The Benefits of Artist Trading Cards (Ep. 100)

If you follow Nic’s blog or social media accounts, you know all about the Artist Trading Card swap. In today’s episode, she talks about the story behind how the swap got started and how her first trade kept her interested in doing more. Listen as she discusses why you might want to do a swap, the benefits for your students, and some how-tos if you want to implement it in your classroom.  Full episode transcript below.

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Nic: Back in 2010, I did my first art trade with my students. I contacted my cultural liaison. Her name is Yuko Larson, and she connected me with a school in Japan. We created a 9X12-ish piece of artwork. It was a watercolor, and it kind of explained a festival that we celebrate in Minnesota, and their students did the same thing, kind of talking about their culture and what is important to them as students. We sent over these beautiful little water colors, and they sent back these amazing 24X30 inch, huge prints, wood prints in fact. They were absolutely stunning. The compositions were immaculate. Yuko helped me learn that the students actually create prints from kindergarten on to fifth grade. They really concentrate on printmaking at the school, so their skill level was much higher than maybe what we would see when we give our students so many different experiences.

But, what the students of my school learned was a lot about their culture. We learned that they play soccer. So do we. They learned that for festivals they have fireworks. Yeah, we do, too. They also learned some differences, such as this particular school showed images of students cleaning the bathrooms of their school. That was a great conversation as well.

I got to tell you, this first trade was what sparked my thirst for global learning and creating that experience for my students. Today, we’re going to share. I’m going to share a bunch of ideas of why you would want to bring art exchanges into your classroom and maybe a few how-tos as well. This is Nic Hahn, and this is Everyday Art Room.

Before that first big, giant trade, I actually did some small trades. So we’re going back maybe even 2009, but probably early 2010. Now, I found people by just requesting someone to trade with me using my blog, Mini Matisse. I had people such as Marcia Beckett. She has a blog called Art is Basic. Lauralee Chambers, you would probably know her on Instagram as 2artchambers. Anne Farrell, she’s an art teacher in Australia in Perth. And then Erica Stinzeni.  Stinzeni? Oh, I am sorry, Erica. Erica is actually not a art teacher anymore. She is a very talented photographer. Her photography business is called Stella Blue Photography, and she’s as well very prominent on Instagram. So, definitely check out all those people because they were kind of the first people that affiliated with me when we were starting trades for our classrooms. All of them I’ve been able to watch them throughout the years, and they have great stuff to share.

This was the start, but, man, there was a lot of problems as I began. What would happen was I just put out a request. Hey, anyone want to trade with me? People would email me, and we’d start a conversation. But maybe they had 300 students in a grade that they were going to exchange with and I had 100. That would mean that all of my students would have to make art three times to get back one piece. Another problem was, especially throughout the world, the more global aspect is sometimes school would start and end at awkward times between the two of us. So in Australia, their winter is our summer and vice versa. That made it difficult to find a good date that would work for both of us where our students would have a chance to work as well as getting it in the mail and to the other schools.

Now, it was really a learning experience to go through all this, and I really appreciated it, but one thing, one of the biggest problems that we ran into, was the size difference. People would send art of all different sizes. That is when I started reading about artist trading cards. Now, I’m sure many of you know what artist trading cards are, but let me just quickly explain. An ATC is a 2.5X3.5 inch card. They’re little works of art, mostly intended to trade with another artist. Sometimes professionally they’re actually sold between collectors and artists.

This was a really fun size that we could create on and then easily send to one another in the mail. We decided to go with artist trading card size. These little works of art were created by all different levels, so we had kindergartners, even preschoolers participating, on up to high school level. I always allowed teachers and paras to participate as well if they wanted to. Most mediums would be very acceptable for this, dry mediums, even what mediums that could dry. We didn’t want them to three-dimensional, but a little bit of a relief was fine. Then, we really, really encouraged high quality. We found from not giving a lot of standards of what kind of card was expected that we had a variety of craftsmanship and materials that maybe didn’t stand. So over the years, our artist reading cards have become a little bit more specific on the requirements when we traded.

Now, I have become much more sophisticated in my trade, and I still work through my blog to communicate when the trade happens. The first year that I did the artist trading herd swap was in 2015. I created a free experience for all schools that were participating. I had about 50 schools participate and about 300 … Or, I’m sorry, 3,000 artist trading cards come through my classroom. I enlisted my art teachers in my district to help me distribute them back to the schools that sent them to me.

So what happens is you, let’s say you’re a participating school, might send me a hundred cards. Then, I would go through and take 10 from one group, 10 from another group, 10 from another group, and send them back to you. Then, you would get a hundred cards from multiple places. That was kind of the idea. But, the first year we didn’t know to pack the artist trading cards in groups of 10. So I got my friends to come on over, and we packed all the cards in groups of 10, and then distributing them. Yep. Continue to learn, right?

Second annual artist trading card, we did have everybody indeed pack them up in groups of 10. Then, I had one participant that made a huge difference in the artist trading card swap. Her name is Miriam, I’m going to try, Pasternaster. She’s from Italy, and her blog is Arte a Scuola. And man, oh man, is it amazing. She is a very prominent art teacher over in Italy. What she did was she just encouraged her colleagues to participate in this artist trading card. We always had about 20 schools from Italy throughout the north to the south who participated in the artist trading card swap. So in my second annual, we raised our school participation to 76 schools, and we had about 8,700 cards swapped.

By the third annual, I needed some help with finances. So what I did was I changed a bunch of requirements. I actually sold it on Teachers Pay Teachers. Prior to that, I had always asked my PTO to just help me out and pay for all the postage. But at this point, I decided that it was important to have the participants also help out, so I asked for a small fee so that I had some money to put towards postage. It never covered all of it. I still went to PTO and asked for a little extra, but it did make it a lot less of a burden on my school.

I also, for the third annual, changed the deadline. I definitely wanted to make sure that we had plenty of time. I think that was a crunch for a lot of schools. They didn’t have enough time to create. And we had all the packages coming in in December. Dan, my mail guy, he is a saint. Every time that I’d go in there for those two years, he’d be like, “Oh, another 70 packages to go throughout the world. Awesome. Hey, you know, it might be best if you didn’t send them during the holiday season.” Good idea, Dan. So now we have everybody sending them roughly after a holiday in January, February, and the artist trading cards are coming back to the schools in March.

Now, one thing that we noticed, and I kind of alluded to this earlier, is the quality of the artist trading cards were diverse. I did put some requirements together. What I did was I flipped my lesson, actually three lessons, on artist trading cards, what quality is, how to cut your own artist trading cards, and just what an artist trading card is instead of the quality. Focus more on what it is.

Now, I actually did this while I was taking a class through The Art of Education University. I was taking a grad course getting my two credits. The grad course was called Flipping the Art Classroom, and I flipped my classes all the time. I always am recording. But what was really interesting about taking this course is it helped me kind of scaffold and plan a lot better to have a higher quality flip. It showed me how to develop a flip lesson that could be used multiple times in a very meaningful way. And actually, what I’ve found is these videos that I flipped on artist trading cards have been used thousands of times throughout the world, so it was definitely worth it. I’m glad I put the time in. That graduate course called Flipping the Art Classroom, is two credits, grad credits, or you can actually take it for 90 clock hours. So, it’s a pretty good deal. I found it to be very beneficial.

The fourth annual was this last year, and it was the biggest, of course. It just keeps growing. Our total schools that participated was 122 schools. Oof. We had over 13,000 cards that came through my classroom. The cards were all packed in 10 by the individuals who sent it, as well as the packaging had a return address on it. So, it was very easy to look at the package. They marked how many cards they sent. I could find the cards that I wanted to send back to them. Although, I’m not too picky. I just take 10 from many different levels, ages, places, and send them back the same amount.

We had lots of schools participating from outside of the United States this time. It ended up being 14 schools from Italy, three from Canada. We had Vietnam, Morocco, Belgium, Thailand, Australia, Japan, and Spain. I mean, it was … There was real diverse group that participated in the fourth annual artist trading card swap.

What do I think my students learn from this? Why am I doing this? Well, I really take the time to make it exciting. I mean, I am talking to my students about it way in advance so that they’re all pumped up to first create amazing piece of artwork and then to receive this little gem that they got from someplace else in the world. So it’s not something that I’m like, “Oh, we’re going to do artist trading cards.” I’m talking about it, pumping them up, telling them how amazing it is that they’re getting a piece of artwork from an artist someplace else. My attitude definitely sells and makes the artist trading cards experience very exciting.

Then, we play games. So I had this one called Tick Tack. This was before the music app called TikTok. Tick Tack is a craftsmanship game. I have them trace out artist trading card sizes in their sketchbook, one, two, three, four of them. And in the first box, I give them a subject. And most of the time I give them architecture. We talk about what that is. I say, “Okay, you have one minute to create an artist trading card. Go.” They all dramatically get started and their hand is moving. That’s one of the rules is their hand has to move the whole entire time. And that one minute is up, and they’re like, “No!” I make them dramatically stop as well. Their hands up in the air, and then I give them three minutes for their next, and five minutes. And then finally, they have 10 minutes for the last one.

Sometimes we take a gallery walk in the middle of this so that they can get more ideas of how they can add more details to the artist trading cards. But what we discover every single time is that the artist trading cards get better. There’s more details as we spend more time on the card. It’s an invaluable game, and it’s perfect for the artist trading cards.

This small piece of art, the small format, allows us to experience many different mediums and processes very quickly because it’s so tiny. We are doing a lot of printmaking. We are exploring different color mixing, different mediums such as oil pastel blending, or scratch art of some sorts, or painting. It’s amazing how many different things that you can do when you’re exploring in such a small little format.

It also shows that there’s value to artists no matter what age they are. There should never be any age requirement on being an artist. You don’t have to be a certain age. You don’t have to wait until you grow up to be an artist. You can be an artist now. I think by receiving an artwork from someone else that is a similar age to you somewhere else in the world, it allows you to think of that person as an artist, and therefore think of yourself as an artist.

Then, obviously, the global connection, figuring out where these cards are coming from. A lot of times when I’m starting this artist trading card or when someone new is participating, they ask, “Well, how do you actually trade? How do you do the trade amongst your students?” At one point, I actually took each card and I thought about the student. I was like, “Oh, Max, man, he just really … He loves sports, and I know he’s going to love this card. And it’s hard. I have been able to connect with him, so I’m going to put this sports card in his.” I took a lot of time and gave it a lot of thought, and they each got a little gift from me. But every single time, I have them trade amongst themselves if they want. And you better believe that Max was the first person to trade his card.

So here I thought I was doing something very specific, very thoughtful for my students and they just want to have a card and they just want to trade it. So now I have them pull one out of a bucket. I give them three minutes to trade amongst themselves, if they so choose. Then, we take a look at that card and we just really examine it. We all sit in a circle, and I give them three seconds with every card. They look at the card, silently. Then, I say switch, and they switch to the right and they get a new card. They’re looking at that one, switch. We do that until you end up with your own card again. That allows every student to see every single card that was received by their class.

Then, we take a little time to reflect in our sketchbooks. This year, I had small envelopes that I had them put their artist trading cards into. They glue that envelope into their artists trading … or into their sketchbook. I’m sorry. Then, they divided the rest of the sketchbook up and they wrote questions. How old is the student? Where did it come from? What is the subject? What mediums did they use? Then, they answered their own questions. So there was a little time for reflection.

Now, those are as far as I like to take it in my classroom. But, I have a friend, Vicky Williams, she’s currently teaching in Vietnam, and she does this huge art show with her artist trading cards where she brings in the whole entire school to look at and celebrate with the art that came in. I have other friends, like Art with Mr. E. You know him, Ted Edinger. He is amazing. And when he gets his artist trading cards, he puts on a huge display in his class. Or not even his classroom. He does it right outside where everybody gets to celebrate as well and can see where the cards came from. Ashley McKee, she is Ashcan Works. You’ve heard of her as well, I’m sure, from Instagram. She did a similar thing where she had a map in the center and then all of the artist trading cards around. It allowed everybody to celebrate with her.

There is tons of benefits for your students, of course. They learn a ton through this. But, one more huge benefit is the connection that is made between educators. This connects art educators throughout the world. A lot of times people are finding out about this artist trading card swap through Instagram, or Twitter, or on my blog, and then we start tagging. We always had a tag it was at … Or, I’m sorry, #atcswap. You can go ahead and check that out. You’re going to see artworks from teachers who posted all over the world.

So, we would connect with each other. Then, a lot of times with the trade, those little bundles of 10 would come with information on it. So you’d be able to search that educator as well and tag them in post on Instagram or on social media in some way. I think that there was a lot of blossoming of collaboration between teachers that received art from each other. There was introductions, shall we call it, where they got to meet each other on social media and maybe they didn’t know about each other prior. It really inspires lessons for one another and processes. I mean, sometimes you get an artist trading card and you’re like, “Oh my gosh. That teacher/student taught me how to think about oil pastels in a whole new way,” or something like that. It has really helped our educators grow and learn as well.

What part of this podcast resonated with you? Are you intrigued by creating a swap between classrooms? Do you like the idea of using a small format to practice new processes, mediums, and methods? Do you like the collaboration between educators? Could you see yourself investigating more about this in your classroom next year?

If you would like to participate in the fifth annual artist trading card swap for 2020, please visit my blog August 1st for more details of how to sign up. We’re actually going to sign up for it later in August. I would love to have you join in the fun. It’s a one-person operation. I run it 100% by myself, so I do have to close the signup at a certain number so that I can manage it. I’ve learned not to go too big so that I have a higher quality. If you don’t get into the swap for any reason, start asking around. See if there’s other educators out there who would be willing to swap with you between schools. You can find them on social media. Use Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

Also, I would like to encourage you, if you have any questions that you might be wondering, please contact me via Instagram. My Instagram is @minimatisseart, or Twitter @minimatisse, or email, All right. This was a lot of fun. I will talk to you soon.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.