other crafts, techniques

Hand-carved stamps

Two Pfeil linocut tools, a block of carving rubber and a printed leaf image.

It’s a weird time, creatively and generally. I’m not short of things to do and my mojo, surprisingly, hasn’t deserted me, but actually getting up and starting work on something? That’s the tricky part. I have managed to do a few bits, but I have to almost catch myself unawares and just start doing something to overcome the inertia — as soon as I begin to think about it, that’s it, it’s not happening.

I recently came across Laura Boswell, an artist specialising in linocut and woodcut printing, and I’ve been watching her videos about the process she uses. I really enjoyed making my Christmas robin card last year and I want to have a go at maybe trying a two-colour print, but while that idea is bouncing around the back of my brain, I had the idea to use some of my Tom Chalky illustrations to create stamps for mixed media work. The carving block I used had been sitting in a drawer for a while, luckily it was well wrapped and still in good condition, unlike the off-cut from another block that had dried out and cracked (lesson learned: always store your supplies correctly).

I gathered my supplies: my two Pfeil carving tools (12/1 and 11/2) and a Speedball one with a larger blade, a rubber carving block, Frisk Tracedown to transfer the design, ink to check the carving, and printouts of some images that I thought would work nicely as stamps.

The printed leaf image is taped onto the carving block and the tracedown paper is placed between the two.

The joy of using digital images as the source is that you can print them at the exact same size as your blocks, in my case 5cm square. I used a bit of tape to hold the image in place on the block — to avoid it slipping while I transferred the design — and placed the tracedown paper between the image and the block (being careful to check that the tracedown paper is the right way up otherwise you just end up with the image on the back of the printout as well… ask me how I know… actually, I think it’s the wrong way up in that photo…)

After successfully tracing the leaf onto the block, it’s time to start carving. Keywords here are slow and steady, and always carve away from your hands — I don’t care how confident or experienced you are, the tools are sharp and all it takes is one slip and you’ve stabbed yourself.

The outline of the leaf has been carved in the block.

I start by using my smallest tool and carving along the outline. Then I carve any lines inside the design.

The leaf outline cut has been emphasised and the background has started to be cleared.

Once I’m happy with that, I make the outline cut larger, creating an empty barrier between the stuff I want to keep and the stuff I want to get rid of.

All the excess rubber has been cut away from around the leaf design on the carving block.

When you start to clear the background, it’s best to work away from the important bit: if you’re not cutting towards it, you can’t slip and cut something you want to keep.

Carved block and ink pad with the test print in black ink.

Now it’s time to make a test print to see if there are any bits that need tidying up. Chances are there’ll be a bit of excess rubber either on the background (it’s easy for the edges to catch ink, especially if there’s a large empty area) or right next to the outline cut. I use Versafine onyx black for the test print because it’s a good solid black that covers the rubber really well.

Two carved blocks: the original solid leaf design and a matching outline leaf design.

Of course I couldn’t leave it at that. I wanted to see if I could create an outline to go with the solid leaf. It’s far from perfect, but I was aiming for a more rustic feel anyway — and even if it had exactly matched, it’s hard to line up two rubber stamps by hand. This was made in the same way as the first, just with more carving on the inside.

The two carved leaf stamps with prints of each individual stamp and a print of the two combined.

And I couldn’t just leave the rest of the block to sit in a drawer and dry out, so I carved a few more designs for practise.

Four more carved blocks of vintage decorative elements.

So that was a productive couple of days and it’s only taken me a week to process the photos and write it up, which is impressive considering the backlog of stuff I have to waiting to go on the blog. Hopefully it won’t take me as long to get around to the next post.

All six hand-carved stamps together.

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