A stamp is one of the easiest ways to make reproducible artwork — and it’s a lot easier that you think. All you really need is a bit of plastic eraser (the white kind), a sharp X-acto knife, a soft pencil, a piece of mylar and an ink pad (or a sponge and some ink, if you want to get really ghetto).
I started making stamps with erasers. Erasers are perfect for very small stamps but if you want to get any bigger, you’ll need a slightly more professional medium. Speedball makes large rubber sheets about half a centimetre thick in a “beginner’s grade,” a white, easy-to-cut substance that comes apart much like children’s erasers — easily breakable and good for rough jobs, but tends to crumble if handled too roughly. This is what I made most of my stamps out of last year.
For longer-lasting, more durable stamps, go with Speedball’s “Speedy-Carve,” a pink substance that I think is made for lino carvings. It’s springier and bendier and requires more patience to carve, but holds details better and is harder to nick chunks out of accidentally. Plus, you can transfer images onto the surface of it with a warm iron.
So first, you want your image. Draw it on regular paper or print it out. Then layer a sheet of mylar over it and trace it with a very soft pencil. Mylar is perfect because it is a translucent paper that’s actually made of plastic, so the graphite from the pencil will not sink into indents or grain but sit on top of the page. (I use mylar to make my screenprinting stencils because you can wash it and reuse it.)
Once you’ve traced your image on the mylar, cut a piece of eraser or Speedball stamp material approximately the same size as your image, making sure you have a little room to spare. Place it on top of the image and press down, but don’t wiggle it around. You want the graphite to adhere to the stamp material and not smudge. It’s best to warm the stamp medium a little to help it adhere. I usually set mine on top of a heating vent or in the sun for a minute.
When you lift up your stamp medium, you should see the outline of your drawing on the bottom. Now you can decide whether you want the image popped up or dropped out. If you want it popped up, you need to carve away everything but the graphite lines you’ve drawn so that when you’re finished, the image is raised. If you want it dropped out, you must carve away the image you’ve drawn, and the stamp area around your image remains raised to form a background.
Carving it out is the real challenge. When I first started, I just sort of chipped away chunks at a time with my X-acto knife. But if you need precision for a complex stamp, you can use the tip of the knife, angled away from your graphite guidelines, to cut exactly along the edge of your lines, slicing neatly instead of hacking. It takes a bit to get the hang of it, but once you’ve mastered simple shapes, the only limit to the detail you can get are your own motor skills.
Once you’ve carved out your image, ink it and stamp it on a bit of scrap to see how your stamp looks. You’ll usually find that you’ll need to make adjustments and slice away raised humps that are interfering with the crispness of your image. When you’re satisfied with your stamp, take a scrub brush (like the ones they make for your skin) and gently scrub the stamp under warm water. This will remove any flakes that might be hanging on.
Dry the stamp on a clean towel or on a heat vent. The scrub brush, with a bit of dish detergent, is the best way to clean it when you’re switching ink colours, too. The last thing you want is to muddy up a nice ink pad. If you haven’t got an ink pad, you can use bottled ink, like the kind you use in fountain pens. Just pour a little into a bottle cap, get a bit of sponge and dab the stamp on it. It’s a little messy but it works.
A note of warning: some cats really really like to chew on rubber and rubber-like material. Keep your stamps in a drawer if you have extraordinarily hungry or devious pets. I usually keep my stamps in wooden boxes, separated by scraps of paper, to keep ink from getting all over the place.
If you want a handle for your stamp, get some balsa wood from a hardware store or craft shop. It’s soft enough to cut with a knife but sturdy enough to use as a block handle. Just affix the stamp to the wood with Elmer’s glue.
If you like stamps but aren’t the crafty type, some of my hand-crafted stamps are available on the Forest Friend Etsy site.
Mongolian Family set (includes mother, father, child, yak and yurt)
I also make custom signature stamps