Stamp Carving 101
Carving the Image
After you have your desired image on your carving block, carving a stamp becomes nothing more than cutting away the parts of the carving medium that you don't need. You have two choices: (1) Carving a negative image or (2) carving a positive image. A negative-stamp image—where you carve away the dark areas of your design—is quicker and easier, but tends to look less professional. The positive-stamp image—where you carve away the light areas from your design—generally is slower and more challenging to carve, but the results tend to look much better. We'll use the positive-stamp carving for this tutorial since we want a slick-looking stamp!
|Step 1:||Usually your carving block will be quite a bit larger than the design you intend to carve. To make things a bit easier, cut out your design from the carving block with a knife or an X-acto blade.|
|Step 2:||We're ready to begin carving! Work in a well-lit area—it'll help immensely. Also notice that I placed the stamp on the tracing paper. Most any paper will do, but you'll find while carving curves on your design, it's easier to move the stamp under the carving blade than moving the carving blade over the stamp. Putting a piece of paper between your stamp and the table makes it easier to move the stamp around under your carving tools.|
|Step 3:||Begin to carve! For this positive space design, we need to carve out all the areas that don't have pencil transfer. Consider these tips while you're carving:
|Tip!||Cutting at sharp angles (left image) creates ragged edges and poor carvings. Use shallow angles (right image) for clean cuts.|
|Step 4:||Trace the edge lines first with a #1 nib, then go back and carve out the large areas with the #4 or #5 nibs later. Here I've carved out the edges and tight spaces with the #1 nib where cuts needed to be precise.
|Step 5:||Now we follow up with the large #5 nib to cut out the large swath of area around the ladybug. Make sure the cutting tip does not fall below the cutting surface. Otherwise, the tip will tear pieces out of the carving block rather than cutting them off cleanly.|
|Tip!||Never undercut the image. The cut-out portion of your stamp should slope away from your stamp's surface for maximum stability.|
|Step 6:||The carving is finished! I used a #6 cutting blade to trim the excess carving material from around the stamp (although an X-acto knife will work just as well).|
|Step 7:||Ink up your stamp and give it a try! Your carving might contain small flaws invisible to your eyes, but they pop out quickly when you actually use the stamp. If you see any flaws, go back and carve out a bit more. Remember, you can always cut away more of the carving block if necessary, but you can't put back pieces if you've cut out too much, so while carving, error on the side of caution!|
Letterboxers everywhere will have their own tricks and tips, including the ones listed below. I haven't tried any of these particular suggestions myself, but they might work for you so keep them in mind.
- To see your carved-out areas better, ink the surface of the carving medium with a light-colored ink-pad or use a highlighter over the image.
- Good lighting makes a huge difference! Some letterboxers even go so far as to use a magnifying glass/light combo that attaches to a table with clamps—both for the good light and the magnification.
- If the carving medium has too much 'give' when you're cutting, you can cool the carving block in your freezer or refrigerator to firm up the surface.
- For especially detailed images, laying your carving block out on a curved surface such as a can will help 'spread' your stamp apart for carving. When released from the can, the cuts shrink to a smaller size.
With a little practice, you will develop these techniques and build on them until they become second nature. And after a while, your stamps will have a certain look to them that other letterboxers will recognize as being your particular style.
Leaf Carving Example
Sun Carving Example
Speedball Tools Transfer Example
In my excitement while carving this stamp, you'll notice in three of these images that the stamp is actually upsidedown. This happens with all my carvings, but I thoughtfully put the stamps right-side up before taking the photos for this tutorial to make the changes in each successive photo more obvious. In this case, I plain forgot to!
While carving, you'll turn your stamp in whatever direction that will put you in the most comfortable cutting position, and you'll turn the stamp in all sorts of directions to do this. That's why I put a piece of tracing paper under the stamp—to make the stamp turn easier. That photo where I'm trimming off the excess material from the edges (the only one with a carving tool in the photo)—I'm right handed, which makes cutting off the left side of the stamp difficult. So I turned the stamp upsidedown and made it the right side! Much easier for me to cut this way.
Even though this design is considerably more complex than the others, it's still just tracing. First I carved out the small, detailed areas. Then I outlined the larger areas. And finally carved out the large areas before trimming the edges and testing the stamp.