Thursday, July 1, 2010

Stamp Carving Tutorial + Blog Candy.

Spurred on by interest from my friend Dana over at Kismet, Art, Life, i decided to post a little tutorial on stamp carving. (Thanks so much for your support, D!) i'll also be offering what i'm pretty sure is my first ever blog candy! More on that at the end of this post.

i've been interested in stamp carving for a few years now, but didn't attempt it myself until February of this year. i was initially pretty intimidated by the prospect, but found it to be a lot easier than i thought even after only my first carving. If you've been interested, too, but wary of your abilities after seeing the amazing examples on the web (check out for some stunning little masterpieces!), i urge you to put aside fear and give it a try. i assure you, you can do this! It's not as difficult as you might imagine, and mistakes can often be corrected. Plus, even the most rudimentary carvings with imperfections somehow turn out looking pretty cool. Another bonus - you can get started carving with a small investment of funds. 

I'm by no means a master carver, but after scouring the web for tips, checking out a book on the subject at my local library and carving nearly 60 stamps so far, i feel that i can share enough to get you started. 

First, supplies:
Starting at the top left and moving clockwise:
* Lino Cutter. Mine's the Speedball Lino Cutter Set, No. 1. i got it for about $7 at Dick Blick. It comes with one handle and 5 blades, and the blades can be stored inside the handle. The blades you'll use most often are the V-shaped cutter #1 and the U-shaped gouge #5.
* Carving medium. i recommend starting with the plastic, white polymer erasers (white block shown here) you can find at most big box or office supply stores. i use the Pentel brand. They're cheap and cut like butter. The pink erasers crumble too easily for my tastes. Other mediums shown here are Blick Blue "Easy-to-cut" block (the big blue-grey piece on the bottom), Blick brand E-Z Cut Printing block (the beige one) and a very rubbery, smooth block (smaller grey piece) that i can't recall the brand name. i know i got it at Blick, too. Not shown is one of my favorites, MasterCarve by Staedtler. It's consistent and produces clean lines and is favored by many carvers. i haven't tried the "Easy-to-cut" block yet, so i can't speak for its attributes, but the beige "E-Z Cut" is ok, kind of crumbly and not great for detail, but a good choice for simple designs. Some people use linoleum, but it's more for block printing than stamping, and i've heard it begins to break down after a year, so i've shied away from it. Most carving blocks are thick enough that you can carve on both sides and even the edges if you choose. 
*Ink for stamping your carving.
*Image for carving. Trace you image onto vellum or tracing paper with a 4B pencil. You will transfer your image by rubbing the tracing (penciled side against the block) onto the block with a bone folder or spoon. There are other means of transferring, such as acetone and by using a Chartpak (solvent-based) blender marker, but i've had mixed results this way. Plus, some blocks react negatively to solvents and acetone. You can do a web search for these other transfer methods to see which you prefer.

So, let's get started!
Begin by laying your pencil tracing onto the block, in this case a white polymer eraser. Holding the tracing steady, rub over the backside with a bone folder or spoon until the image transfers. Try not to move it as you rub or it will smudge! This is a clip art image, but you can use any image you like - your own drawings, images from coloring books or magazines, whatever. Start with something simple for your first try, something with few details. 

Here's the result. Now you have clean guidelines for carving. Try to avoid rubbing your hand across it as you carve, at least as much as possible, to avoid smudging. You could also trace over your lines with a Sharpie for added security. 

Insert the V-cutter #1 into your cutter handle. This is the blade you'll use for cutting your main outlines. Start with the outside edge, holding the cutter like a pencil and moving it forward. Let the blade do the work - you don't have to push hard or force it. Just follow your lines and cut. When you reach a curve, move the block rather than the cutter. It's easier and saves your wrist some discomfort. The biggest tip i can give you is to make shallow cuts. You can always go back later and refine, but you don't want to cut too deeply to begin with and ruin your carving. After you finish the outside edge, move into the center lines, the veins of the leaf. Be careful in tight corners! It's better to cut away too little than too much. When reaching tight spaces, lift the blade up slightly as you cut to remove just a hair of the material. And watch the placement of your fingers! You don't want to carve those, too!

i've finished my outlining. Now i'm ready to cut away the excess along the outside edges as well as inside the veins.

Insert the U-gouge #5 into the cutter handle and begin cutting away the excess. Again, make shallow cuts and let the blade do the work. You can see here that i've already cut away the inside along the veins. i used the V-cutter #1 for this because the U-gouge wouldn't have fit into such small areas. You can also see where i made some mistakes, but that's ok! It adds a rustic look, and we're not seeking perfection here. 

After you've removed the bulk of the excess, test your carving by stamping onto scrap paper. Here's where you can see how much more to cut away. Some people prefer to leave the visible cutting lines for aesthetics. It will look like a woodcut. The choice is yours.

i've now cleaned it up and here's my finished product. Now, wasn't that easy?

If i wanted, i could now carve an image on the other side. Keep in mind that bending these erasers could break them, and often ink-staining will occur, but as with manufactured stamps this will not affect the stamped image. Clean your stamps with soap and water or stamp cleaner. 

Here's a photo of the first stamp i ever carved. It's an image of a feather from the book Rubber Stamp Carving: Techniques, Designs and Projects by LuAnn Udell. i'm sure there's lots of books on the subject, but this is the only one i found at my local library, and it helped a lot. The author leads you through projects of increasing difficulty, but all are easily accomplished with a little practice.

i encourage you to try carving for yourself. It's simpler than you think, affordable and very satisfying. If you love rubber stamps, you'll adore having your own carved images to stamp. 

Feel free to ask any questions you might have. i can't promise to have all the answers, but i'll try my best to help!

*Keep your cuts shallow!
*Let the blades do the work; they're very sharp and will cut your block with gentle pressure. 
*When carving text, be sure to carve them backwards/reversed so that they stamp correctly.
*Keep a little notebook or journal for stamping your carved images. Add dates, where you found the image and what carving medium you used. This will prove beneficial for future reference and to find which medium you prefer. Plus, you have a reference for what you've already carved. 
*An image carved too close to the edge of a block may not stamp those outside lines. Keep the carving a little bit away from the edge. 
*Carving blocks can be cut down to size or even cut around the image to avoid waste or provide a more cleanly-stamped image.
*Store your stamps in a box or little drawer and they should last years. 

Now onto the blog candy! By commenting on this post, you'll be entered to win some of my own carved stamps. i'm trying to drum up my readership, so if you post a link to this post on your own blog, i'll enter you twice. Be sure to let me know that you've posted a link! Contest ends on Wednesday, July 7th at midnight. i'll draw a number on Thursday, July 8th and post the winner here sometime that day. i still don't have the net at home, so is something unforeseen happens and i can't post a winner then, i'll do it as soon after that date as possible. Good luck!

Thanks for stopping by! Hope this tutorial has helped anyone curious about carving their own stamps. Have a great day!


  1. YAY! What a great tutorial Jessica! You made it look so much easier than I was expecting it to be. Your direction were perfect, and I actually don't have any questions.
    Can you post a picture of your poppies one? I want to see how you did such big areas..
    You rock and I am so going to check out a few books on the subject. Thanks for a really great tutorial girl...

  2. This is a great tutorial! I just started an art journal-type thing, and while I found a bunch of stamps at a thrift store, I just might have to try making my own, now! Thanks!

  3. I've just made a post about your tutorial/blog candy. :)

  4. Thanks, guys! i've never done a tutorial with this much info, and i was hoping it would be helpful.
    Dana - i sure will post a pic of the poppies, but it might take a bit. It's at home now (and i'm not), but i'll try to get a pic up next week.
    i took some pics the other day of some other stamps i've carved, will post those maybe today!

  5. Wow, this looks so much easier than I would have thought! I really, really want to try this for myself. Time for a trip to HL. Thanks! By the way, did you try some negative prints, too? At first, I thought you were going to follow the actual lines of the leaf -- I wonder how that would have looked? Pretty cool, I'm thinking.

  6. Thanks, Anne. I have done a few negative images, and they do look cool. I forgot to mention in the post that you can do that, too.

  7. Hey, if you would like to try the Nasco safety kut, I'll be happy to send you a little sample. I'm not crazy about it but I suppose I didn't really give it a chance. Would love to know what you think!

  8. Thanks for showing this tutorial. I always wondered how to carve out stamps.

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