Daydreaming on Paper
 
May/June 2004
Carve Your Own Rubber Stamps
 

By this time, you have had all kinds of fun making your own stickers. Now, it is time to graduate to the big leagues and learn how to carve your own rubber stamps. With all of the thousands of stores and websites that offer an abundance of stamps to choose from, you may wonder why you should bother trying to make your own. The answer, of course, is why not?

  • Why not treat yourself to some images that are entirely to your liking?
  • Why not create one-of-a-kind stamps from your own artwork?
  • Why not save yourself a truckload of cash?
  • Why not have a ridiculously good time while producing something tangible and useful?
  • Why not flex your creative muscles?

Some of you may have attempted to make your own stamps before, perhaps with less than stellar results. Before we get started, I want to stress that there are many, many methods of stamp carving. I am by no means an expert on the subject. I am well aware that some of my preferences and techniques may seem crude or unsophisticated by certain pros in the field.

I can live with that.

My method is low-tech and low-budget. It is not necessarily the best way; but, it works for me, and I think it will work for you, too. Ready to find out? Let's begin!

 
 

The Stuff You Need

  • An image to carve
    There are an endless number of sources for stamp images: clip art books and CDs, magazines, packaging, and your own sketchbook, for starters. Use a word processing program to print your name or favorite sayings in interesting fonts. Glean ideas from unexpected sources like the pattern on your favorite skirt or the design detail from a statue you saw in a museum. Some of my best stamps were carved from papercut patterns. Look all around you and use your imagination! Keep a file folder of your favorite images and ideas so that they will be handy when you are in the mood to carve. Save them even after you have finished the stamp. You never know when you might want to make one for a friend.

    Your first attempts at carving should be fairly simple. Think bold lines and few details. You probably want to work on a medium scale, too - avoid small and intricate; avoid large unless the image takes up almost all of the carving space.

  • Carving material
    I like Speedball Speedy-Cut. It may be a little harder to find (try an art supply store versus a craft store), but I think it is worth the effort. It is a dream to work with, and it cleans easily, too. Get Speedy-Cut sheets in the biggest size that your store has available. Per square inch, you come out better this way. If the price seems steep to you, think about how many (how few, rather) premade stamps you could buy with that same amount of money. Even if you stick to unmounted stamps, an investment of some quality carving material and a little time turn out to be the better bargain. Remember: the tiniest leftover bits of Speedy-Cut can be carved into a stamp.

    If you want to test your carving skills and enthusiasm a bit before shelling out the dough for the good stuff, a Magic Rub eraser is the next best thing. They can be found in just about any office supply store and they are a convenient size for beginner carvings. They are denser and firmer than Speedy-Cut, but they will work just fine.

    Feel free to disregard my opinion and use whatever carving material you like/is cheapest/heard was the best/have in front of you.

  • Tracing paper
    You just need a big enough piece to cover your image, with a small margin beyond that.

  • A pencil
    A mechanical pencil with a fine point and soft lead will produce the best results.

  • An X-acto knife with a #16 blade in it
    I have found that the X-acto knife produces better carving results than the Speedball cutter. I like smooth, clean lines; the shape of the #16 blade is capable of doing fine detail work as well as cutting away larger chunks of white space. The X-acto is cheaper, easier to use, and more versatile (for other craft projects), too.

  • A stamp ink pad

  • Removable correction tape (optional)
    I use this to hold my tracing paper in place while I am tracing my image. Any other kind of tape should work just fine.
  • A burnisher (optional)
Stamp Carving Materials

The Fun Part

Step 1: Tape your bit of tracing paper over your image. You may even want to tape all of it to the table so that it will not slip while you are trying to trace your design.

Step 2: Carefully trace your image. Spend some time on this. The better the tracing, the better the carving. You may even want to use a ruler to help with any straight edges.

Step 3: When you are done, remove the tape and gently blow away any excess lead. Position your tracing - pencil side down - onto your carving material. Hold it steady with one hand; you do not want the tracing paper to shift. With the other hand, use a burnisher or your finger to rub the tracing paper, transferring your image onto the carving material.

Step 4: Once you have transferred your image, trim away any excess carving material. This makes the carving process a lot quicker and you can use that leftover bit for another stamp. I use a regular kitchen knife to trim my Speedy-Cut.

Now it's time to take a deep breath and start carving!

 

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