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Card collections are works of art

Sports fans would recognize Lisa Kastello’s binder of plastic sheets as the kind often used to store and display baseball cards. But Kastello’s card collection does not feature sluggers and stats.

It’s a kaleidoscope of colors, textures and images – the pretty, the edgy and the abstract. Kastello of DeKalb is among thousands of artists worldwide who have fallen in love with artist trading cards, miniature works of art that are traded or given away.

“It’s an easy, fast way to make something,” fellow trader Katherine Cessna of Sycamore said. “And I like that they’re portable. Kids (in my art classes) just keep them in their back pocket to show them and trade them.”

The artist trading card movement began in 1996 in Switzerland, but it has exploded in recent years thanks to the Internet, where clubs and communities flourish. Artists and teachers use them to experiment with media and techniques, and their size gives even those intimidated by the idea of making art an outlet to express themselves.

There are a few rules: the cards must be 2.5 inches-by-3.5 inches, backed by sturdy cardstock, and should be original works of art.

Possibly the most important rule is that the cards should be traded or given away, not sold.

Art therapist Lisa Kay uses the cards in her art therapy sessions at the Kishwaukee Cancer Care Center in DeKalb. Sometimes patients and caregivers create cards; other times they select images that appeal to them from the many cards artists donate to the center.

“It’s made me rethink some things about therapy,” Kay said. “The image is what’s provocative and powerful. That’s what’s making the connection. It’s not an image I created, it’s an image someone else created that we can talk about and relate to.”

In addition to the therapeutic aspect of discussing the art, patients often are touched to learn they can take the miniature works for free and keep them, Kay said.

“For the patients in the center, it really gives them a sense of hope that people who don’t even know them care enough about them to do this. It’s a gesture of love from humankind,” she said. “That’s what makes it so powerful. It’s the greatest expression of giving.”

Cessna was introduced to artist trading cards when she volunteered at the cancer center, she said. As a student teacher in art education, she then took the concept to her K-12 art classes. High school students made cards for her to bring back to the cancer center at Kishwaukee, and fifth-graders created cards for the cancer center at Delnor-Community Hospital in Geneva.

“To see the younger crowd explore it is amazing,” Cessna said. “They have no boundaries. The possibilities are endless, which is so weird because it’s such a small space.”

Kastello, a former art teacher now pursing her doctorate, started an online trading group to help her keep in touch with former students who had entered the military. It also allowed the students to provide moral support to one another around the world.

“I had students who had really done well in school, then after they graduated they didn’t make art much anymore,” Kastello said. “Two factors holding them back were time and money. But it doesn’t take much time to create a 2-and-a-half by 3-and-a-half piece of artwork, and it doesn’t take much money because you can use recycled materials. I know no matter where they are in the world, they can find something to create with.”

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