Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Letterboxing Post: Stamp Carving 101

As I mentioned yesterday, this past week I've been busy carving stamps. When I first started letterboxing a year ago, Curtis told me to think about stamps I'd like to carve and plant. The very first thing that came to mind was an "Emperor's New Groove" series. (If you have never seen that movie, please stop reading and go watch it. It's on Netflix. It's not necessary to see it to understand this post, but it'll make your life much better.) After a year of thinking through how each stamp would look, how many stamps to carve, where to plant, and how to write the clues, I finally got to work on the first step - designing the stamps, and finally carving them!

Now I'd imagine that if you're reading this, you're either a letterboxer who knows how to carve already, or a "noxer" (non-letterboxer) who doesn't really care. But I still wanted to share how I went through the process of carving one stamp, and give any letterboxers a sneak peek at one stamp in the series of 9. :)

Every stamp starts as a doodle. I'll draw several images and decide which I like the best.  Size is always a factor, I'm all about conserving the carving material. In this series, I had a wide range of sizes - this is one of the bigger ones. After I've chosen which image to carve, I use a pencil to thicken and darken the lines. Thicker lines make it ultimately easier to carve. 

Next, I prepare my carving material - sometimes that means a new piece, other times I can use a scrap from an older piece. (We prefer the pink stuff over other materials for carving, it can be found at Michael's - make sure you have a 40% off coupon!) I find a piece big enough for my carve, then take the paper with the drawing and press it on the rubber, rubbing it so that the led leaves a mark. This is why you want to make the lines so thick with led on the drawing! It rarely turns out perfect for me, like in the above picture, but it's relatively easy to fill in the parts where it didn't work out.

After darkening the lines again, I'm ready to start carving! This is my handy-dandy carving tool. I always begin with the smallest bit (#1). I begin by outlining the entire stamp, carving around all the lines. Ultimately, I want the lines to be all that's left for the stamp. As you can see, that means I'll have lots of thin lines to work around, as well as small spaces around the lettering. Letters are hard, if you're just starting out I'd advise you to avoid those for now. Wait until you know your carving tool really well. :)

This stamp in particular literally took 5 hours to carve. It can be a long and tedious process, which takes a toll on your neck & shoulders. Make sure you have a husband as great as mine to massage them for you. ;)

Here's a closer look at what it looks like after a lot has been carved out. After I outline the entire thing, I use bit #2 to carve out bigger sections. It goes much faster and deeper than #1. I do not use it on more detailed areas though.

After I think I've carved out all that needs to go, I ink it up and stamp it! Sometimes I make stamps intended to have lots of color which requires using markers instead of ink pads, but this entire series is just outlines that can be colored in if one wants to. 

What do you think - it looks done, right? Wrong!

See those tiny black specks between the lettering? That will show up every time it is inked. I always spend extra time cleaning it up to avoid blemishes like this.

Readable? Yes, but why not go the extra mile and clean it up?

Tada! A year of planning, a dozen doodles, and 5 hours of carving later, I have my stamp! 

I'm extremely happy with how all 9 stamps came out. Now it's time to get them ready to plant, but I feel like I'm going to have a hard time parting with these guys. Once you plant a letterbox, it's out in the wild, available to anyone who has the clues or randomly comes across it. It could be destroyed or lost. Of course, where I choose to hide it plays a huge roll in how long it will last, but you never know what goes on in the wild. All I know is, wherever I hide them will always hold a piece of my heart. ;)

Arizona letterboxers: be looking for this series, coming soon to a trail near-or not so near- to you! You won't be disappointed! 

Here are a sampling of other stamps Curtis & I have done:

Father Tucson - an event box that Curtis carved. Pretty impressing, right?!

I carved this heart stamp just for card making purposes.

A personal traveler that I carved. 

As you can see, we've had a lot of practice, and a lot of fun with this. I hope people enjoy getting our stamps as much as we love making them!

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