Big, Beautiful Rubber Stamps!

At Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamps, we love making really big, beautifully detailed rubber stamps. Our deep-etched process allows us to faithfully reproduce lots of detail in our rubber dies. And to show you, we stamp it ourselves right on the maple mount in indexing ink, so you know what you can expect in your own stamped images.

This stamp “Harvest” is one of our favorites. It comes from a 19th century book on gardening, and from the looks of it, they know their stuff! If my garden turned out half as well, I’d be very pleased. It stamps very well, and has so much going on in it that it is a joy to use as a straight stamped image, or embellished with color.
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For a highly detailed stamp like this, it is best to use very smooth paper. Bristol can work well, but I ended up using a hot-press watercolor paper which is also very smooth. You will get the best image by starting with a clean stamp, and inking it with a rubber brayer so that your ink will be just on the surface of the stamp, rather than filling up the crevasses. Here is my stamped image:

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I think it is beautiful and could be used just like that! However, I wanted to color it, and make it into a special card. If you decide to do the same, you have a few options. If you stamp very light (either by using a light color of ink, or using a second impression), you will have all of the outlines you need, but will need to do a lot of the shading yourself. If you do a darker image like I have here, the stamp will do the shading for you, and you just need to be sure to preserve the highlights. Next, I colored the image with Prismacolor pencils, which allow you to layer and blend colors:

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As I got to coloring, I realized this is a fantasy image! What is holding all of those vegetables in place, stacked up as they are?!! But I just went with it, reveled in the abundance of it all, and colored in the shadows underneath that big cabbage and the pumpkins and the squash, leaving the magic of it all to the viewer’s interpretation.

Much of the “action” of this image happens at the plane closest to the viewer, but the image does have the suggestion of a background (the field and trees beyond). You can add a bit of depth by shading this background in lighter, cooler colors than you use to shade the foreground vegetables.

I trimmed and matted the image on a contrasting burgundy color (the same color I used to reinforce the shadows in the image), and made the base of the card out of folded, trimmed cardstock.  I like adding the element of a ribbon – the dark blue of the card and the gold ribbon suggests “First Place” at the county fair!

I applied the gold ribbon horizontally so that the viewer’s eye is encouraged to move around the image, back and forth from right to left along the horizontal line. The more the eye explores, the more interesting and enjoyable your design will be to the viewer.

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Lastly, to finish the card and give it a polished look, I trimmed two pieces of linen paper and tacked them into the inside top and bottom which is where a note could be written. On the bottom, I stamped Lettuce in a bright, leafy green.

Take a close-up look at a Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamp

I’d like to tell you a little bit about how we make Nature’s Blessings rubber stamps. We take great care in our work, and are proud to offer some of the finest rubber stamps available in the world today! One of the reasons we started making stamps 18 years ago was to reproduce the beautiful drawings we saw in 19th century books so we could use them in our own artwork. These drawings can be incredibly detailed and difficult to reproduce in rubber unless you take several things into consideration in your stamp-making process. There’s a lot that goes into making each stamp, and each step of the process really matters if you want high detail in your finished stamp.

The Artwork

There is a certain style of artwork that reproduces well with our process, and fortunately a lot of great art falls into this category! Here is an example of an original image from a 19th century volume (one of the first we collected 18 years ago) called “The Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening”. This is what it looks like on the page of the book we found it in – look closely and you will see there are some very fine lines in this engraving. We won’t be able to capture them all in the rubber stamp (and you can’t capture grayscale, just black and white) but we will get a lot of them. Each piece of artwork needs to be scanned, and then carefully digitally edited and prepared to make it into the best possible stamp image.

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The Rubber Die

The part of a stamp that is the formed and trimmed piece of rubber that is pressed against a page to make an image is called a rubber die. The die is made by a process called vulcanization where through heat and pressure it is formed into the stamp image.

The first step in making a rubber die is creating an etched magnesium plate. The magnesium metal plate is coated with a photoresist material, and exposed to light by a laser. The laser creates a very detailed image the dark areas on the image, hardening the places exposed to the light. When the photoresist is washed, the hardened places remain and the areas not exposed by the laser wash away, leaving a trace of the stamp image.

Next, the magnesium plate is exposed to an acid bath. It isn’t actually immersed in the bath, it is suspended above the bath of nitric acid, and then spinning paddles splash the acid onto the face of the plate where the places not coated by the photo resist are gradually etched away. The paddles can be manipulated to control the exposure of the plate to the acid. This determines the depth of the etch, as well as the angle of the shoulder that supports each of the surface lines on the finished stamp.

For some products, it is best to have the shoulder be nearly vertical, but for rubber stamps you actually want the shoulder to be about a 30% slope. This means that fine lines that can stand on their own and not flop over when you press on them, because they are buttressed on the sides by the shoulder.

In the next step of the process, the positive/raised images of the metal plate are pressed against a polymer “matrix board” which forms a negative mold for shaping the rubber. The rubber is placed against this mold in a vulcanizer, and shaped into the rubber die that contains the stamp images.

Nature’s Blessings uses a high-grade red rubber specially formulated for vulcanizing rubber stamps. It has a uniform consistency and plasticity which means that all parts of the finished stamp will respond similarly when you apply pressure to imprint it. And see? It looks so pretty…

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The Foam Cushion

An important, but often overlooked part of a rubber stamp is the cushion that supports the rubber die. Nature’s Blessings uses a 1/8 inch (3.175 millimeter) foam cushion between the rubber die and wooden stamp mount. We use a red cushion to match the color of the stamp.

For a detailed stamp and stamp impression this cushion is very important. It helps distribute the pressure on the rubber die when you press on the mount from above so that there is a more uniform contact between the die and the surface you are stamping on.

There is adhesive on both sides of the foam cushion, and we don’t have much more to say about that except it is very, very sticky! Your stamp should stay in place for many years. The only thing I’ve ever seen happen (and only after nearly two decades!) is that the foam may loosen from the mount. If this should happen, just coat the foam with rubber cement, press it against the mount, and let it dry. It should be as good as new.

Once the rubber is adhered to the foam mount, we trim the die and foam with a scroll saw. No rough scissor-trimmed edges here! We neatly and carefully trim each and every stamp very close to the border of the stamp image. This way, you won’t get any “ghost lines” from the edge of the stamp when you go to make an impression.

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For the next step, we prepare the wooden stamp mount. All of our mounts are beautiful and durable maple hardwood mounts from the state of Maine.  We sand the entire mount with a 600 grade Ultra Fine sand paper so you will only have fine, smooth edges and surfaces. The entire stamp is then coated with two layers of clear varnish.

Next we use AN ACTUAL STAMP that we have made and ACTUALLY STAMP the image on the mount with permanent indexing ink. It seems like such a simple thing, but most stamp companies don’t do this. They use stickers with the stamp image on the mount. So how do you know what the stamp will really be like when you go to use it? With Nature’s Blessings you know, because we show you, right on the stamp! Plus over time those stickers move around and crack and in general are just no good. It is a symptom of mass production, and we decided against them from the very beginning. When the indexing ink is dry, the top of the stamp is coated with one more layer of clear varnish to protect the image.

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When we assemble the stamp, we are careful to align the cushion-mounted rubber die with the index, so you know right where it will be when you go to stamp it, without any guesswork. From this side view, you can see alignment and the hourglass-shaped sides of the wood mount. The curved sides of the mount provide a good grip, and make the stamp very comfortable in your hands when you use it:

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Lastly, we stamp our logo on the side. This is the mark of the best quality we could achieve, and our sign that each of our stamps is lovingly made by hand…our hands!…for you. If it doesn’t have the Nature’s Blessings logo, it isn’t our stamp!

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Make a Back-to-School Chalkboard Card

In late summer, every now and then you catch a whiff of autumn in the air, and you know it is almost time for school to start. Poor kids! How they miss their summer fun. But there’s new school clothes to buy, and supplies, old friends to see again, and maybe some new ones. Maybe the new school year will bring the adventure of a new teacher, or even a new school.

Here is a fun card to make. Actually it is rather big for a card, but sometimes you have to just go for it – the card will be what it wants to be! You can always make it smaller if you want something more mail-friendly. For the image, I stamped and colored School Days by Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamps, and cut out around the main figures in the image.

For the chalkboard, I used the technique for making pastel paper described in this previous post, but using black acrylic paint in the paint/ground mixture. After it is dry, “cure” it a bit by rubbing a piece of white chalk over the surface, and brushing it off to give it an authentic chalkboard appearance. Then you can draw on it with chalk, and make whatever kind of design or message you wish. To get a fine line, I used a white pastel pencil so the writing really is chalk! I don’t normally spray my pastel drawings, but this one seemed likely to smear and so I gave it a light coat of matte acrylic spray.

Compose and mat your image however you like. For the cut-out image, I used spray adhesive to get good coverage. I had some scrapbook paper with an autumn-leaf pattern that I liked, and so used that. The blue card stock adds to the primary-color feel of the finished design, and picks up some of the blues in the children’s clothing in the stamped image.

Did you notice the little girl in front is proudly carrying her chalk slate?

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

The Pleasure of Coloring

One of the great enjoyments I get from rubber stamping is the chance to sit down and color. The lines provide the structure, and the patterns provide the shading, so really all you need do is focus on the creative color-making. It’s wonderfully relaxing, and you can do it while sitting and talking, or thinking…it can even be meditative. Plus as an adult you get lots more options than when you were a kid! Crayons of course, but also colored pencils, markers, watercolors…you name it.

The focus of this card is really the colored image, and I took my time over it and really enjoyed the making of it. I stamped the Roller Skating image in waterproof black ink on cold-pressed watercolor paper. I used cold-pressed paper because it has a smooth surface, like bristol paper, so the details of the image would show up well. Then I added watercolor, let it dry, and trimmed the image from the larger page.

For the background paper, I chose a light moss-green textured sheet, and stamped it several times with Lilac in a sepia tone. This gives a mottled, verdant look, without stealing attention away from the colored image. This I matted on a piece of white card stock, and this again on dark navy cardstock creased in half with a bone folder. Having lots of layers gives the card texture and visual interest. Lastly, I added a bit of tartan plaid ribbon.

With the major elements of the card established, I can play with composition. I want the focus of the whole card to be the child in front, balancing on roller skates with her arms wide open. I colored her coat red so that it also would stand out from the mostly greens and blues behind her. Using the “Rule of Thirds” I placed her on the upper-right point, while all of the background papers remain centered on the card. Then I aligned the tartan ribbon so that it would run along the upper third dividing line, reinforcing the horizontal spread of the child’s arms. The ribbon acts as a kind of virtual guard rail for your eyes…you aren’t worried that she will fall, and the card as a whole is restful and playful, rather than tense.

My goodness, I remember my first roller skates had metal wheels, and how they squeaked and scraped as I rolled over the cement sidewalk. That was tough enough – I can hardly imagine using them on cobblestones! I’d say a good sentiment for this card would be one of playful encouragement, and perhaps the confidence that things will improve in the future. After all, now we have roller scooters and rollerblades, not to mention skate parks!

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Party invitations? Keep it simple…

I love making a bunch of the same card design for invitations, or to send out for the holidays. Having made some pretty elaborate ones, I can vouch that the advice “keep it simple” applies here too. After your 50th one, you will thank me!

Here is an idea for an invitation that works up quickly, is elegant in its simplicity, and offers lots of opportunity for customization. Take a sheet of white or cream-colored drawing paper 18 x 24 inches (45.7 x 61 cm). It should be sturdy, but not stiff or card stock since you will be folding it several times. Tear off one sheet and fold it in thirds, lengthwise. Cut along each fold so that you have three long strips.

Take one strip, fold it in half, then fold into quarters in the opposite direction so that you have a basic accordion-folded “book”. Now stamp an image on the top – this will be the “cover” of your “book”. It will be 6 x 6 inches square. Then you can stamp on the inside pages.

Here I’ve stamped the cover with Queen’s Herald:

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Then I stamped an inside page with Queen Alice Door and then Mad Tea Party. Opening it like a book, you could add the captions “You’re invited… Chez moi… To a party!” and the details of when and where. To deliver your invitations, you will need square envelopes, and remember that mail in special sizes will likely require additional postage. There, now, you’re done…go get ready for your party!

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From the Kitchen of…You!

Are you busy in the kitchen making all kinds of wonderful things…cookies, jam, syrup or maybe your own special brew? Well, I can hardly think of a better gift for a friend or loved one! Why not wrap it up in style with a personalized stamped message?

All you need besides your gift food item are a few of these cute brown paper tags, some rubber stamps, and a bit of gingham ribbon tied in a bow (image: Girl Cooking by Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamps):

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You can stamp just the image and trim the tag down to size, or leave it long, and add your sentiment on the front of the tag along with your image.

Need some inspiration for what to write? Here are some ideas to really “get you cooking”! (Images, from left to right:  Girl Cooking, Child Eating, and Baking, by Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamps.)

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Adding Pastels to your Rubber Stamping Repertoire

Pastels are a great addition to your rubber stamping toolkit. They can be used to create soft backgrounds, or to add dramatic accents to your stamped images. The tricky thing is if you stamp first on the paper and add pastel over the image, you will obscure your image, or completely cover it up. Then, if you try to stamp on top of a layer of pastels, you are stamping on top of dusty chalk which sticks to the ink, leaving you with a poor image, or no image at all. So how is it possible to do this?

There are a couple of essentials to making this work. One is a decent set of soft pastels. You don’t need a super soft pastel like Sennelier, rather I prefer one that is a bit harder like Rembrandt, but either kind would probably work. I have tried inexpensive colored chalks too, and they work okay, but not great (they tend to generate a lot of dust that falls off rather than sticking to the paper). The higher quality pastels come in lots and lots of colors, and are much more enjoyable to use.

The second essential is paper with a good “tooth”. You want a rough surface that will grab and hold the pastel. But because you will be stamping on it, you also need the surface to be even so that you will get a good stamped image. You can buy special pastel papers that have a fine surface of grit on them (Art Spectrum Colorfix has a good range of colors), or you can make your own. I prefer to make my own because it is so easy to do, and much less expensive than buying the specialty pastel paper.

The way to make your own pastel paper is to start with watercolor paper. I’m using a pad of Fabriano watercolor paper here. It doesn’t need to be the expensive stuff, you just need to be able to apply wet media to it. Then get a small jar of acrylic ground for pastel. Pour or scoop out a bit of the pastel ground into plastic dish, add a bit of water to thin it, and use a brush to apply an even coat of it to your watercolor paper. If you use a foam brush you should get a good, smooth application. Let the paper dry thoroughly. If the paper is a bit warped when it is dry, just weight it down overnight with some heavy books and it should flatten out. You can make a whole batch this way and have lots of pastel paper on hand for when inspiration hits you.IMG_9568

Here are a couple of examples. In the the first one, I wanted a soft background and applied about three pastel shades in pink, beige and green. I used the side, rather than tip of the pastel, to get broad strokes. You can be assertive with these pastel strokes, and then blend them a bit with your finger afterwards. Gently tap off any excess pastel dust into a dustbin, or do this outdoors. Don’t blow on your paper, because you don’t want to breathe in the pastel dust! The paper should now have an even layer of pastel on it, that is well incorporated into the tooth of your paper. Now you can stamp on top of it, as you normally would on any surface. (Image: Peony by Nature’s Blessings Rubber Art Stamps)

Here is another example, this time using the pastel to add a bit of drama to an image.  This time, I used the tip of the pastel to draw long, curving strokes. I layered about five shades of blue and mauve to achieve the wind-blown look. (Image: Alice and Cards by Nature’s Blessings Rubber Art Stamps.)

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Lastly, a tip on finishing and mailing your artwork… Some people like to spray their finished pastels with fixative. I don’t recommend doing this because it will really change the look of the pastel you’ve just laid down on the paper. A little dust will normally come off, but for the most part, the paper will hold onto it. We have pastel drawings that are over a hundred years old, that have lasted just fine without fixative. A good way to protect your artwork if you plan to mail it is to cut a piece of glassine paper to fit over the image. This kind of paper will protect your image from smearing, and it won’t lift the pastel off of your finished work.

Rubber stamp on copper!

A while ago I purchased a roll of copper for a household DIY fix-it project, but only needed a small amount then had lots left over. It occurred to me, given how thin it is, that it would make a great surface to stamp on. It would even be light enough to add to stamped cards! So here are a couple of first projects. It’s a fun material to use, and I’m conjuring with other ways to use it, so you may see more copper in future posts.

For materials, you need special ink to stamp on copper, but that’s about it. If you have metal shears that will save some wear and tear on your scissors, but I just went ahead and used my scissors. Do be careful of sharp and pointy metal edges.

I made my own templates for these two projects, stenciled on the copper (just indenting and marking the cut line with the tip of a bone folder) and cut them out. I stamped them using Stayzon ink, in black. Then when the ink was dry, I distressed the surface (optional!) with a ball pein jewelry hammer. Hammering the edges took some of the sharpness from the edges. If you don’t hammer your piece, you’ll probably want to file the edges a bit.

Here are a couple of finished projects. The first is an announcement – for a wedding perhaps? Or a baby? Perhaps an honorary knighthood! (Image: Queen’s Herald by Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamps)

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

This second project is a bookmark. To punch the hole, you can use a standard paper punch, even 1/8 inch size (the metal is thin enough).  A leather cord with a couple of hand-blown glass beads add an extra touch of elegance. (Image: Books by Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamps)

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

 

Lampshade? Stampshade!

A quick search online will show you lots of templates for making one of these super-cute votive candle shades. When assembled, the shade rests on the rim of a water or wine glass, and the small votive candle or LED-candle sits inside.  I traced a template on vellum paper, stamped it several times, and cut it out. Nothing else required, and instant cuteness!  (Image: Daisy by Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamps)

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Make this Quick Card to Congratulate Your Graduate!

This time of year, many of our friends and family are crossing an important landmark in their lives…graduation! Many children now celebrate graduation from preschool and elementary school, and recently a very accomplished woman in Germany received her doctorate at 102 years old. No matter what age, everyone likes to have an important event in their lives celebrated and appreciated, and a very appropriate way to do so is to send a card. Of course one that you make yourself is an especially nice touch, and you can always tuck a little something inside, like a gift card or money to recognize their accomplishment.

Here is a card that is very easy to make.  The style is simple but elegant, just like that diploma they recently received! Stamp Professor Owl by Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamps on crisp white card stock. Crop it as needed, but leave plenty of white space around the image.  Now find a piece of red card stock, and trim it to be slightly larger than the white card you just stamped on. Cut four diagonal slits in the corners, and tuck in corners of the stamped card. Now find a ribbon with a bit of gold in it, something that looks collegiate. The easiest way to tack it on is to use a bit of spray adhesive, and then tuck the ends around the back side of the red card.

Now find a piece of black card stock, and fold it in half so it will be slightly larger than the red card. If you use a bone folder, and score the paper before you fold it, your fold should look neat and crisp. Run the bone folder along the fold to flatten it. Crop it as needed, and mount the red card on top with adhesive squares.  And there you are! Choose your own sentiment, or use this one:  Hoo hoo whoooo graduated?  (Inside) You did! Congratulations!

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps