Growing up my family had a tradition of making homemade Valentines for each member of the family usually involving pop-out accordian style hearts and other little gimmicks. They were so fun, and since we were home-schooled my Mom always went big with the candy so we wouldn’t feel like we were missing out on all those school parties our friends were having. The Valentines that I treasured the most were my Moms, because I loved to see her be creative (cutting and gluing with us!) and it was so special to get something just from her. Candy, kindness, and construction paper….isn’t that what it’s really all about?
As an adult its harder to keep the tradition up with my siblings, but I always do something if I can. Last year’s peep-show Valentine will always be one of my all-time faves. This year I’m gonna take it down a notch, but I still wanted to do something that still says “I made this for you”.
This tutorial is nothing revolutionary really , but after tons of trial and too much error, I’ve finally come up with a few tips that really work well for carving those tiny fine lines and details.
First of all you need to transfer your design onto your carving surface, this time I grabbed a cheap eraser. I’ve shown a couple different ways to do this, but here’s the one I use the most. Generate your design either by drawing it, or in a design program like Illustrator. With tracing paper, trace over your design with a soft black lead pencil (I use an 8B, but a #2 will work okay) Then with the written side facing down, gently rub the back of the tracing paper with something, I used the metal tip of the pencil, but just find something hard and smooth. That will reverse your image onto your stamp so that it will print in the right direction. Can’t tell you HOW MANY times I’ve hand drawn a design on my stamp and forgotten to reverse the image!
Now go find a nice warm place to carve. I recently discovered this trick, and couldn’t believe what a difference it made! I was stamp carving in my in-laws basement next to a toasty woodburning fireplace, and my cutter was slicing into the eraser like butter, much more precise and clean than ever before! (I was carving my kid’s stamps pictured below). So if you can, sit by a vent or space heater or whatever, and grab the smallest tip from the standard cutter set.
Go over your fine lines once, and do not try to go back and perfect any of the details. This is where in the past I’ve been so unhappy with my designs–the cutter tool is not great for tidying up and perfecting, and inevitably ends up taking more than you wanted resulting in sloppy carving. The trick is, and my daughter discovered this, to use a blunted pointy tip to fix any imperfections. I use what I think may have one day belonged to an eyeglass repair kit, but you could use a large darning needle, the metal tip of a mechanical pencil etc, to do the job. Run the tip through the groove of your designs over and over and the carving block or eraser will start to crumble away, making it easy to connect, smooth, or deepen your design. I used this technique especially with the itty bitty tiny letters of my last stamp carving project.
These adorable little personalized Valentine stamps were what we came up with for my kids to hand out this year. I used this technique exactly, but started with their hand drawings which I scaled down to size. I couldn’t bear the thought of handing out Dora the Explora perforated sheet Valentine’s (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I don’t judge!), but I couldn’t even think about helping them individually make all that they needed to. So this was our happy little compromise, and they’re proud as punch to hand them out. Truth be told, I planned this whole post around THESE, but once I had edited the photos I realized that they both said my kid’s names on them which I didn’t want to risk floating around Pinterest. Sad because they’re WAY cuter than my stamp (and my stamp isn’t even my best carving job, doh!), but I just couldn’t let that slide, you know? Well you get the idea, anyway.
Aren’t they so great? You don’t have to answer that, because seriously, they’re great. They make me super happy, which is a good thing to be the day before Valentine’s Day.