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Make a Cutout Falling Leaf Frame

Frame cards are a great way to showcase something special – words of inspiration, a found object or a favorite photograph. To begin, select a piece of card stock in a color and texture that you like, and using a straight edge and bone folder, score a line that will be your fold line. Fold along the scored line, and trim your card to your desired size.

Next, on the inside of the front of your card, use a pencil to lightly trace the shape that you want your cutout window to be. For this example, I stamped Bluejay, cut out the image, positioned it where I wanted it, and then lightly traced with pencil around the edge of the image.bluejay_leaf_frame

Next, still using pencil, draw a guide for where you will cut. If you use a photograph or stamped image, you may want the window to be smaller than the photograph. If you are planning to use an object or written sentiment, you may want the window to be larger – it is up to you. I drew my guide to be slightly smaller than the stamped image.

Next, carefully cut out your window along your guideline. You can carefully cut with scissors, but if you are doing a shape with precise or straight edges it will probably be easier to use a paper trimmer.

To decorate the front (frame side) of the card, insert a piece of scrap paper inside the card to protect the inside from being stamped. Then stamp a design of your choice. I used Maple Leaf, and stamped it several times. Make overlapping images using two shades of pigment ink. I think the effect looks like falling autumn leaves!

Finally, attach your showcase image or object or write your sentiment inside the card so that it shows through the window on the front. When you open the card, the larger image is visible. And there you have it, a special gift with its own frame!

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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3 Easy Ombré Techniques with Rubber Stamps

Ombré, where one color gradually fades or transitions to another color, is very popular right now in beauty, fashion and decorative arts. The ombré look is also very easy to achieve with your rubber stamps, and I’ll show you several techniques here. The easiest technique is simply to stamp your image multiple times without re-inking the stamp.  The image will fade a bit with each impression, as shown here using Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamps Butterfly:

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Another technique uses a brayer and piece of linoleum to achieve an ombré background.  Take a rubber stamp pad (I find that a pigment pad works best for this) and press it several times onto the linoleum so that you have plenty of pigment to work with. Keep the pigment to one half of the linoleum surface.  Then, take your brayer and roll it over the linoleum so that you coat just one half of it. Make sure you have good coverage all around the circumference of the brayer, and that the coverage is even.

Now, position the brayer just off the edge of your card so the edge of the brayer won’t leave an obvious line on it. Run the brayer back and forth, slowly working your towards the center of the paper so that the amount of pigment transferred to the paper is gradually reduced. You may need to practice a bit to achieve this evenness. I find that moving fully across the card each time, and picking up your brayer after each movement keeps the brayer rolling, reducing lines or other artifacts.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

 

Now you can use it as a background. Here I’ve made it into a card by stamping an image onto it, using the same color ink I rolled onto the card with the brayer. The stamp image is Peony by Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamps.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

The third technique also uses the brayer and the linoleum. This time you will add two colors, one on each side of the linoleum. Run the brayer across the surface of the linoleum, blending the two colors a bit in the middle. Next, using the brayer with the two colors on it, ink a stamp. I’m using the Peony stamp again here. Try not to move the brayer from side to side, just back and forth across the stamp from top to bottom. This way the blended colors will be transferred to the rubber surface of the stamp, just as you put them on your brayer.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Now turn the stamp over, and press it onto the surface of your project. I decided to use silver card stock, since it has a light sheen and medium value, and really showcases the ombré image. I think it would make a beautiful wedding invitation!

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

How We Made Our Stamped Header Image Art

To start out, I thought it would be fun to use several of Nature’s Blessings rubber stamps in our header image artwork. This way, I have the opportunity to  show you what kind of impression our stamps make, and I can also demonstrate some basic stamping techniques. These techniques are very easy and great to have in your repertoire, because they create a sophisticated look to your finished pieces even if you just have a few rubber stamps and ink pads, and don’t have a lot of other special tools.

First, I selected the stamps I wanted to use. For this piece I’m using several of Nature’s Blessings stamps: Butterfly, Peony, Dogwood, and Junco (a small North American bird).  I decided to stamp on bristol paper because it is very smooth, and the images will have a good contrast against the bright white paper, but for your own project you can use whatever variety of paper suits you.  I taped the paper to my table using a bit of masking tape on each corner, and marked off with a ruler and pencil the size of the header image (21 x 4 inches).  With these finished dimensions, I’ll have a bit of wiggle room if I decide to crop the image a bit when I start working with it digitally.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

For ink, I decided to use Colorbox Petal Point in Beach Ball for all of the stamped images.  I say “ink” but these are actually pigment paint pads rather than ink.  They aren’t waterproof, but have great detail and intensity, and can be heat set to speed drying and to keep them from smearing. Each colored “petal” can be slid out of the container so you can ink stamps with a single color.  You can also use the point or edges to ink just a part of a larger stamp that you are interested in (we’ll be using this technique in a moment). To begin, I’ve decided to ink the Dogwood stamp with the magenta color.  On the left-hand edge I’ve stamped it in one direction, and then rotated the stamp, re-inked it and stamped it on the right-hand side.

Nature's Blessings Rubber Art Stamps

A note as to inking stamps: especially with high-detail, deep-etched stamps like Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamps, you’ll want to avoid pressing the paint pad into the stamp because the paint will fill up the crevasses in the rubber and then you will lose detail when you go to make a stamped impression. Rather, pat the pad gently against the stamp surface to get good coverage, and finish by stroking the pad gently across the top surface to make sure the paint coverage is even. This way the paint will get applied to just the top surface of the rubber image, and you will get the best, most detailed impression. Turn the inked stamp over, hold it above the paper in the position it where you want it, and then press down using light, but firm pressure. Avoid rocking the stamp or pressing too hard on it, as this will bend the rubber detail, and you may get muddled lines, or extra lines that you did not intend. A bit of practice on a spare sheet of paper will give you a sense of how this works.

Next, I inked the Butterfly and Junco stamps in dark blue. I stamped the Butterfly on the left side, and the Junco in the lower right hand side. Already, with these few impressions, there is a kind of symmetry and harmoniousness between the two sides of the piece in terms of stamp placement as well as color.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

The next step requires a technique called masking. This technique is really very simple. Stamp an image of what you want to mask on a scrap piece of paper. Let the image dry, and then cut it out, staying just inside of the border of the image (the reason why you stay inside the border will become apparent in a moment). Also, if there are any fine details it is okay to cut them out, so in the case of the Butterfly I cut off the antennae. It is a bit time consuming to do all of this, but if you keep your masks you can use them over and over. I stamped and cut out three masks, one each of the Butterfly, Dogwood and Junco.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

The reason I need these masks is I want to stamp over these images with leaves, to fill in the space between them, and to make it look like a nature scene with greenery, flowers and animal and insect life. For this project, I’ll be protecting all of the images I’ve stamped so far with masks, so that I can stamp over them with images of leaves and greenery. This way, the Butterfly will appear to be in front of the leaves, and the Junco will look like it is sitting on the branches.

Now rather than looking for a special leaf stamp, I’m going to use just the leaf part of another Peony flower stamp I have. Using the darker green color in my paint box, I’m going to ink just the leaf part of that stamp, using the edge of the petal point to isolate just the detail in the rubber that I’m interested in.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Now I’m ready to use the masks that I made. I’ll start by attaching a small piece of tape to each mask, and then I’ll stick the mask down on top of the stamped image I want to protect. Now I’ll be able to stamp over it in another color, and the mask will allow that color to go up to the edge of the stamped image, but not cover it. This will give the visual effect that the masked image is to the foreground of whatever image I decide to stamp over it.

Now here is why you want to cut out your mask on the inside of the stamped border so that it is a bit smaller than the stamped image. When you stamp over it, you don’t want a gap between the mask and the image you stamp on top of it.  You can see here that I did a pretty good job with the Dogwood mask, but my Butterfly has a bit of a gap on the lower right-hand side where the leaf image didn’t go all the way up to the edge of the Butterfly image. Not to worry, we can fix this up later, but having a slightly smaller mask may have prevented the problem in the first place.

Nature's Blessings Rubber Art Stamps

Note that here I’ve applied the green Peony leaf several times, re-inking each time to get a dark impression. I’ve also rotated the image a bit each time to avoid an obvious repetition. The viewer’s eye will do the rest and just see the overall effect of “greenery.” I also don’t care that I’m stamping outside the lines that I’ve drawn in pencil. These lines are just a guide. I will end up cropping this image digitally. You can use the same technique and crop your piece by cutting it out along your guide lines after you’ve finished stamping it, or by framing it with a mat.

Another technique to try is to stamp an image a few times before re-inking. This way, you get varying degrees of intensity in your stamped image, and that will give your piece interest and dimensionality. I used this technique by stamping the Peony leaf using the grey color in the Color Box (cleaning my stamp of the green ink first). I’ve stamped the image several times, working around the edges and extending this lighter contrasting color towards the center of the piece.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Next I’ll do the same on the right side, masking the Junco and Dogwood, and stamping the leaves in dark green and then grey, again extending the grey leaves towards the center of the piece.

I’ll finish by inking my sponge dauber with the grey Color Box color, and then I’ll gently pat it around the edges of the inked areas of my piece to shade them in. This will also fill in any spots that might need a bit of camouflage, like the gap underneath the Butterfly wing I created when I stamped over the mask. Tap very lightly with the dauber, adding color very gradually. You can always add more color, but you can’t remove it, so go slowly. I’ve also added a bit of pink to the petals of the Dogwood. Experiment and see what suits you best.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Note I’m using a commercial sponge dauber here. The sponge is very fine, without an obvious pattern, and the applicator fits over the end of your finger for easy use.  You could also try using various kinds of applicators you might have around the house like cosmetic or household sponges. Practice on scrap paper so you know what the dauber pattern will be like before you use it on your finished piece.  Also make sure to rinse and dry your applicator before changing colors.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

And voilà, the finished piece, ready to be made into our website header image!  As you can see, just a few stamps and easy techniques, and you have a lovely finished piece.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps