Start Small and Build Confidence: How ATCs Helped Me Grow as an Artist

IMG_4498 [1209223]I started art journaling and mixed media in February 2015. When I started I would often find myself staring at a page too afraid to put something down OR I would get one or two layers down and not know where to go from there.  I often suffered from what I called ” background love” too afraid to mess up the beautiful background I had created. I lacked the confidence to design and create a complete page. But I didn’t give up.

Right about then I discovered the thing called ATCs or Artist Trading Cards. These cards measured 3 1/2 inches by 2 1/2 inches- the same size as a standard playing card.  I bought a deck of cards at the dollar store and cut up the thin cardstock that often comes in packaging of stencils and stamps to the required size. I painted them all with a layer of gesso.

Now I don’t know if it was because it was cheaper or because it was smaller, but suddenly my creativity started flowing . There was little risk. I wasn’t staring  a huge 11X14 size white gessoed page.  I tried some of the techniques I saw on the YouTube videos that I watched hours on end. I tried things that worked and I tried things that didn’t .

I learned that everything can be covered by another layer of gesso and that you can always start again. I discovered that many times what I thought was a mistake was a new creative way to create. I gained confidence. I figured out what kind of mixed media artist was-and what MY personal style was.

Outside of a very few art journal pages created using the Journaling by 5s process I worked primarily on these ATCs from February into July. Then suddenly I wanted more and I started working in my 11X14 journal. I approached my journal with new found confidence and a well developed skill set. My time doing ATCs was incredibly helpful.

The ATCs that I created during this time hang in baseball card protectors in my studio. I look at them for inspiration. A few I have made into full size art journal pages. I wish to share with you how I created some of them.

IMG_4498 [1209223]

This ATC started with a layer of gesso, followed by mod-podging on background papers to add some texture. I then sprayed on two colors of Lindy’s Stampgang Starbursts Sprays.  I’ve just got to have shimmer. When dry I used my bubble stamp with black StazOn. Then I applied Liquitex Flexible Modeling Paste through my Folkart Spiral stencil ( this is my all time favorite).This I only put on the bottom 2/3s of the card.

I printed off my quote onto copy paper. I get most of my quotes from PInterest ( If you go to my Pinterest site, link at top right of blog,  I have a board entitled Inspirational Quotes and one called Creative Quotes. You will find lots of good ideas for your pages). I usually color the paper but this time I wanted to keep it white. I adhered it with Golden Gel Medium so I wouldn’t activate and disturb the effect I got with the Lindy’s sprays. I then used my black Inktense pencil to outline the words. I used my black Micron liner pen to outline the white “waves”. I rubbed the black StazOn ink pad around the edges to frame the card.

If you’re wondering why a prairie girl from Saskatchewan Canada makes art about the ocean you aren’t alone. I have always loved being on the water, especially the ocean. My husband and I plan to retire to Vancouver Island. It is as the quote says ” The waves of the sea, help me get back to me. ”

If you have any “ocean” inspired art. I would love for you to share it on here.

Happy Creating



5 thoughts on “Start Small and Build Confidence: How ATCs Helped Me Grow as an Artist

  1. Cody Doll

    That’s a really great idea. Trying ATCs first, and then moving on to a journal. In a way, I kind of did that. I did the ICAD. I wish I continued past one month. Maybe I’ll try some ATCs.


  2. Julie Turner

    I started out with ATCs also. Was involved with a mail art website, Swap-Bot, and traded with other artists. Was able to learn some new techniques from that. Have also done 3×5 ICADs which l enjoy. The larger journaling pages still seem daunting. I think I’ve decided l like working on a smaller scale, and I’m okay w/ that. 😊


    1. creativekady Post author

      Julie, it’s challenging to work on the smaller substrate as well. Each has its own challenges. I’ve taken ATCs and turned them into cards, taken cards and turned then into art journal pages and art journal pages into canvases. Different skills and techniques are required. It sounds very much though like you’ve found your niche. Karen



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