There’s an account I follow on Instagram, ViktoriaAstrom, where I have seen the most wonderful little illustrations turned into large carved stamps and used to print wonderful and whimsical pieces of art.
I always fancied a go at making one, but like many crafts it is something that requires specialist tools and materials, and it was an outlay that was too much just for a play with a new medium. However, I was extremely lucky and so grateful when a friend sent me a little ‘stamp carving’ kit, with a couple of blocks of carving material and one of the tools used to carve your own stamps.
The carving tool is something like a little V-shaped chisel. Mine has a little projection sticking out from the middle of it, too. I’m not entirely sure if that is supposed to be there of if it’s a bit of an anomaly, a manufacturing uniqueness, as the pictures I’ve seen online don’t seem to have it. It catches a bit as I use it, but that may well be my inexpert handling of the tool, but I am learning to work around it and even use it to advantage in a few instances.
The First Attempt
The first thing I carved was a trilobite, because it is a shape and form which I feel an affinity for, and a creature that though no longer with us, persisted and adapted to all manner of conditions and specialities.
The carving blocks that were included with the kit have a thin (1mm) layer of one colour of rubber-type material over a thicker layer of the same material in another colour. I’d wondered if you were supposed to cut down to the lower colour with all the lines, but I think this is more or less impossible unless you are making very broad cuts, as there is only one size of tool so to make finer liners to have to carve at a shallow depth with just the point of the V grazing the surface.
Down The Rabbit Hole We Go
After the first stamp, which I enjoyed making so much, I decided that I wanted to make something a little finer for the second stamp block. I looked to see if there was a smaller V-tool available and saw an inexpensive 10-in-1 tool made be a company called Essdee. It had interchangeable cutting tips including one that was a good deal smaller than the one I was using. Oh no. Now I have bought a thing.
And because I now had a tool it would seem silly to only carve one more stamp, so I got some carving material. Here is where my inexperience really shows. I researched as much as I could, and as far as I could tell, the material closest to what I have been using is called SpeedyCarve by Speedball, but it is very expensive and way beyond my budget. Instead, I have bought two other carving blocks, again from Essdee – Softcut and Mastercut, but I don’t really know what they will be like. They both are a lot thinner than what I have used and seem to be a different material altogther, so I may not enjoy using them, they may be totally not what I am after, or I may even prefer them. Time will tell.
I used my second block from the kit to make a whale shark, which I chose because I do so love gentle giants in any form, and I adore their markings, so thought that it would give me a good opportunity to test out creating fine lines and circles. I think he was relatively successful, and though I did not get the finesse of shape I was after a lot of the time, the new cutting tool was a lot easier to use. I need to try and work out a way of cutting small circular marks that are much smaller than the size of the cutting tip, though this whale shark does not suffer from my novice hands as their markings are not by any means perfect circles.
The rubber stamp carving kit also contained three little ink pads to use with the finished stamps. I couldn’t really work out how to use them other than to dab them all over the stamp like a bingo dauber and then lay the paper onto the up-turned stamp and rub the paper over it. Is this right? Who knows. I’ll do things the best way I can until I learn a better way or think of something else.
The prints made by the rubber stamps and ink pads are a little patchy and uneven in their distribution of ink, but I don’t mind that at all. It helps them look like their have authenticity as handmade prints. Similarly, the little flecks of ink around the edges of the prints, which first I wondered how to eliminate, were pointed out to me as being the marks of a maker, and I appreciate them more for that very reason (thank you, Lori, for finding worth in what I thought were imperfections… it is a skill of yours).
The printing process (if I can even call it that), produces a slightly different image each time due to the surrounding marks of the stamp and how the in is sitting on the stamp, so each image that emerges from the stamp block has its own unique signature.
The Next Block
Since I started writing this post yesterday I have opened up the larger of the two packs of carving blocks – the ‘Soft Cut’. It’s rock hard compared to the kit carving blocks, and I have been struggling to cut into it without hurting my hands, which are not as strong or resistant as they have once been. Despite this, I have been approaching it by only carving for a couple of minutes at a time, a few marks or lines here and there, with the idea that a project done in tiny bursts is still as legitimate a handmade piece of work as something studied and worked on for tireless hours through sweat and exhaustion.
I am carving a little hedgehog nestled into a warm surround of oak leaves, marking my wishes for the arrival of autumn. I wanted to make an image that let me practice making little lines of light against a dark background, and little remnant slithers of dark against a lighter background, to see if it is possible to make those ‘marks of a maker’ with purpose. A hedgehog, with all his prickly spines and soft belly, and the contrast in colour therein, seemed to be a perfect animal subject.
I don’t know how it will look when it is printed. I don’t even know if I am carving on the correct side of this medium, to be honest (there was a rough side and a smooth side, and I chose the latter). I don’t know if I can use my little stamp blocks to ink it (the picture on the front of the carving block shows a roller and some form of paint). There is much that I do not know at this stage, but I’m enjoying the process of learning something new.