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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 2017 ATC exchange I claimed three women (one of them twice). Detailed below are the cards that I made and the quartet that I received in return!

For my first card, which went to Texas, I chose Smileyyogini's "unicorns" theme. I based this on a black and white photo from one of my many horse books (adding the horns of course). I must have been subconsciously thinking of the My Little Pony pegasus Lily Blossom (my second favorite flying horse after Rainbow Dash) when I gave the unicorn in the front a lilac coat and a blonde mane.

The second card I made focused on Emilywilde's "goth" theme. I used a photo of a real woman as my reference model, changing her outfit into a more goth-like affair and adding jewelry/piercings and a shoulder tattoo. Dripping black ink/paint seemed like a good thing to use for the background, so, that's what I went with.

My third ATC, also for Emilywilde in Oregon, tackled her "8-bit Nintendo games" theme. She indicated Kirby was her favorite, and I'm also fond of said little rotund pink vaccuum, so, that's what I did. I tend to like the monsters and enemies in video games a lot more than the protagonist(s) though, so, rather than doing Kirby alone, I had him struggling against, and losing to, the cyclopean storm cloud boss, Kracko. It occurred to me that "Kracko" and "wacko" rhyme, so I just had to put that phrase on there.

My fourth and final ATC of the month went off to Florida to a woman who goes by the handle of Greybird. I love paper dolls, but I seldom ever make any of my own, so, Greybird listing that as one of her ATC themes was a golden opportunity for me to do so. Rather than a full figure, given an ATC's relatively small size, I felt it was better to do a zoomed-in view of the torso instead. The little triangle on the back is a stand that folds out so that the card can be displayed upright on a flat surface.

Here's an animated GIF of some of the paper doll's possible looks. I put the frames in the same order that I made the pairs of outfits/wigs.

If you'd like a copy of this ATC paper doll for your own use, I give you permission to print out this sheet to do so, provided that you don't claim it as your own work and/or use it for any sort of profit-making venture. Please note that the wigs are actually helmet-like affairs; I glued another piece of paper behind the hair so that they could be slipped over the head and stay in place--if that's too much work, you could easily just add some paper tabs (like the ones on the garments) to them instead. The white spaces around the body should all be cut out and also make a slit around the top of the woman's hairline where it connects to the green border (look at the back of the card, that I showed you previously, to see what I mean), as those modifications are what allow you to wrap the tabs on the clothes around her limbs/body and slide the wigs down onto her head.

The day after Easter, April 17th, I received a vibrant envelope in the mail, from the same Greybird above, who selected my "The Loch Ness Monster needs about $3.50 ('tree fiddy')" ATC theme. Said phrase was a running joke with Chef's dad on an older episode of the South Park cartoon on Comedy Central. I really liked the pattern on the letter as it suggests autumn foliage to me, even though the shapes aren't leaves (I digitally blurred Greybird's address in the photo for privacy purposes).

The plot of that particular adventure was that Chef was oblivious to the fact that he was about to marry a succubus (female demons that seduce and drain the lives of men) and the South Park boys were trying to stop the nuptials and save their beloved elementary school cafeteria cook from said hellspawn. Naturally, Chef's mom and pop show up to attend their child's wedding and Chef's dad completely steals the show in my opinion. It doesn't matter what you try to talk to him about, without exception, all he ever does is steer the conversation towards his favorite subject: how the Loch Ness Monster is constantly trying to weasel $3.50 out of his family and has been doing so for years. While he's old, dad isn't senile, crazy, or anything like that; the beast is real and his wife and son have encountered it multiple times too (and Chef's pop gets really irate when his spouse confesses that she actually gave the aquatic beggar "tree fiddy" one of the times that it asked for money). I find it hilarious and endearing that the mythical creature apparently has absolutely nothing better to do than devote all of its time to stalking this family in the hopes of getting some of their pocket change (which would also explain why no one can ever find/capture it in the Loch; Nessie is too busy panhandling in America!) If I knew an old man who ran his mouth nonstop about how a monster is trying to squeeze him for money, I'd adopt him as my new Grandpa and bring him with me everywhere I went! My life would never be boring again.

While we never get a look at the scaly bum in said television episode, Greybird chose to render the Loch Ness Monster wearing the Girl Scout disguise described by Chef's mom and dad (the resourceful Nessie often goes to such great deceptive lengths in its attempts to try to fool the unfortunate family into parting with their money), and Greybird did a good job of capturing the art style of the show in doing so. One would think Chef's pop would have approved of this career change, because the creature was actually trying to earn some cash legitimately for a change by selling cookies, rather than just looking for a handout, but Dad still wasn't having any of it once he realized who it really was (the fact that this particular Girl Scout was about 8 stories tall kind of clued him in). I also noticed that Nessie is sporting a rainbow badge on her sash, and she must have successfully performed a truly monumental task to earn it, because a certain pegasus I know doesn't just give those things away (Ms. Dash refuses to award me one no matter what I do).

Thank you for the card, Greybird!

Saturday, April 22nd, I received a letter from Emilywilde, the same woman that I made the Goth and Kirby cards above for, who selected my "Toys in humorous/inappropriate situations" ATC theme. The card itself wasn't damaged in the least, but the envelope got pretty banged up, although that's likely indirectly the fault of my other mail, because I also received the new May issues of Vogue, GQ, and Allure the same day, and, as you can probably guess, a small envelope isn't going to fare too well getting shoved and jostled around during delivery accompanied by three fairly-heavy polybagged magazines [I wasn't home when they arrived, but my family informed me that the postal worker couldn't even fit the stack of magazines through the mail slot on the house (and the attempt to do so might well have been how the ATC's envelope got all bent up), so, he just gave up and left everything piled on the floor inside the front porch instead]. Seriously, some issues of Vogue are so thick that you could probably knock somebody unconscious if you whacked them with it!

Emily placed some neat stickers of unicorn, swan, and star constellations on the back of the letter too. I'm afraid I don't know enough about astronomy to recognize if they actually represent real constellations in the night sky or not, but they're cool nonetheless. The unicorn is my favorite. It doesn't really come across in my scan, but the dots and lines are shiny gold in person. Similar to some small animals, I am easily distracted by things that sparkle.

As for the ATC itself, it's an image of a real-life arrangement of figures (mostly Star Wars) displayed inside a playset from Emilywilde's friend's toy collection (she told me his real name, but I won't repeat that here as I don't know if he'd be comfortable with me doing so). The small photograph is a modern Polaroid (I didn't even know that there was such a thing to tell you the truth; I was under the impression that Polaroid had gone the way of the dodo bird as digital cameras replaced traditional ones), and I really like how Emilywilde framed it in white to look like an original Polaroid from back in the day.

As children, most of us have toys from multiple toy lines/franchises and kids seldom have any qualms about mixing characters from different universes together during play (i.e., Optimus Prime would readily team up with He-Man to take down Cobra Commander and "Macho Man" Randy Savage). As such, the "alternate universe" described in the caption and depicted in the photo frequently occurs during play (or display), even if many of those pairings make little sense. And, for the record, "Macho Man" Randy Savage would totally wipe the floor with He-man any day of the week. Oooooh-yeah! Snap into a Slim Jim!

A fun little game that I and others sometimes play is examining photos of loose, mixed figure lots on eBay, and other auction sites, and seeing how many of the toys we can recognize and identify without cheating by looking anything up. So, going from left-to-right, I believe we have: a vintage Kenner Star Wars Darth Vader; I don't recognize the large woman in the orange dress but my best guesses are a character from the Star Wars: Droids cartoon or the lady that Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to disguise himself as in the Total Recall film; I also don't recognize the guy behind the counter, but given the theme, I'd speculate that he's the bartender Wuher or the troublemaker that Obi-Wan Kenobi struck down, Dr. Evazan; a Fisher Price peg dog; a vintage Kenner Star Wars Princess Leia Organa (RIP Carrier Fisher); a vintage Kenner Star Wars Power Droid; Smokey the Bear; a vintage Kenner Star Wars R2-D2; a vintage Kenner Star Wars Amanaman (which is fairly rare and worth some money); and one of the male Alien crew members (Dallas or Kane) in his spacesuit (probably made by Funko). There might be another toy between Leia and Smokey too, but, the image is small, so, I can't tell for sure if it's actually a figure or just part of the playset's printed cardboard backdrop playing tricks with my eyes. Speaking of which, the environment itself is the vintage Kenner Star Wars Creature Cantina playset. Scout's honor, I honestly knew all of that without consulting anything but my brain! As a child, I had the Darth Vader, Princess Leia, R2-D2, and Power Droid figures (and possibly that Fisher Price dog, as it looks familiar), but, alas, I sold all of my classic Kenner Star Wars toys for a pittance, compared to what they're worth today, when I was a teenager, to finance my comic book and video game addictions.

Here's a zoomed-in scan of the Polaroid if you want to scrutinize it more closely (that's as sharp as it gets):

As I think about it, more than anything else, that woman in the orange dress reminds of this art doll made by the late Greer Lankton [she passed away a little over twenty years ago, in 1996, and was a transgender (her birthname was Greg) artist that mostly did dolls]. Please note that the woman pictured below isn't Greer (it's the doll's owner, if memory serves). If you're interested, you can read more about Greer and her work here. Warning: there is some (artistic) nudity, both Greer and her dolls, so, don't click on the link if you find that offensive or you're using a computer in a place (i.e., work) where that isn't appropriate.

(Rockingbearranch, another member at Craftster, kindly informed me that the woman in orange is "Divine" from John Water's Pink Flamingos film. I'd never seen or heard of that movie, so, there's no way I would have ever figured that out on my own! Likewise, Greer's doll almost certainly represents Divine as well.)

Thank you for the cool card, Emilywilde, and I appreciate that you went to the extra trouble of getting a real photo from an actual toy enthusiast's collection to boot!

Tuesday, April 25th, I received a letter from Smileyyogini, the woman I made the unicorns card for, who selected my "Temari of the Sand" ATC theme. Said envelope was the only thing that came in the mail Tuesday, so, thankfully, it didn't have to tangle with a bunch of magazines like Emilywilde's did Saturday!

Temari Nara is one of the many ninja characters from Masashi Kishimoto's hugely popular manga/anime Naruto. Temari belonged to the Sand Village Clan, and was the eldest of the three Sand siblings (she has two younger brothers, Gaara and Kankuro). Unlike many of the crazier and emotional characters in said fiction, Temari tended to be a more practical and capable individual, both in combat and everyday life. Her weapon of choice was an iron fan (tessen), and a ridiculously huge one at that, which she typically used as a focus to generate and unleash her deadly wind jutsu attacks.

While I had known what Naruto was for some time beforehand, my first experience with Temari wasn't the anime or manga, but rather a video game, Naruto: Ninja Destiny on the Nintendo DS. She's one of the sixteen Naruto characters that you can play as in said title and has the distinction of breaking my 100% win record in Battle Mode, as Temari was the only character I ever lost a match against while playing it. Her super "Wind Scythe Jutsu" fan attack does horrific damage, depleting your life meter by 2/3 or more, so, even at full health, you're in big trouble if she hits you with it, and, needless to say, if you were already injured to begin with, you're probably finished. Fighting her in that game always made me sweat and filled me with dread because of how quickly she could destroy you (literally two blows under the right circumstances).

In addition to the ATC itself, inside of the envelope were a couple of other items. The first was a Texas postcard that sports four scenic photographs from that state. Clockwise, from the top left, are Bluebonnets flowers, Big Bend National Park, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, and Galveston Bay. That information comes courtesy of the back of the postcard, as I've never been to Texas and don't know a lot about it (although I'd certainly rather spend winters there than here in Michigan!)

She also generously included a packet of Twinings gingerbread-flavored green tea as an extra. Which is actually sort of appropriate, in that there was a bit in the Naruto storyline where Temari's tea cup spontaneously cracked on its own, which is considered a bad omen, and was a warning that terrible things had befallen her younger brothers.

I'm sure that the tea is delicious, however . . .

I was informed that, for "my own good", according to Pegasus Express Postal Code #376-RD, Sub-Section 11, Paragraph 3, all edible objects received in the mail are subject to immediate search, seizure, and consumption by Rainbow Dash.

Back to the card, Smileyyogini rendered Temari in a chibi fashion (i.e., a large head on a smaller body with child-like features), which is a Japanese art style that I've always enjoyed and Temari's surprised expression suggests that some amazing event or revelation has just transpired in the Naruto universe. I like that Smileyyogini applied glitter to her blonde locks too--I'm not sure why glitter never really sparkles when you scan it; one would think that the strong scanner lamp light hitting it would cause all sorts of pretty reflections, but that just doesn't happen for some reason, or at least not for me. The background is her open fan, which sports three purple circles (Temari's "stars"); story-wise, the revelation of each of these, as she unfolds her fan, is significant, as they correspond to an increase in the power of her subsequent attacks. Temari's black outfit is my favorite look for her, and, while I had originally mentioned that in my list of ATC themes, I ultimately decided that was probably too specific, so, I removed that prior to posting my list, but that's what Smileyyogini ended up illustrating her wearing anyway, so, it all worked out! The calligraphy she used to write Temari's name is also lovely.

And here's the card displayed with some of Masashi Kishimoto's original manga artwork of Temari from the November 2006 issue of Shonen Jump (even though I do have them organized by year/month, it still took me almost an hour to find that particular magazine because my bedroom is a disaster area). And the glitter sparkles properly when you use a digital camera's flash!

I just love Temari's hair. It's equal parts stylish and "I have better things to do, so, I'm just going to put some rubberbands in it". Here's a photo of a woman cosplaying as Temari so you can see how those spiky tresses would look in real life:

Thank you for your lovely rendition of my favorite Naruto kunoichi, Smileyyogini!

My final swapped ATC of the month arrived on Wednesday, April 26th. "Mandykaye", a fellow Michigander, chose my "Artist's Choice" theme, so, I had no clue what I was going to get.

I was very impressed with the envelope, as it's a hand-made affair, using the Emma Watson Beauty and the Beast cover from the Feburary 24/March 3, 2017 double issue of Entertainment Weekly. It so happens that I have a subscription to that magazine too, as such, I recognized it right away (well, the "Entertainment" at the top of the letter was a pretty big hint too, lol). While I don't make custom envelopes like her, I do typically use pages from magazines and catalogs in a similar manner to fashion little pocket thingies to keep my ATCs from sliding around inside their envelopes when I send mine. I also appreciate that she chose a Wonder Woman postage stamp, whom I also like.

Here's another shot of the envelope with said magazine. That is one gorgeous photo of Ms. Watson! And, yes, even though it's a fairly recent issue, I still had to launch a lengthly archeological expedition just to find my copy hidden in the highly unstable mountains of books and magazines that populate my home. I lost three porters and my translator along the way, but their noble sacrifices were not in vain.

The little explanatory note that Mandykaye included was written on the back of this $20,000 bill (totally legal tender, I assure you, even though it clearly states otherwise). So, thanks to her generous contribution, I've become a bourgeois thousandaire. With my newfound wealth, I'm too good for Craftster now, so, you won't be seeing me around there anymore, at least not until I lose it all on blackjack at the casino and come crawling back looking for forgiveness (they'll forgive me, right?)

The ATC itself was nestled inside of this smaller handmade envelope made from an Easter-themed advertisement. The rainbow-striped tape on the sides was what was holding my precious $20,000 bill in place. Using rainbow tape on anything that you send me is worth exactly 6-1/2 Rainbow Dash brownie points. Accumulate one bazillion points and Rainbow Dash will bake you a brownie, and by bake I mean she'll buy you a Little Debbie one, pull the cellophane wrapper off, and solemnly swear that she spent hours making it from scratch.

One can't help but think of Disney's Ariel when you see a mermaid with red hair, but, considering that her tail isn't green and she's sporting more daring starfish pasties rather than Ariel's trademark lilac bivalve bikini top, I believe that Mandykaye's creation is intended to be an original character instead. I love how her hair is spread out and tangled around her in a realistic underwater fashion. She's looking/reaching upwards, perhaps some unseen treasure from the surface world is slowly sinking down towards the mermaid and has caught her attention? Mandykaye told me that the blue/green background paint was done by another Craftster member, not her, so she can't take credit for that, but the rest of the card is her work and done in ink. The tail scales are actually slightly raised elements; Mandykaye used a net pattern stamp on gesso to achieve that effect which looks really cool and realistic (I bet that technique would work great for doing tree bark too). Her tailfins extend a bit outside of the ATC's borders, but I think that's neat, and, like I always write in the claims thread, I don't keep my ATCs in a card album anyway, so that's perfectly fine with me as all of my ATCs are free roaming (swimming in this case) and don't have to fit into anything.

You can find all sorts of amazing things under the sea!

Thank you for your aquatic beauty, Mandykaye! I loves me some mermaids!

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