Make a Deck of Art Cards

Spring is a great time for a studio recharge, and one of my favorite tasks is creating a deck of art cards. This is one of those projects that you can take in a million different directions, and I’ll give you some fun ideas for different types of decks. Today we’ll make a deck of art prompts, for times when you want to shake things up and not fall back on the same familiar habits. This deck is filled with favorite techniques that I often forget about until after the fact—remembering them is like a preemptive creative strike.

I’ll also show you how to make a box for the cards. But let’s get started with the cards. I used a deck of 2 ½” x 3 ½” playing cards for my substrates—you can use anything you like (cardstock, chipboard, stiffened fabric, thin lightweight wood) and make the cards any size you want; I chose playing cards so I could fast track the project a bit. Just FYI, these are also the size of an artist trading card. I covered some with white, black, and clear gesso, and others with decorative, found, and hand-painted papers.

Art cards first layer
You can use a variety of substates for art cards, and cover them with gesso or found and decorative papers.

I next made a list of what techniques I wanted to feature on the art cards: acrylic paint layers with a palette knife, sketches, dramatic painted backgrounds, complementary colors, different color palettes, hand-carved stamps, foiling, messy art with lots of marks, hand-painted papers for collage, and finding inspiration in what’s right in front of me. By keeping a list, I can easily add more cards.

When the gesso was dry I went to work on the cards, starting with creating layers with a palette knife (you can also used an expired gift card) and acrylic paint. I love how this looks, but I don’t incorporate it enough in my artwork. Since these cards are small, I was finished in a few minutes and didn’t overthink it. I created another one with complementary colors (neon orange and turquoise), for that prompt.

Art cards with palette knife backgrounds
These cards remind me to use a palette knife to create a painted background, and and to include complementary colors.

Using scraps from my last hand-painted paper fest, I created a quick collage card (left). I love a dramatic background using colors like Payne’s Gray and dark navy, so I combined those two, brushing them on a gessoed card and then swiping some paint with my fingers. When that was dry I dry brushed some white over it, then adhered a vintage photo from Tim Holtz’s Ideal-ology Paper Dolls (center). For the third card, I created a color palette in shades I don’t usually use together—but these colors make me so happy, and I wanted a reminder of how fun and summery they are (right).

Prompts for art cards
More art cards are prompts to use hand-painted papers, create dramatic backgrounds, and think about different color palettes.

I love to sketch, but my sketches don’t always make it into my artwork for some reason. So I copied a sketch of a rose, printed it on cardstock, and adhered it to a card. For another card, I recreated a favorite background I created for an art journal page.

The box is sized so that the art cards just peek out of the top; I contemplated adding ribbon to the tops of the cards, but thought that might be too messy. I created paper and fabric tabs instead, but feel free to come up with whatever system works for you.

Tabs for art cards
Tabs make it easier to handle these art cards.

To be sure I wouldn’t forget what the card prompts were about, I stamped some small labels and wrote on them, then glued them to the backs of the cards.

Labels for art cards
Labels on the backs of the cards remind me what the prompt is about.

Next up: the box. Whenever I’m making something for the first time, I always do mock-ups to make sure the sizing and proportions are right. I made a few box templates until I found one that worked well, and cut it out of lightweight chipboard. I tried heavier weight board, but it didn’t fold well, even after being scored, and I quickly scrapped that notion. Cereal boxes are also great for this. Using the template, I cut the box and scored and folded it.

Box for deck of art cards
This template is small enough to cut from a cereal box!

Options for decorating the box for your art cards include painting, collage, doodling, or any combination of those. I covered the box with hand-painted papers, then trimmed away the excess; use gel medium or glue stick for this and let it dry completely.

Collaged box for art cards
Decorate the box for the art cards with painting, drawing, or collage.

To put the box together, I brushed PVA glue on the small tabs, then adhered them to the box sides, one at a time. I held them in place for a few minutes until the glue was semi-set.

Gluing small box tabs
Glue the small tabs first, then adhere them to the side of the box.

The tabs were held in place with clips until fully dry. My clips weren’t large enough, so I folded the long tabs over, then clipped them.

Clipping small box tabs
Hold the tabs in place with clips until the glue dries.

Both long tabs were brushed with PVA, then held until almost set. You may have to massage these a little to make sure they’re even.

Gluing large box tabs
Glue both tabs at once, then make sure all sides are even.

I also pressed the tabs with a bone folder to make sure there was good adhesion. These tabs were also clipped until fully dry.

Clips hold the large tabs in place for the box
Clips hold the large tabs in place until dry.

I added a little more collage to the front of the box, then covered the outside with two coats of matte gel medium. One more trick: I used a Flexcut gouge to make a curved notch in the front of the box; this isn’t necessary, it’s more for aesthetics.

Adding a notch to the front of a box for art cards
A small notch was created with a U-shaped gouge in the front of the box.

This deck of art cards makes me feel so organized and on top of things. Not only that, it was really fun to make, and I know I’ll use it constantly. Here are more ideas for creating decks of art cards:

  • Paint single colors on the cards and use them to create new color palettes.
Color swatch art cards
Art cards with color swatches help you create new color palettes.
  • Hand letter favorite quotes to use in artwork.
  • Use the cards to practice portraits.
  • Keep a record of image transfer techniques.
  • Feature photos of things to sketch.

What will your deck of art cards include? Whatever you decide, you will definitely have fun making them!

Curious about artist trading cards? In this blog post, Nathalie Kalbach shows you how to create ATCs on wood, using a surprising technique!

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Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques

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