Artist Trading Cards and Origami
By Gacharná Ramírez, Gerardo
© February 4, 2024
I share here details about artist trading cards in the origami community and their exchange. I could not find all of it together in a single place or–some of it–explicitly written somewhere on the web, and I wish I did when I was a beginner on the subject. It is all based on different sources which I present at the bottom.
Some might not agree nor follow the restrictions I mention for the trading cards, but just like we expect certain limitations in regard to origami, we should also expect some in relation to artist trading cards.
The Cards and Swaps
In an artist trading card swap–in the paper folding community–participants are expected to make a specific number of cards using origami or that they include something in origami. You can see some examples through the following link. Click on each image to see them completely and in full-size: Artist Trading Cards (Origami Place)
Participants can include other arts or crafts on their cards: digital media and printing, photography, collage, scrapbooking, stamping, drawing, painting, embossing, embroidery, pop-up mechanisms, lettering, poetry and other literary forms, and so on. They can also make the cards with nothing more than origami, for example, organizing some folds together as a composition or as a scene. Or, if it does follow all the conditions explained in the following paragraph, the entire card can be a single origami model (read below "A Model Design Prompt").
Cards must be exactly 8.9 x 6.35 cm (3 ½ x 2 ½ in), not smaller or larger than that, and the origami must not exceed the limits of the card. Aside from that, the cards should be relatively flat, including its origami. Everything should easily fit into the trading card sleeves. And, unless the rules of the swap specify it, participants can usually decide between a portrait or landscape layout. Although, you should know that most people tend towards portrait.
There have been cards larger than stipulated, but these can be folded so that they reach the regulatory dimensions (something like those folding information brochures), or cards with cut-outs, that maintain most of the original rectangle and the correct measurements, or with origami that can be raised or become 3D, but can be flattened afterwards so that the card fits in its sleeve; or cards that include elements that can be removed and inserted again. That depends on the creativity of each participant.
In most cases, a set of cards for the swap do not have to be all the same. They can instead follow a theme–each having their particular details–or they can all be completely different. Some swaps do mandate making all the cards in the set exactly the same, and some participants simply prefer that option. Apart from that, the rules usually ask for specific info to add on the back of the card. However, it is completely admissible to add extra information, for example, something about the very card or even about its maker.
The idea is not to overcomplicate and stress yourself with the trading cards, but to think of a project that excites you, and that you can honestly take on and accomplish. If you are new to paper folding and are looking for easy models that you can use for artist trading cards, you can find Fumiaki Shingu's designs on Origami Club, and a wide variety of traditional designs on David Petty's Model of the Month.
Coat Hanger (2014). Artist trading card based on a practical model which shares the same name*
Hosted Swaps and Direct Trades
In the origami community, hosted swaps are a lot more common than other forms of trading card exchange. Each participant makes and gives their set to the swap host and–in return–each one receives different cards from the other participants. However, there are also direct trades. Potential traders meet, then each one shows the cards they are willing to trade, and if one of them finds something of interest, then that person will make an offer with his or her own cards. This type of trades can be planned and with many participants–which are called "trading sessions", but they can also be an informal activity between just two (or more).
People can make cards at any time and save them for future direct trades. Those cards must at least include on the back: the name of its maker, some contact information, the title of the card, the date, and its number, if it is part of a set (e.g. 1/15, 2/15, 3/15, and so on). Apart from that, people can also offer for direct trades–but not hosted swaps–cards from past exchanges, including cards made by the trader and cards made by others. Many dislike the idea of offering cards they did not make, but that is up to each one and his or her own personal beliefs and gut feeling. In my case, I am in favor since re-trading is an essential aspect of the spirit of trading cards. Often, cards only share a brief time with you, then they continue their journey with another trader, and time after that, they move on to yet another one, and so on. And, in the process, they sometimes travel between different cities and even countries. If a trader does offer cards made by others, it is courteous to let the other person know which of the cards were not made by him or her. In regard to hosted swaps, each participant must present a new set of cards made exclusively by him or herself.
I strongly recommend starting direct trades instead of only participating in organized swaps; it makes the artist trading card tradition much more intricate and exciting. For example, if you participate in an origami convention, do you have a way to contact other participants beforehand? If so, let them know you will bring cards for trading–aside from the ones for the swap–and invite them to do the same.
On one occasion, a swap host returned to me a good number of the cards I made for the set. That was because not that many participated. That can be disappointing, but it was actually an opportunity in disguise. I could then include them among the cards to offer during direct trades. However, those cards were basically identical, making it a very limited offer for trading. To fix that, I could have traded those cards for the extras the other participants got back as well, one from each. That way, I would have ended up with two of each fellow participant, one for me to keep and the other one for future trades, and I would have broadened my offer for direct trading in the process. If something like that ever happens to you, I invite you to look at it like if it was a game... trade as much as needed until you no longer have your returned cards from the swap, and instead have completely different cards made by others. That will probably take more than one meet-up with fellow traders, but when you finally accomplish it, you win!
One last thing. If you ever get bored of only trading the cards with fellow origamists, you can always exchange them for artist trading cards outside of the paper folding community. If you search about it through the web, you will find different options both in person and online. Two examples are: the Facebook group Artist Trading Card Swaps and the website ATCs For All.
A Model Design Prompt
Are you an origami creator and design your own original models? Here's a little design prompt for you: a model of an artist trading card.
Design a folding sequence, so that you start from a standard size square (e.g. 15 x 15 cm, 24 x 24 cm, 30 x 30 cm, 35 x 35 cm...) and end up with a rectangle of exactly 6.35 x 8.9 cm (2 ½ x 3 ½ in). In addition, the rectangle must display some sort of decoration, maybe a tessellation, some image, symbol, pattern, etc. using color changes, or some other type of folded embellishment, and it must all be able to fit inside a trading card sleeve. That means, it cannot have tips or flaps that extend beyond the 6.35 x 8.9 cm and the model cannot be voluminous either. The main idea is that–through the very sequence–it ends up with the right dimensions instead of using a ruler... like magic, but it is probably math.
Bear in mind 15 x 15 cm squares are not really 6 x 6 in. Good luck!
I wish to thank Jean Baden-Gillette–host of the OrigamiUSA convention ATC swaps–and Serenity Asmaa–administrator of the Facebook group Artist Trading Card Swaps–for offering me comments regarding and earlier draft of this article. They were very enriching and helped improve the text. I did disagree with a couple of comments and omitted those when writing the final version. I also want to thank MaryAnn Scheblein-Dawson–first host of the OrigamiUSA convention ATC swaps, Gregorio Vainberg–vice president of Origami Argentina, and members of the Facebook groups Artist Trading Card Swaps and ATC Artist Trading Cards, for answering all my questions about the subject.
ATCs For All (n.d.). Help. https://atcsforall.com/forums/help
Corfman, L. B. (n.d.). Swap guidelines. Origami Place. https://origamiplace.com/swap-guidelines
OrigamiUSA (2023). Artist trading card swap [Convention 2023]. https://origamiusa.org/convention2023-activity-atc-swap
Stake, C. (2005). The formal artist trading card statement. https://www.artisttradingcards.org
Torres, L. (2023, October 29). Talo Kawasaki -Excerpt on Artist Trading Cards [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/7kJSSK5_MJA
Artist Trading Card Swaps [Facebook group]. https://facebook.com/groups/273627172979030
Shuval, B. (2007, February). The artists' trading cards exchange. The Paper, (94). https://origamiusa.org/thepaper/issue-94-february-2007
*Trading card, model, fold, and photograph by Gacharná Ramírez, Gerardo ©