Artist Trading Card Top Tips!

Hi there! My name is Bekki, and Ali has been really kind and let me take over her blog today so that I can tell you a bit about my design process. I’m going to share my three top tips on designing an ATC.

I’m always blown away by the awesome ATC’s Ali’s swappers share on Flickr. I love to see how people interpret a theme in such different ways. But coming up with an idea or design that you’re happy with can be quite a daunting task when you sign up for a swap like this. Wondering ‘will my ATC look the way I see it in my head?’, or ‘will my swap partner like it?’ can bring the self-doubt gremlins in with their anxiety glue that sticks the creative muscles so they can’t move. I hope it’s not just me that feels that way. Anyway, I watched the ATC swaps from the side-lines for a long time before I plucked up the courage to join in because of those pesky gremlins.

Being prepared and having a design you love will fill you with confidence and send those gremlins away. So, here are my top tips:

Tip 1

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If you’re anything like me, the first thing you do upon learning the theme for the swap is to look up from your computer and … stare into space for a while. I found the best cure for this is to brainstorm ideas very quickly so you can see where your creativity is leading. There are lots of methods of doing this, but the one that works best for me is to take a piece of A4 paper and draw lots of 2.5” x 3.5” rectangles in both portrait and landscape orientations. This gives you ATC sized thumbnails to sketch out your ideas as they come to you. These don’t need to be perfect drawings, just a rough sketch of the things that come into your mind when you think of the theme.

In the photo you can see my sketches for the ‘say something’ ATC swap.  My mind went in all kinds of directions with that theme so I was glad to get my ideas down on paper where I could see them all. Just very quick and simple line drawings are enough to convey your idea. No masterpieces here.

Using this method means you can see how the scale of the design will work and how it will fit into an ATC. You’ll find that your eyes and thoughts keep going back to the same one or two designs so finding your favourite is easy.

This method can be really helpful if you are a visual thinker.

Tip 2

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My next tip can be a scary prospect for some, but it really works so bear with me.

Drawing or painting your design in a small sketchbook can help you to simplify any complicated shapes in your design so it’s easier to make your ATC later.

Here’s an example

For the ‘winter comfort’ ATC, I wanted to express the idea of being with friends and family. I decided that birds huddled together in the snow would be a fun way to do that, but when I searched for images for inspiration I soon learnt that when birds huddle they really squeeze tightly together and tuck their heads in to keep warm. It’s very cute to see but it’s also really hard to tell one bird from another. I didn’t want to embroider a mash of birds so I used my sketchbook to figure out how I could draw a group of birds together without losing the definition of the individuals. I then simplified it for the ATC.

This doesn’t have to be a masterpiece either, just a way of drawing simple shapes and imagining how to reproduce it in a tiny ATC. Remember, sketchbooks needn’t be intimidating. Nobody else needs to see inside yours, so don’t worry about perfection, it’s just a sketch.

Tip 3

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My third and final tip is to cut out an ATC-sized window in a piece of card or paper that you can use to visualise how the ATC will look when it’s cut down to size. Holding it over your work will frame it, helping you to make sure you stay on track. It will also help you to decide on the placement of your design elements, so they all stay within the piece and don’t have to be trimmed out later.

So there you have my three top design tips. I hope they help. Do you have any tips for designing an ATC? Maybe you have a design method you go back to time and again. Please share it in the comments!

Thank you Ali for letting me be a guest writer on your blog today. Thank you too for organising these ATC swaps for us. They are a lot of fun!

4 thoughts on “Artist Trading Card Top Tips!

  1. I loved this post thanks, very helpful advice particularly the genius frame idea. As a newbie last swap, I can say more about what not to do e.g. don’t start with A4 sheets then scale it down as I did! Think the most useful thing I learned was to have the background fabric bigger than you need and tack an ATC-sized outline on it which can then be moved out if everything shrinks in during the making process.

  2. Thank you so much for these wonderful and very practical tips. I might just summon the courage to put some ideas down on paper.

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