see all cities »


A peek inside my collections: pocket art

This goes back awhile, but it’s one of my favourite and most extensive collections. I used to make and collect pocket art, Artist Trading Cards (ATCs) to be exact. It is one of the most interesting and fun ways to collect original art.

ATCs can be one of a kind or made in limited numbers. They can be painted, illustrated, rubber-stamped or sewn. They can be made from a limitless variety of materials including wire, buttons, eyelets and ribbon, and feature tiny windows or doors, sliding parts and secret pockets. They do however, have to be relatively flat.

A proper ATC must adhere to these four cardinal rules:

  • ATCs must measure 2 1/2 x 3 1/2″ – the same size as hockey or baseball cards. This is the cardinal rule that can never be broken.
  • Any design technique is permissible, as long as the result is original. But this rule is subject to interpretation. In my opinion, anything goes as long as the person has put effort into their work. There are ATC purists out there who claim stickers, glitter glue and computer-generated designs are strictly verboten.
  • The ATC must be self-made.
  • ATCs must be traded—never sold.

I spent several years immersed in the world of ATCs (I know how bizarre that must sound) but it’s this last point that is one of the most divisive. People were shunned if word got out that they dared sell their ATCs online. Shunned!

Artists have been creating miniatures for years, but it was Swiss artist M. Vänçi Stirnemann who created the concept of ATCs and ATC trading in 1997. Stirnemann, inspired by the community of sport-card trading, created an exhibit of over 1,000 ATCs and invited people to create their own cards in exchange. No money changed hands, only art. It was this idea that really appealed to me. You can obtain art by making art. It’s highly democratic.

There are entire sites, webrings and message groups dedicated to ATC discussion and trading. It is a highly addictive pursuit. Imagine getting an envelope with these inside them:

Mail art received from Ed B.

Artificial lobster (set of four)

1970s flower atc

For awhile I was even designing my own faux-postage. (See? Addicted.)


You got as good as you gave. And I tell ya, it was thrilling to open my mailbox to find a brightly decorated envelope with my name on it.

I’ve filed my favourite ATCs – ones that I’ve received from all over the world – into special binders with clear sleeves that hold nine cards each. Last time I counted I had nearly 500. Every once in awhile I stumble upon one of those binders and I wonder why I haven’t framed them yet. I would love to show them in an art gallery somewhere. They deserve to see the light of day again, to be appreciated once more.

I quit the ATC world a few years ago. I don’t know if it was burnout or what, but the bug left me and never came back. Sometimes I wish it would.

Mother of two imps and wife of one. Writer, photographer, pro blogger, adventure-seeker, Ottawaholic, social media evangelist and lover of STUFF. Also known as @missfish on Twitter.

5 Responses to “A peek inside my collections: pocket art”


So did you get these cards by creating your own? Is the fish one your own design? It’s lovely and my favourite.

I had never heard of ATCs before this post – had no idea this subculture existed. It’s beautiful and inspirational!


    Andrea Tomkins

    Thanks Lynn! The clown ATC is the only one that isn’t my own. The rest are of my own design/making. 🙂


We used to have the ATC sessions together with the ‘Stitch and Bitch’ – a sort of “how-to” s and technique workshops. Loved the whole concept of doing the ATC and having all sorts of presentations, mostly on women’s issues.


Annie Bananie

I never heard of pocket art. Fun! I also love the movember! Have a great day


enVide neFelibata

Hi! Congrats. Maybe you’ll like to visit


Leave a Reply