Tangent #15: Carving Stamps

In this tutorial, a nudge to hand-carve a few stamps, to make a little design or pattern and turn it into a repeat. These miniature handmade mark-making devices add a unique twist, a bit of YOU, on your journal pages. [Updated from March 2015]

Create repeatable imagery in your own unique style.

This is an introduction to eraser and linoleum stamp carving, including a video tutorial, ideas & inspiration. Add some hand-carved stamps to your art journal!

If you can dream up a design, you can carve it and stamp it directly in your journal or on a loose sheet of watercolor paper, an index card or even accounting paper or pages from an old book.

“Everyone should be able to do one card trick, tell two jokes, and recite three poems, in case they are ever trapped in an elevator.”
Lemony Snicket

Here's a page from my 5x8" moleskine drawing journal, the one I've been using for many of the Prompt60 prompt series. The stamped mandala on the left was made by stamping that wavy eraser stamp in a circle. I love the organic, imperfect look that the stamp makes. On the right, there's a vertical line of black imprints from the scales pattern I carved on an eraser stamp. {Example, page down}.

Stamps are design elements, components. The black pattern to the left/under the "fragile" mail sticker is an eraser stamp, cut from the index card below. 

I made a quick 6 minute video to share how I carve eraser and linoleum stamps with lino-cutting tools. You can also watch the video on Vimeo.

Explorations and experiments with hand-carved stamps.

When making stamps, you will need to think in a stampy way. For example, the parts you carve will be the negative space and will not stamp. The parts you "don't carve" make an imprint. Also think in reverse... the mirror image of the carving. So while an uppercase "A" is the same in reverse, the lowercase "a" is not. I can't tell you how many times I've carved words "forwards" instead of backwards. 

Safety note! Be careful; linocutting tools are sharp. Like when you are cutting vegetables, cut so that the directional path of the tool goes "away" from your body and not towards your other hand. The tool could slip. Thank you to an attentive reader for reminding me to add this info!

My stamps carved a few years ago are still intact, but be aware that eraser stamps don't last forever! In time they will start to lose crispness and the more delicate bits can crack off. Treat them gently. Designs carved in lino materials will last much longer and will stay crisp and defined. 

Ink & Texture Ideas

a) Layer stamps with different colored inks.
b) Vary the amount of stamping ink or paint you use when you stamp; give each imprint a different look.
c) Pages with irregular surfaces and layers are perfect for stamping - each imprint looks different.
d) Stamp on fabric and throw that in your journal too {see heart stamps & stamped fabric below}. 
e) Stamp with fluid acrylic paint or gesso.
f) White & silver & pastel stamping ink pops on dark backgrounds.

Just Ideas

a) Decorate mail art.
b) Stamp carving tutorial for letter boxing at Atlas Quest, plus stamping tips.
c) At Balzer Designs, stamp carving ideas galore. Including carve an entire alphabet.
d) Proof of the addictive nature of stamp-carving at I am Rushmore.
e) Ideas for tiny stamps at Geninne's Art Blog.
f) Stamp directly on the page or stamp on loose paper and use as a collage component.
g) Detailed tips about stamp carving.

Shape & Stamping Pattern Ideas

a) Design a stand-alone stamp, a little image like a bird or flower.
b) Design an abstract pattern that can be combined with other shapes to create a line of shapes, a repeating pattern, or a starburst.
c) Stamp a page edge/margin with long narrow stamps. 
d) Embellish page corners + photo corners with corner, L- or V-shaped, ivy or flourishes as well as frames. 
e) Imprint tags, packaging, labels with your name, blog, company, logo.

Subject Ideas

a) Echo a theme that you explore in your work or a symbol that you often use.
b) Make a collection of tiny stamps in a theme. For example, you could create spoons, forks, strawberries and garlic for a family recipe book. A mini Holga camera, polaroid frame, negative strip for a photography book. 

Carlene Taylor Simmons uses hand-carved stamps, above, in her altered book art journals. Super geometric carving cuteness. 

I carved this scale pattern in an eraser and stamped with a pale green on an index card to make a scale pattern in a modified brick repeat.

Tools

- Pentel erasers. You can get 2/ $ 1 USD. There are cheaper erasers but I recommend you don't scrimp. It's not easy to carve a crumbly eraser. Junky erasers can get brittle or start peeling off after a year or two.
Speedball Linoleum Cutters. I have Speedball Lino Set No. 1 which includes one holder, more than enough to carve all sorts of stuff for many years. If you are carving something buttery soft like erasers, you can stick the cutting nib into a calligraphy or dip pen holder. For more leverage, use the Speedball holder which has a sturdier grip.
- Stamping Ink. 

I really do prefer working with erasers, there's something so intensely engaging about carving them. If you'd like to use lino-cutting material, I've only determined that I do "not" recommend Jack Richeson Easy Cut Lino {the one in the video, hard to carve} or Speedball Speedy Cut {material crumbled and didn't last}.