Today I would like to show you how easy it is to carve your own bird stamp.
And when I say "easy" I really mean it....I know stamp carving (or lino carving) always looks quite intimidating and even a bit dangerous (hard lino, sharp knives, soft skin, fiddly detail to cut, transferring the design,...) and it can be, but it doesn't have to anymore as there are a lot of soft carving blocs out on the market now (and even if you decide to try lino carving there are some tricks that can help make it less laborious).
I recommend that for starters you try the Speedball "Speedy Carve" stamping blocs as they are really easy and effortless to use! They even offer a starter "Stamp Making Kit" that comes with a wooden handle, two knives (one for fine detail and outlines and the other for taking off larger pieces), an easy to follow instruction, tracer paper and a carving block. Carving blocks can be bought separately in various sizes - from really small to rather large 6 by 12 inch size.
But the best carving equipment does not replace a good stamp design, right? So how achieve it? Search for good images you can use as a pattern with books or magazines!
Get some paper and a pencil and try some sketches until you find a pattern that you feel comfortable with drawing freehand. Don't care about the size of your drawing yet - draw the way and size you feel most comfortable with!
I found a lovely picture of a great tit and sketched it rather roughly. Avoid soft curved lines as the carving will give an "edgy" look to your design anyway.
Next get yourself some black acrylic (or water-) colour and a soft paint brush (for fine detail) and trace your design rather quickly. Don't waste time and energy on small detail - we want to create a design that will tell it is a hand carved one and not an industrially produced stamp made from a nature photograph. Honestly my shading in the bird's body wasn't necessary at all (but I got carried away a bit while painting...lol).
Using the black acrylic colour and making "drawing" more difficult by forcing your hand to draw with a paint brush, your design will be closer to being cut-able and you can already get an impression of where to add more black and where to leave more white space to make your design more striking.
Now's the time to define the size of your stamp! Measure your carving block (or the cut to size carving block) and divide the area into even squares. Then divide your drawn image into the same number of squares using a ruler and a pencil.
Next to your segmented drawing draw a smaller version of the grid - this time the exact size of your carving block. You will find that it is rather easy to transfer a drawn image by hand by using a scaled grid. And it is a good way to practice your drawing skills too (as it helps you learn focus on directions, proportions and shapes). (You can of course use your printer for this and scale the image on your computer or printer...but being an old school arts teacher I tend to prefer a method that I can also use when I am away from my pc). ;)
Well, your result doesn't have to be an exact copy of your first drawing of course - but you will find it will look pretty much the same. And that's all you need.
For fine detail use a black ink pen with a very fine tip - especially the eye will have to be done precisely so it will look naturally.
Finish the rest off with your fine detail brush and the black acrylic (or watercolour) paint. That will do the job well enough and help eliminate unnecessary detail that would get lost during cutting anyway.
Now take a piece of tracer paper and a soft pencil and thoroughly trace all the black lines and areas of your design.
Flip your image over and place the tracer paper face down on your carving block. Rub over the whole image with your fingernail (or the back of a spoon) to transfer the pencil drawing to the rubber of the carving block.
There it is!
As you can see I first transferred the image to my carving block and then cut it to the size of my stamp.
Start with the fine detail V-knife...
...and cut all the outlines first.
Then take away the larger areas using the wider knife. The already cut out outlines will help prevent your knife from "slipping" into areas that are meant to stay black when being stamped. Anyway - you should rather cut from the edge towards the center of an area you want to remove than the other way round. And only cut small pieces at a time...this will also help prevent "slipping" into places you want to remain raised and untouched.
The carved stamp will not cling to an acrylic bloc (unless you mount it onto some EZ mount), but as the material is rather bulky you can use the finished stamp right as it is without an acrylic bloc at all (and only use an acrylic bloc to add some pressure from the back if needed) - so it's time to make your first print (just like you stamp with any other stamp).
You may find that the first print shows areas where you need to cut off some more. I marked these with a red pen:
Repeat this step (stamping - cutting - stamping) until you are content with the design. And then you're done!
I really encourage you to carve your own stamps - you will find that is a very rewarding thing to have your unique and personal stamp to use on your projects!
I used mine on an art journal card for starters (and I plan to use it for stamping on cloth soon....ah, so many ideas, so little time...lol):
Oh, before I forget: if you want to carve lino and find it is rather sturdy, put your lino on your heater or in the oven (at about 40°C/104°F or slightly warmer) for a while - this will soften your lino and make cutting a lot easier. And remember: always cut away from your body and fingers! Never towards!
Have fun and share your own stamp designs soon! ;)
If you haven't already seen the makes for or joined in with the actual "Tic Tac Toe - challenge", hosted by our lovely and fabulously talented Julia, I highly recommend you do so! The team has also created an amazing bundle of inspiration for you and playing Tic Tac Toe always is great fun!
Hugs and happy crafting,