting art - art trades in small size. And easy storage.
The creating process when you get to use your imagination and design a card made just for your trading partner. Also collecting lovely and unique cards from so many different artist from around the world, while being able to give them a piece of art in return. Receiving an ACEO in the mail is always nice.
I think the best thing is that ACEOs are so small! Which means you can create one in only a few hours, send it quite cheaply to all corners of the world and easily store your cards in albums. And since they are quite easy to make you have greater chance to arrange an ACEO trade with your favorite artist than for example usual art trade, which takes considerably more time.
Best part..., well, it would be easier to find the worst part . I mean, everything about ACEOs is great. When you create your part and try to make something original which would make your trading partner happy; when you get an envelope, you open it and there is a beautiful card inside; when you can see your character drawn or painted in so many styles from so many artists; when you manage to trade ACEOs with really great artist you adore for a long time - and so on. No best part, because the whole trade is the best
Share your best tips about creating ACEOs!
If you cut your card papers by yourself, easy way to get correct size easily is to use any trading card game card to draw outlines in pencil, then use ruler & paper knife to get cleanly cut card (or big scissors. Or if you have steady hand, just go on with smaller ones.)
There's no limits of materials. Drawing/painting on paper is the most common, sure, but you can make a papercut, sculpt, sew, glue, knit, overall use different materials just the same way as any bigger traditional arts. LIMITLESS possibilities.
It’s very easy to start. Actually you do not need any special accessories or tools, just traditonal art supplies you normally use and some 2.5 x 3.5“ papers. If you’re lazy to cut such small papers yourself, you can even buy some precuts (Daler Rowney makes many various types of papers for ACEOs). For sending your little originals it‘s good to buy some plastic card sleeves. And don’t forget about storing your own fabulous collection. I recommend buying several 9-pocket pages specially designed to store trading cards in binders or card albums. ACEOs are the same size as Hockey cards or Magic the gathering, so it‘s very easy to find fitting sleeves in stores.
Creating a good ACEO is all about utilizing limited space, and (for me) going through 15 different pencil sharpeners to find the one that gives the best point. For the most part, it's much the same as a larger drawing - you want a dynamic composition, good colors and light usage, contrast, etc. The only difference is your canvas is a bit smaller. That can work in your favor, though... instead of being intimidated by a sea of blank white, your only intimidated by a puddle .
Try to venture outside your comfort zone when sketching out the card. Put some thought into creating pieces with backgrounds and using various angles instead of doing simple portraits, cause that will make the finished picture more interesting.
1. When thinking how to draw your subject, get involved your heart and imagination. If you try to understand what you are drawing, understand the personality of the character and its importance for the artist you trade with, it will help you create a beautiful card with an idea and atmosphere. Even if you might not be the champion of technique you use, idea and atmosphere can make a great deal and improve your art a lot. Just think about the character as of a real creature, with is thoughts, problems, pleasures, emotions, typical activities and surroundings.
2. Think about the composition and original placement and pose of the subject. Try various perspectives, etc.
3. Remember that ACEO is a piece of your art, that should be equal to larger pictures. Don´t skimp it. People will appreciate your work, if they see you really do your best. That goes also for the cases, when you´re not quite happy with your partner´s card for you. If you want to be good, you can´t afford to make bad cards, no matter the reason.
4. Try to establish some sign or whole style typical only for your cards, so that they stand out in every collection.
5. You don´t have to rely only on drawing/painting techniques. Don´t be afraid to combine various techniques, materials and papers, and glue it together.
ACEOs are small, but that doesn´t mean you can make five cards in ten minutes and everything is alright. The smaller the picture, the bigger the challenge - be creative! Find out as many things as possible about your trading partner, what he/she likes, what he/she doesn't, some information about his/her character and so on. You can make a beautiful card with a head of somebody's character, but creativity is also great.
Another tip? If it's possible, see the ACEOs your trading partner got from other people and try to make something new, something what is missing in your partner's collection.
And, of course, practice, practice, practice. Be patient and precise, trading ACEOs is not only about making your own collection, but mostly about making your partners happy.
Uhh.. Improvise? That's the way I work, anyway But no, seriously. Boring but useful: if you want to get better at something, practice. If you want thin line, use thin marker/brush/sharpened pencil. Helps avoiding frustration! And if you want to have smooth card borders, use papercutter.
What advices would you give to those people who want to start creating and trading ACEOs?
You absolutely have to try it! Make a few cards, see how you cope with the small format and how you enjoy working on a card, and if you like it, I definitely reccomend to become a member of some trading group. You can make a trade every month without fear that your request will be rejected as in personal trades, you get to know some people and they get to know you. You can try drawing different subjects and practise.
If you ask your favorite artists to do a trade with you and they reject, don't be too sad. You will discover that there is a plenty of other good artists and that it makes you happy to give and get a card to/from people you didn't hear about until then. Just you wait for your future self, checking your mail box every day, looking forward for an envelope with exotic postage stamp and postmark. And some time later, perhaps the super-cool-and-super-busy artist will agree on a trade with you eventually. *^^*
In case that the other artist owes you an ACEO for a long time, don't be afraid to kindly remind him. I personally have a terrible memory and would prefer to be reminded of a trade than hear a gossip that I don't fulfill my promises, etc. However, if the other artist doesn't respond or refuses to cooperate, be assertive. It may also happen that you think the card you receive doesn't have the qualities of usual artist's work and it is just a quick scribble so "there is something and the card is done and gone". That happened to me and since I worked very hard on the card for that person, I wanted some justice. If you find yourself in such a situation, politely ask the artist to improve it, perhaps you can also ask other artists their opinion to back you, if the artist refuses. That kind of problem is easier to solve, if the trade is provided by a trade group.
Be brave and just give it a try. Don't let the small size of the canvas intimidate you, I'm certain you'll find it fun creating trading card-sized art.
If possible, join a group or club for finding partners to trade with. Don't be afraid to ask strangers either. If you're nervous about it, maybe trade with your friends for starters.
Do your research - if you want to trade an ACEO, you should know what it is! Make a few cards so that people know what they can expect from you. Next step is really simple - politely ask someone to trade with you. However, before asking for a trade, it's a good habit to always check person's homepage/journal. Many people have their trading status written in there - if they are currently not accepting trades, don't go nagging them. Not everyone trades these cards (that's why also ATC/kakao/skethc card expressions exist) so if someone only sells them, don't ask them for a trade either. Also, I would suggest joining some ACEO group. Some of them can pair you up for a trade with other people on a monthly basis and these usually tend to ban people who do not do their part or are otherwise "bad traders". That way, you can avoid some bad experience!
Just do it! There are a handful of great groups dedicated to helping you find trading partners, and failing that you can just note someone you're interested in trading with. You don't need fancy supplies - I know a lot of artists who cut their own cards - but you do need to be comfortable giving out your address, and paying the postage to send out your half. Nobody wants a trading partner who cries poor when the time comes to swap.
Use thick paper - ACEOs are cards, they don't work well if they're floppy.
Many people have said that ACEOs are harder than regular traditional art pieces because the canvas is so small. I tend to think it as some standard sized paper in smaller scale, not just a small piece of paper. It helps. And using of thin/sharp pens and pencils...
Simply start and be careful - collecting ACEOs is highly addictive! And after you‘ve finished your first cards, please do not forget to sign and date them on the back. Your trading partner will appreciate it for sure!
Don't be shy or scared, just start - and you will be surprised, how much fun ACEOs are . Just find some artist who is trading ACEOs too and write him/her - it's that easy. Most people are kind and will trade these little cards with you
Storing the collected cards
I have cards organized by date and by layout (landscape/portrait). One card on each album page contains dA names and country of authors of 8 cards that are on that page. I have currently reached over 180 cards!
Because I just started collecting, I actually have them posted all over my cubical at work! Taupe is such a boring color, and being surrounded by it was mind-numbing. Once I run out of space, I'm going to have to get a binder and start switching some of them out. I love being surrounded by art at work. It makes coming in everyday so much more pleasant!
I have them stored in folder and some are in frames around my home, I tend to switch them occasionally.
I have two collections – bigger for pictures of my character Dragarta and smaller for cards with my cat Kraken.
I've taken two photos, one with the collection opened and second with collection closed.
Since I have almost 300 ACEOs in three albums, I am so not going to take a photo of my whole collection - it would take ages However, if you are interested in my ACEOs, you can find most of them here.
Any other thoughts about the topic you would like to say?
Come on, trade, it's highly addictive. Most traders are really friendly, but it is important to communicate. And do so before actual trading, it helps avoiding misunderstandings and feeling of being cheated on both sides. Do you wish that the other person does not make and sell prints of a card that contains your character? Do you want to do your part black and white or digitally? Do you wish to keep the original and send the print? Or not send the card at all and just trade via internet? Tell it to the other person before starting the drawing. Another useful thing, especially if you trade a lot, is to make yourself a datasheet to keep track of your trades. Here is an example of mine. This way, I can make a pretty decent estimate how long it takes for card to reach to different places.
When you send your ACEO out to your trade partner, for sake of getting it there in good shape, put it into a plastic sleeve or fold a paper around it, and preferably put a piece of cardboard as support if the envelope is not sturdy enough. A small card alone in bigger envelope may get awfully smudged when it moves there.
I would like to take this opportunity to invite talented artists interested in trading ACEOs with various animals to join ACEOfursXchange. Our club has a quality control but feel free to hit the join button if you want to take apart .
I don't know if this is blasphemous, but I actually do a majority of my trading off site. IllustratedATCs.com and ATCsforAll.com are both sites dedicated solely to the creation and trading of mail art. They hold monthly match trades, ongoing swaps, and a variety of challenges to help get the creative juices flowing, and have a very tight and active community of artists.
On DA, ACEOfursXchange, ArtistTradingCards, ACEO-Central and ACEO-ATC are my go-to ACEO groups. That being said, I'm always open to a trade on DA! Just drop me a note
- Have you traded/sold/bought ATCs/ACEOs?
- What is the most fun part of creating/trading ATCs/ACEOs?
- What is the most trickiest part of creating ATCs/ACEOs?