13 January 2015

Softcut December

By the end of last November mixed-media artist Julie Fei-Fan Balzer announced that December would be 'Carve December', i.e. that she would carve a stamp every day that month. Months ago I'd bought Julie's book Carve, Stamp, Play: Designing and Creating Custom Stamps, and I'd been eager to do try the techniques she describes in the book, but hadn't found time for it. When Carve December was announced I decided to take the opportunity to finally do some of the exercises in the book, and to develop my stamp-carving skills. I vaguely aimed for a stamp a day, but suspected that I wouldn't be disciplined enough to actually reach that goal. December is, as you know, a busy month. And I didn't reach 31 stamps. However, I did carve 20 stamps, which I'm really pleased with, because some of those stamps were quite complicated and time-consuming. Here's the whole collection:

I followed Julie's instructions very closely in the beginning, because obviously there was a reason why she'd included each exercise, and I didn't want to miss some important point. And I'm really glad I did because quite frankly, I was really surprised by the scale of the stamps - they were much smaller than the stamps I'd carved earlier on my own. When I reached the butterfly, I was appalled by the size: 2,5 x 2,5 cm (1 x 1 inches)! That's impossible, I thought. But I decided to give it a try, and not give up immediately, even if it proved to be as difficult as I thought. And here's the result:

I was amazed by the detail I'd managed to capture, and my confidence soared. I was using a linoleum-like material called SoftCut (Speedy Carve is the material that Julie uses, but it's not available where I live), and so far I hadn't been completely sold on it. It's very difficult to draw on the material, and it has a greasy surface which defies any pencil, pen or marker. This means that it's difficult to both transfer images and to make them stay on the surface without rubbing off. I developed a method where I started by washing the material with soap and warm water, and then rubbing the surface dry with a paper towel, and thus removing most of the grease. I transferred the images by drawing with graphite on a piece of paper and then rubbing the image against the surface. I then used an alcohol marker to make the markings more permanent. They would still rub off, but they were a bit more permanent.

My method of mounting the stamps that I've carved is to use an acrylic block, to which I've attached Tack'n'Peel by Tsukineko. Tack'n'Peel is a sticky film, which you glue onto a block and can use over and over again. You just attach the stamp to the sticky surface, and after you've stamped your image you peel off the stamp and your block is ready for the next stamp. That is a great space-saver!

Here I've played with the triangular knot stamp to create a pattern:

 I tried a self-portrait, a lace pattern based on something that I crocheted many years ago, a leaf set (filling and outline) and several Christmas-related stamp.

I love this stamping technique, which I learned from Julie's blog.

Word stamp ("Merry Christmas"), and the beginnings of an alphabet set with Celtic-style letters:

These swirls are simple, but took a long time to carve since the lines are so thin. I removed a lot more material than what was left on the stamp.

I very much enjoyed making these stamps, and I appreciated the fact that you don't need a lot of materials and tools to do this, and there is wery little cleaning up afterwards. A lot of the things I like to do demand a lot of organisation and tidying up afterwards, so this was definitely fun for a change! These exercises gave me a lot more confidence, and I know that it'll be much easier to pick up some SoftCut and make more stamps now that I've developed a technique and seen what is possible. I hope I've inspired you to pick up a piece of rubber or linoleum, and to give it a go too!

Thanks for visiting, and see you again soon!


  1. Way cool! You did a great job, and I especially love the portrait stamp.

    1. Thanks Cheryl! I'm really pleased with this exercise, as it took away some of the 'drama' of stamp cutting, and I realised that it's a lot easier than I thought. :-)