Over the weekend, I was part of a retreat for a group that I belong to. The group leader asked me to conduct an art exercise designed to help the group members know themselves and each other better. I decided on artist trading cards as the ideal project. Their compact size (about the size of a baseball card) lends itself easily to a quick and satisfying art making experience.
Group members were given three cards. On one they were to depict a joy or success they had while working as part of this group. On another they were asked to depict a sorrow or disappointment. On the third card, the name of a member of the group was written on the back. These cards were distributed randomly and everyone was asked to think about something the named person might need to hear and then depict that on the card.
We worked for about 30 minutes using collage words and pictures, oil pastels, colored pencils and markers. Upon completion, the finished cards were laid out together on another table for group members to look at and reflect upon over the course of the day.
As a closing for the retreat, everyone retrieved their cards. Rather than having everyone speak in turn about the images on their cards, the cards were wordlessly passed from one to the next in a round robin until your own card had returned to you. We did this for the joy/success card first and then the sorrow/disappointment card. There was a profound silence, a reverence even, as the cards were passed from hand to hand. I don’t know who made which card, but I distinctly remember the powerful images on them.
Borrowing from the tradition of sharing the Oplatki wafer that I learned this past holiday season, we began to share the third cards with the person for whom we had made them. The cards were exchanged and the pair embraced, offering kindness and acceptance to each other.
Working from the open studio model, I rarely use directives. But in this case a structured task was called for and specific issues needed to be addressed. The artist trading cards were the perfect medium for this exercise. Not only that, everyone had a transitional object to remind them of the wonderful day we spent together. Artist trading cards are a great tool for community building and are designed to be traded with other artists. There are many ongoing exchanges you can take part in, so start building your collection today!