What is an ACEO?

Most of my recent paintings have been in a size format called “ACEO”, i.e. “Art Cards Editions and Originals”. ACEOs are essentially miniature paintings in a standard size of 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches — the same size as a trading card or gaming card. Other than that, they can be in any media and on any subject. Some ACEO artists even work in fabric and clay!

My ACEOs are usually created in watercolor and ink. Here is my process:

  • Paper: I start with a 9×12 block of 140 lb. professional-grade acid-free watercolor paper, usually Arches cold pressed or Fabriano rough. The 9×12 block enables me to work on 8 or 9 images at one time. Of the 9, I may get 2 or 3 that I feel are my “best work”. (If I only have 8 images, I use the 9th section to test colors and tonal values.)
  • Sketch: Using a 2H pencil, I mark off the boundaries of the individual paintings and sketch an image into each one. Sometimes I work with variations on a theme; sometimes the images are completely random.
  • Underpainting: I add an underpainting using a water-soluble pencil or watercolor paint to establish tonal value.
  • Painting: My next step is to execute the painting. I use Daniel Smith watercolor pigments, which are highly pigmented and so very yummy to use. I love the Daniel Smith PrimaTek mineral pigments, especially those made from gemstones such as lapis, turquois, and amethyst. I’ve also become quite fond on their iridescent gold, which I’ve been using on dragon scales and moonbeams.

    When working at this small size, I sometimes use a lighted magnifier to see where to place the tiniest of details, such as the highlight in the eye of this seadragon (pictured). This particular piece was already trimmed out of its 9×12 sheet because I had finished several of its companions and matted them for a show.

  • Inking: After the paint dries, I add a touch of ink to define detail and make the image “pop”. I currently use Micron acid-free ink pens, but I’ve also used Faber Castell and Prismacolor markers. I also add my mark – my stylized initials and the year – in gold ink.
  • Trim: When the art is complete and dry, I remove the page from the watercolor block and trim along the boundary lines, which gives me a final 3″ x 4″ painting. If I sell the painting as an “ACEO”, I trim it down to the official 2.5″ x 3.5″ size and insert into a hard plastic protective sleeve. (I use the same “toploaders” that card collectors use.) If I mat the painting to display at a show, I leave it untrimmed, and the raw edges are hidden under the mat.
  • Title: On the back of each, in pencil, I add a title, the copyright notice, date of creation, and my signature.

So there you have it. I enjoy working in the ACEO format, as it gives me a chance to play with ideas as well as achieve a sense of completion in a short period of time.

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