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Another month, another ATC swap! Artist Trading Cards (ATCs) are small crafts that are freely exchanged between individuals, around the world, usually via snail mail, as an exercise to interact with other artists and experience/collect samples of their work. Basically, you "claim" the most recent participant before you, select one of their listed themes as the subject matter for the card that you'll subsequently make for them, and then post your own preferences for an ATC, so that the next person who comes along can do the same for you.

For Craftster's April 2016 ATC exchange I claimed two women, "blupaisan" from Vermont (the same individual that I previously made the wildcat card for) and "curiousfae", a fellow Michigander. I picked the theme of "your favorite Calvin & Hobbes scene" for blupaisan, and "artist's choice" for curiousfae (but only because I wanted more time to decide which of her other themes I wished to tackle--I ultimately went with "frogs").

When I was a kid, Gary Larson's The Far Side and Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes were my two favorite newspaper comic strips, so, blupaisan's theme was right up my alley (in the past, I had listed Calvin & Hobbes as one of my ATC themes too, but, no one ever picked it). Deciding on a favorite Calvin & Hobbes scene for this card was kind of tricky, because there are so many of them that are really great and a lot of the panels are dependent on the previous/next ones in order for the joke/story to work (while possible, a whole strip is a bit much to squeeze onto a small card like this). So, after leafing through the two collections of Calvin & Hobbes comics that I currently have in my library (Weirdos From Another Planet! and Attack of The Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons), I selected this "hiding in a vacuum cleaner" one. I reproduced Bill Watterson's line artwork by hand, using his original piece as a still-life model while I drew, and then painted/colored it. In said book, this particular panel only had Calvin and the vacuum in it, but, I stuck Hobbes in there too, in stuffed animal form, so that his character would also be represented.

Here's the back of the card. Considering how incredibly self-centered Calvin is, if he was the one making an ATC, Calvin would probably completely ignore his swap partner's list of themes and just draw whatever he wanted to, thus, this joke was born. Again, I used a panel of Bill Watterson's art as my reference model, and, in addition to my new text, I placed some ATC-appropriate supplies on the tabletop in front of him. I intentionally left this side of the card black and white, both to differentiate it from the front and because that's how most of the Calvin & Hobbes comics (other than Sundays) were printed anyway.

Some time prior to this swap, while private messaging with blupaisan online, I mentioned that, lazy slob that I am, I seldom vacuum, so, knowing that there's a cat in our house, she asked me if I'd try to gather some shed feline whiskers for her from my messy floors, as she collects them and also uses them for art projects (something I've done in the past as well). I told her I would, and, as I was mailing her this ATC anyway, I figured I'd send the whiskers that I had accumulated at the same time too. I constructed an elongated, cat-themed, miniature envelope for them, using paper from an advertisement for kitty litter that I found in a back issue of Woman's Day magazine, and popped the bristly hairs inside.

Here's a photo of the card with the two previously mentioned Calvin & Hobbes collections that I currently own. Hopefully, in the future, while I'm browsing through the stacks of books at the local thrift stores, I'll find some more of these, at a good price, as I'd like to have a complete set someday.

So . . . on the night of April 11th, I was in the process of painting over my linework, on an ATC for curiousfae's "Pin-up Gals" theme, when, in my infinite wisdom, I decided it would be good to do some shading, with a colored pencil, before the acrylic paint I had just applied had dried. If you've never done so, attempting to draw on paper while it's still damp is a very bad idea, especially with a sharpened/pointed tool, as it will likely just rip through the paper's weakened surface, instead of making the intended line(s), which is exactly what happened to me (said tears are the white marks on her chin, throat, and left breast).

I might have still been able to salvage the illustration, but, when things don't go my way, I have a tendency to throw up my hands in disgust and quit (I firmly believe that screw-ups are the universe's not-so-subtle way of telling me that I need to stop what I'm doing and try something else), which is exactly what I did in this case, abandoning this card and starting over again with a new one. I wish I could say that I learned my lesson, but, in all likelihood, I'll probably just make the same blunder in the future, when I'm too impatient to let my paint dry properly again.

Naked women to amphibians is a natural progression, right? Since the pin-up gal thing didn't work out, I decided to take a stab at curiousfae's "frogs" theme instead. I've been buying quite a few books about animals in general over the last couple-of-years-or-so (aside from just finding them interesting to read and look at, the photos make great reference material for artwork), thus, I leafed through several of those, looking for an appropriate subject to draw. While frogs and toads are neat-o in general, I've always been partial to the vibrantly-hued ones, so, it's no surprise that I ultimately picked the Azure Poison Dart Frog to draw/paint (using an image from Scholastic's 2010 Ripley's 3-D Believe it of Not! World's Weirdest Animals as my model--and, if you're wondering, no, I didn't draw the frog whilst wearing those red-and-blue 3D glasses!) An azure frog just seems like something that shouldn't even exist in the real world, you know? It looks more like a creature that escaped from a fairy tale or RPG to me.

I did another, black-and-white, ink illustration on the back of the card, this time of a tree frog. The photo I used as a reference model (from Danbury Press' 1972 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of The Animal Kingdom) only had the amphibian and leaf in it (disappointingly, the accompanying caption didn't even specify what species of tree frog it was); I added the rest of the vegetation and the moon.

On its' way into the envelope, the Azure Poison Dart Frog almost got cannibalized by one of its rubbery cousins, but I broke up the would-be dinner party and sent the ATC amphibian safely on its way. Considering that it was a poisonous frog, I probably saved the green one from a terminal case of indigestion anyway!

"Curiousfae" returned the favor and selected my "a functional ATC board game" theme. I received my package from her on April 13th, 2015 (which, considering what I got, is an entirely appropriate superstitious date/number . . . coincidence-or-not? You decide!) Board games are one of the many types of toys that I collect and an ATC's standard, rectangular shape is about right for that sort of thing, so, it struck me as a good thing to list. Additionally, a card-shaped board game just happens to be in scale with 11-12" dolls, thus, it can be used with them as an accessory or diorama component--that's a win-win situation in my book! As the box was small, the mail carrier was actually able to squeeze it through my mail slot (without damaging it), which surprised me a bit, as he/she usually just leaves packages on the porch and/or in between the front doors of the house. (Note: I pixellated curiousfae's real name and address, as well as my location, in the photo below, for privacy purposes.)

So . . . drumroll please . . . what did I get? Curiousfae crafted me a complete miniature Ouija Board set--that's so awesome! She painstakingly reproduced everything that you'd get with the real deal in miniature: the box top/bottom, playing surface, planchette, and even the instructional sheet!

If you're unfamiliar with how an Ouija Board works, the idea is that you place the planchette on the board, then you, and your friends, rest a couple of fingers on the triangular, heart-shaped device, ask the Ouija Board the pressing question(s) that you want answered ("Will Jimmy ask me to the dance?", "What's the combination to Grandpa's safe?", "Why does Patraw feel the need to post so many photos?", etc.), and then the planchette will begin to glide about, with a little help from you, and your chums, to reply to your query (either with a simple yes/no, or by spelling out the answer, letter-by-letter, or number-by-number). Now, skeptics will say that the player(s) are controlling everything, not spirits or other supernatural forces/entities, and that said individuals are just subconsciously giving themselves the answers that they want, but believers will vigorously argue otherwise. With multiple hands on the planchette, no one person can exert complete control over where it points, so, who can say?

Here's a closer look at the top of the box. Curiousfae indicated, in her accompanying note, that she had a tough time finding a good photo of the package art to use for this miniature, but I think that the lower resolution of said image actually lends an air of greater believability to the final product, giving it a slightly-worn look. Curiousfae also wrote that she had this exact version of the Ouija Board when she was a kid, which is why she wanted to use the same artwork/graphics. A couple of the folded box corners came unglued during transit, but those were very easy to fix with some small dabs of adhesive. Full-sized board game boxes come apart like that all the time anyway, so, again, authenticity!

This is the front/back of the playing surface, which is the actual ATC part of the whole affair. Curiousfae resized an image of a real Ouija Board down to the proper dimensions and printed it out on photo paper, as such, the surface is super shiny and smooth. I love the vintage-looking art/font and faux woodgrain texture!

Now, let's examine the planchette, which curiousfae modeled with polymer clay and coated with acrylic paint and glue to give it a shinier veneer (it's almost china-like). While it's a relatively simple shape, I know, from experience, how deceptively difficult it can be to make a symmetrical form like that by hand, and she even etched in "Ouija" on the top surface and made the three little "gliders" on the underside of the device.

Finally, here are the front/back of the miniaturized instructions. You can't go around requesting answers and advice from the unseen world without following the proper protocol you know--it just isn't done! The text is super tiny, so, I had to squint, but it's totally readable. Interestingly, the instructions note that the original, full-sized planchette and Ouija Board glowed-in-the-dark (it advises you to let them sit in the sun/light for ten minutes before use), which is neat, and would have doubtlessly added to the spooky atmosphere while it was in use.

Truly, there are so many things that you could ask of this thing; the possibilities are endless!

Alas, some ponies lack the maturity and wisdom to use this artifact responsibly . . .

I've never owned one until now, but a Ouija Board is something that I've always wanted. I love supernatural and occult things, no matter how silly or unbelievable they are, so, this is perfect for me. Curiousfae's gift was not at all what I expected (which is proof positive that I need a tool like this to help me divine what my incoming ATCs are going to be), yet, it's also exactly what I wanted without even knowing it myself. Many thanks for your wonderful creation, curiousfae; I will treasure it always and shall proudly flaunt my miniature scrying device whenever the opportunity arises!

"AugustBell", a woman from Arkansas, chose my "an ATC that's also some kind of art project for me to do" theme and I received my letter from her on April 26th. Inside of the envelope, protecting the ATC itself, was this beautiful card. The main surface is weathered wood, with the blue paint chipping off, and then a partial road map and a lace-like pattern are overlaid and printed on top of that (which would make a cool ATC all by itself) resulting in a neat collage effect (I suppose you could perceive them as being fungi/mold on the wood too, the map lines in particular resemble root-like hyphae).

While I waited for AugustBell's card to arrive, I tried to imagine what approach she had taken, and my best guess was that maybe she had made me a miniature coloring book page style ATC, but, as usual, my precognitive "powers" are utterly worthless. What she did do was divide an ATC in half, diagonally, illustrate one of the two resulting triangles with a wonderful outer space scene, and leave the other blank for me to fill in with whatever my heart desired.

This intergalactic vista is similar to a recent piece that she did for another Craftster member in March's ATC swap, and I had commented that I liked how she had rendered the dark emptiness of outer space in a warmer and more colorful fashion than most people do, and I still feel that same way here. Appropriately enough, AugustBell titled this piece "Complete The Final Frontier".

As it is an outer space scene, there isn't really an "up" or "down" as we know it on Earth's surface, thus, I wasn't certain which way AugustBell intended for the card to be orientated, but, I went with the safe decision that the direction of the text on the back should be my guide and proceeded forward from that assumption. You can't really tell that well from my photos, but the silver stars and spiral are shiny and reflect light when the card is tilted at angles; also, the spherical body is a raised, glued-on element, giving it some depth. AugustBell noted that she chose to employ watercolor paper stock so that I would be able to use a variety of different media when I did my half of the card, which was a thoughtful consideration.

Here's the back of the ATC:

I chose to do my artwork separately, and then join it to AugustBell's illustration afterwards with glue, rather than work directly on the card's surface, because I didn't want to mess up her creation in the event that I made a mistake (and I am very prone to making such blunders, so, better safe than sorry, right?) As you can see from the photo below, that was a wise decision, as I haven't exactly mastered the fine art of staying inside the lines when I paint.

Typically, I employ a photo reference as a still-life model when I draw/paint, but, in this case, the scene is just from my head, based on the quick concept sketch I drew in pencil above the card [and, yes, I briefly considered a "Ponies in Space" approach, with Rainbow Dash in an astronaut suit, but Captain Jean Luc Picard frowns on that sort of thing, and I didn't want him to write me up (again)--that stuff stays on your permanent record forever].

I also wanted to add a small 3-Dimensional element to the card, so I quickly fabricated this tiny satellite out of newsprint, paper from a catalog, bendable wire, and white glue. There are strange readings coming from this sector of space, so we need to collect more data! Starfleet isn't sure what to make of that giant penny either . . .

Finally, here is the finished result:

This was certainly a unique way to collaborate with another artist and it also strikes me as something that other individuals might potentially find interesting as a theme for a stand-alone swap. Thank you for the lovely card and artistic challenge, AugustBell!

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