Making my own stamps with help from a new guide, "Carve, Stamp, Play"

Carve Stamp Play by Julie Balzer
I started following Julie Fei-Fan Balzer's blog last year. She's my kind of multi-media artist -- she likes to try everything. Like carving her own stamps. 

So in the midst of tending my Etsy shop, learning to paint, serving my 3 demanding cats, writing this blog -- I decided to get her new book "Carve, Stamp, Play" and teach myself to make stamps, too.

I'd played with carving tools once before, but I needed Julie's advice when it came to buying some of my own. Happily, beginner tools don't cost a fortune. I got myself a Speedball starter kit and a couple slabs of "Soft Kut" rubber, made especially for stamp carving.
Supplies for stamp carving
At the core of Julie's book are workshops with step-by-step instructions and photos. Feeling overconfident, I skipped over the first couple of projects and started with this one, an abstract design. On the left is what Julie ends up with; on the right is the pattern I drew in ink, following Julie's steps.
My first stamp
Right away, I realized that carving is a subtle art. There are different ways to cut and many things to keep in mind. With each workshop, Julie is trying to impart a certain skill. In this case, it was how to carve lines of a specific length without going over. Like driving your car and stopping exactly on the white line of a crosswalk. 

Here's the impression my finished stamp produced. Not bad, but you can see that my line carving needs work, especially where the verticals meet the rounded border. Some of the lines are too long, and others are too short.
My first stamp
The next project was all about curves. I traced a butterfly image from Julie's book. She explains how to transfer graphite onto the rubber -- it's easy!
Learning to carve curves
Here's my stamp in process. The yellow shows me what to cut away. 
Learning to carve curves
Almost done -- the next step is a test print.
Learning to carve curves
The print shows me that I still need to carve around the outside butterfly to eliminate the small spots and lines. But I'm keeping the lines inside the wings.
Learning to carve curves
The next workshop is carving my own alphabet stamps -- I'm looking forward to that!

I'm about a quarter through the book. It was well worth the investment. The photos are excellent and it's clear that Julie loves stamping. For the book's next edition, she might add a few things:
  • A troubleshooting section, with common problems and mistakes people make
  • Photos of what NOT to do
  • More closeup photos of the carving process
  • More detailed descriptions of how to position and move the carving blade -- a companion video website would be very useful.
Have any of you tried carving your own stamps? Any tips for a newbie?


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