October 12, 2005

Embellish It! For Free or at a Discount

If you like to add embellishments to your artwork, I have some suggestions on how to aquire them cheaply, or in some cases, for free.

When buying embellishments for ATC's, remember, most people like to put them in clear trading card sleeves or in the trading card books. Before buying something, ask yourself if the ATC would fit in the plastic sleeve with that embellishment on it. Thin embellishments work best.Buying things from craft and scrapbook stores can be expensive and I avoid them as much as possible. I buy embellishments from several craft supply websites listed in my links section. I've also bought many embellishments from sellers on eBay so I would get the shipping discount. eBay is probably one of the best places to find embellishments. The trick is to find a seller who has many different items you're interested in, and who offers a good shipping discount when you purchase multiple items. When you find a seller, check their eBay store and see what other arts and crafts items they offer.

Dollar Store: You can find a lot of bargains at a dollar store. Buy the fake Barbie doll clothes and accessories at the dollar store and use them like you would Jolee’s. Some stores have a small scrapbook section where you can buy supplies and even rubber stamps. I have bought small playing cards, play money, puzzles, play coins from the toy section, fibers, stickers, paper bingo cards, paper doilies, raffle type tickets, rhinestones, small seashells, sea glass, printed/patterned napkins, beads, books (to use the text pages or to alter), and tissue paper. You may also want to look for silk or dried flowers, lace, raffia, rick-rack, small envelopes, clothes pins, buttons, seed packets, beads, corrigated paper, paper clips, yarn, embroidery floss, and bows. Use your imagination when scanning the isles and ask yourself "Is this something I could use to embellish my artwork?"

Thrift stores are a great place to find items like books, which I use to alter, or use the text pages as backgrounds for artwork and ATC's. Foreign book pages make great backgrounds for ATC's and a nice addition to altered art, mixed media, collage and assemblage pieces. I especially like French and Chinese text. Also check out second hand book stores for foreign text books, math books, dictionaries, sheet music, etc. Those kinds of things make great background papers. Thrift stores are a great place to find bingo, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, and Monopoly games - using the cards and money to embellish and the game pieces as charms.

Garage or Rummage sales: These are great places to shop for small craft items and things that can be used as embellishments, too. Look for fabric, ribbon, books, puzzles, games, yarns, beads, old pictures, film negatives, fibers, jewelry, old toys, etc. Assemblage and altered artist's can find many cheap, great pieces to use in artwork, at garage sales.

Hardware stores, or the hardware section of a large store, is great for finding small metal hinges, twine (to use as you would ribbon), skeleton keys, leafing pens (in gold silver and copper), wire, metal washer (which can be painted and glued to artwork), etc.

Office supply stores like Office Depot or Staples have things like unusually shaped paper clips, staples in different colors, shipping tags, price tags, stickers, watercolor pencils, paints, and other things that can be used in creating artwork. Office supply stores carry craft tools too, paper trimmers, gel pens, hole punches, and other things that are used to create artwork, and all at a cost sometimes less than buying it from a craft or specialty store.

Around the kitchen: Save labels from your cans of fruit and vegetables you've served at dinner. Those mesh bags that fruit and potatoes come in can be cut into small pieces and used to embellish your artwork - or you can cut a piece of mesh, lay it on an the background of your artwork and paint over it. You'll see the design on your background paper once you lift the mesh - and you can use that piece of mesh over again by either rinsing off the wet paint and letting it dry before using it again. Old or mismatched pieces of silverware can be used to make assemblage pieces.

Junk mail: Go through it all before trashing it. I've saved pieces and have cut out the words to use in my artwork. You can also cut individual words from the newspaper and from books, brochures, menu's, any kind of advertising. A friend of mine saves all junk mail paper and makes handmade paper from it. It's pretty easy to do - tear the paper into small pieces soak it to soften it, squeeze it into a ball to remove excess water, then lay it out and flatten it on a piece waxed paper, brush on a layer of watered down glue and let it dry. Glue it to a cardboard back and you have a nice background paper to paint and/or embellish. And don't forget to save used postage stamps and clip off those postmark cancellations too.

Another way I have added to my stash is to list some of my artwork or ATC's for trade in exchange for craft supplies, for example, instead of trading an ATC card for a card. If you join some of the Yahoo Craft or ATC groups and then post a message "Will Trade Artwork or ATC's for Craft Goodies" you will probably get some good offers. You can usually find at least one craft supply trade on Swap-bot at any given time. This is a good way to trade your extra embellishments, book pages, sheet music, charms, and craft supplies for fresh goodies.

If you're especially drawn to a certain theme think of ways you can find supplies cheaply or for free, to use in your artwork. To make an oriental collection of supplies and embellishments I went to a Chinese restaurant then saved the fortunes from cookies, took the paper placemats on the table, grabbed a few "to go" menus, and asked for chopsticks (which are usually free for the asking). Use your imagination when trying to gather embellishments for a theme.

Odds & Ends Findings: Brochures are also great too to use as background paper. When we travel by car, I stop at rest area's and pick up brochures for area activities, amusement parks, etc. Clean out your junk drawers and see what you find there that might be useful. The next time you want a snack, buy a box of Cracker Jacks, with the toy surprise. And don't forget those small toys in gumball machines that can be used as charms and embellishments. Save stubs from events you've attended and also parking, bus, airline, and train ticket stubs. Keep programs, receipts, old keys, coins, casino chips, matchbooks, 8mm or 16mm film, buttons, postcards, photo negatives, and bottle caps.

Find places that will send you free maps. My hubby and I belong to the AAA insurance group and we can get maps of the states for free just by walking in and asking for them. You can also request maps and brochures from the Chamber of Commerce simply by writing and asking for them. Because maps are available online to print for free, don't send your request by email. If you do, they will probably just send links to the same info online so you can print it yourself.

I hope these tips help and give you ideas and inspiration for finding free or bargain craft supplies. If you have any suggestions, ideas, or unique ways that you've found cheap or free craft supplies, please email me, or add a comment.

October 08, 2005

Cheap & Easy ATC Backs

About half the cards I receive from swaps are on cardstock, the other half are on cardboard, or chipboard. You can buy pre-cut cardboard or chipboard, but why do it when you can get it for free? Cardstock is fine to create your ATC, but if you like to use heavier embellishments like I do then you need a stronger back.

Instead of buying pre-cut ATC backs, I cut my own from cardboard food boxes I've saved from cereal, macaroni and cheese, crackers, cake mixes, etc. and then glue my cardstock to that. It's easy to cut 2.5x3.5 cards from the boxes if you have a straight edge trimmer. If you don't have a straight edge trimmer, I would highly recommend investing in one. This works great for trimming paper, photo's, etc., since I find it impossible to cut a straight line.

Some people like to use playing cards as ATC backing and they work just fine but you have to make sure the cards are ATC size. I've found most cards are either a little too big and have to be trimmed, or are too small. If you can find a pack that are the right size at a dollar store then that's great - you've gotten 52 ATC backs for a buck. Another thing I have used is a pack of recipe/index cards that I purchased for a buck at a dollar store - just cut 'em to size. Also, don't throw away the cardboard on the back of writing tablets - it makes great ATC backing.

I also like to go to the wallpaper section of stores and get the free samples. I glue them to ATC cardboard backs and use them as background paper. Or, if a wallpaper sample has a design, you can cut the designs out and glue them down as embellishments. Fabric and felt glued to cardboard ATC backs also make cool backgrounds. If you want to handpaint a background onto cardstock you might find it warps when it dries. If you glue it to a cardboard back it solves the problems.

October 03, 2005

ATC's (Artist Trading Cards) Basics

ATC's, otherwise known as artist trading cards, are collectables, miniature pieces of artwork, akin to sports-themed trading cards. ATC's must be 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches, or 64 x 89mm. The back of each card should include the artists name, contact information, title of the ATC, date the ATC was created, and number of the card if it's part of an Edition; sets of ATC's that are themed based, but where the cards are all different, it's called a Series. It's really up to the artist, swap hostess, and/or rules of the trading group, as to what to include on an ATC back. At a minimum, your card should include the artist's name and title of the card. I would not recommend writing out your name on the back of the card due to the rise of identity theft. I print my name on the back of the card and sign using just my initials.

An ATC should be of a reasonable thickness and strong enough to survive mailing, since most ATC's are traded in this way. You can further protect your artwork by putting your ATC in a transparent, protective sleeve. Artist's often use embellishments on their cards. If using embellishments, make sure your embellishments are small enough to allow your card to fit inside a protective sleeve. Also remember that your ATC will be traveling through the postal system and you don't want your card to be damaged because it is too thick to pass through the sorter. If you think your card may be too thick, send it in a bubble mailer. Better to be safe than sorry.

Many collector's put their ATC's in 9-pocket sheets used for commercial cards. These sheets have holes on the side which allows them to be put in an album or a three-ring binder. Some people display their ATC's on panels, while others organize their collection in boxes.

There are many trading groups listed online that you can join and begin swapping your cards. These groups are usually free to join and only require that you register with your name, mailing and email address. Check Yahoo, MSN, and eBay for groups, or do a search in Google for artist trading card groups or swaps. A good place to start trading is at Swap-Bot.


An ATC should never be sold. Artist trading cards that are sold are called ACEO's, Art Card Editions and Originals. They adhere by the same rules as an ATC.