Arts 'n' Crafts NZ
Arts 'n' Crafts NZ

Tiny Art - Where size matters

26.01.20 06:02 PM By ANCNZ

The big deal with tiny art.

In a lot of art galleries and museums you can see huge paintings on display by the old as well as the modern masters. But did you know there is a smaller world in art too.

This world gets described by initialisms such as ATC, ACEO, SFA, as well as more conventional names such as miniature art, postcard art,  mail art. But what does it all mean?

Let us try to make some sense of this little world.

Miniature art

These days, if you search for the term miniature you are mostly confronted with small 3 dimensional collectable  figurines and models used in table top war games. Or creations meant for dollhouse collectors. But 2 dimensional miniature artwork (specifically painted illustrations) date back centuries, originating in ancient manuscripts.

Today there are societies for miniature art around the world, such as the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers, founded in 1896. They each have specific rules about the size of the physical artwork and in some cases even the dimensions of the subject matter in drawings and paintings, these usually being no more than 1/6th scale of the real life subject matter. Some societies are stricter than others with these rules.


ATC is the initialism of Art Trading Cards, started by Swiss Artist M. Vänçi Stirnemann in 1997. They are works of art created on a 2.5 x 3.5 inch substrate, initially card stock, though now other materials such as wood are also used. As the name suggests, they are created to be traded with other artists preferably at face to face events, though trading by post (remember, that thing before email) is also an option. However, the main idea is for that personal connection that one gets at a face to face trading session.

ATCs are to be traded for other ATCs. They are not to be sold. As this exert from the official ATC website explains.

"It‘s not about money: ATCs are not to be sold (ATCs and money don't mix). participants in trading sessions and editions should not be charged any money: the point of the project is the exchange of cards as well as the personal experience."

This brings us to our next initialism.


ATCs are a great way to get your artwork out there but don't directly do much to feed the all too cliché Starving Artist. As mentioned, ATCs are not to be exchanged for money.

In 2004 ATCs went commercial, but not as ATCs. They were still the same size (2.5 x 3.5 inch) but these had a new name of ACEO, (Art Cards, Editions and Originals). Initiated by Lisa Luree who launched a group on the popular auction website, eBay, for this ATC offshoot. These cards were made with the intention to be sold. Providing an affordable way into the world of art collection.

Then things started to grow a little.


In 2005 Jillian Crider introduced us to the world of SFA, Small Format Art. Where the main rule is to have a work of art that is no longer than 14 inch in any one direction

This also made its debut on eBay. It allows for larger works but is still a relatively small manageable and affordable size for the collector and a great size to use in home decor. SFA is still gaining momentum unlike our next initialism that appears to have gone the way off the Dodo.


Founded in 2006 by Dustie Meades. OSWOA, Original Small Works Of Art, was reportedly still alive and kicking a year later. But, certainly now, in 2020 when this article was written, seems to have gone the way off the Dodo. Use of the initialism seems to have died out by end 2017. Also, the official website for the movement no longer exists.

Seemingly an offshoot of Mail/Postcard Art, the rule here is a a hand drawn or hand painted artwork of exactly 4 x 6 inches which conveniently fits nicely in the pockets of  4 x 6 inch photo albums. So though the initialism of OSWOA seems to be a thing of the past, the rule of 4 x 6 inches comes nicely under the SFA banner so all is not lost.

Mail Art

Postcard Art comes under the bigger umbrella that is Mail Art. Not the modern electronic email but its predecessor, Snail Mail. The term "Mail Art" was coined in the 1960s with Ray Johnson being credited for starting the overall movement prior to that, in 1943, when he started sending small collages through the mail and encouraging his recipients of these works to do the same.

Other areas of small art.

The above is a summary of some of the groups and movements that came about to facilitate in the sharing and selling of small works off art. There are other areas where one can find small works of art, such as artistamps, rubber stamps, stickers,  mini artworks for dollhouse collectors and diorama creators and no doubt many more.

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