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Rubber Stamping

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We've all stamped.

Remember cutting a raw potato in half, carving a design in one end and dunking it in paint? Then attacking pieces of watercolor paper with relish? That's stamping.

Well, rubber stamping enthusiasts have moved beyond the potato. They're using wooden-handled, rubber-topped stamps and a host of inks, dyes and paints to create impressive pieces of stamping art -- on every surface imaginable.

"It's fun, easy, quick and relaxing. What more could you want in a hobby?" laughs Heather Hayley. She is the owner of Heather's Stamping Haven and an avid stamper.

Creative stamping requires creative stamps -- not ones that read Fax or For Draft Purposes Only. Classic creative styles include floral, funny, animal and Victorian. Stamping involves collecting as many rare and interesting stamp images as possible. Some people even make their own.

"As you gain skill and interest, your needs grow," says Galilee Weldon. Weldon is an avid stamper who works for Rubberstampmadness, a stamping magazine.

"Obviously, the better quality tools you have, the better quality work you can do. One plus in stamping is that rubber doesn't deteriorate and is a long-term investment. However, markers and ink pads dry up and need replacement to be able to work well and paper is an ongoing need. But paper can often be picked up in unusual places and is not terribly expensive."

Your typical stamp is made of a mount (a grip of wood), a cushion and the rubber die. Some stamps are actually made out of plastic, but the real stamper uses rubber. According to Hayley, stamps cost between $2 and $30.

There are some things to look for as you begin collecting rubber stamps. Are the mount, cushion and rubber die stuck together firmly? Is the rubber image well trimmed? Does the cushion overlap the die and hang down to make stray marks? Is the mount easy to handle? Does it have an accurate index picture of the image stamped on it?

Now you need ink and something to stamp. Stampers leave their mark on anything: paper, envelopes, fabric, wood, hard plastic, and even glass! And depending on what you're stamping, your ink needs will vary.

"Literally, you can buy just one ink pad," says Weldon. "You can buy colored pencils and Crayola markers at the local grocery store, and stamp on envelopes or just a plain piece of paper. Some people even stamp on grocery bags. And this works and can be fun."

Stamping is a very accessible hobby. Hayley used stamping as a classroom activity for developmentally handicapped adults. Fine motor skills help, but other than that, anyone can stamp.

There is only one drawback, says Weldon. "I work at a desk job during the day, and like to relax at night with stamping. However, most stamping is done at a desk and sitting down, so I frequently get neck and back pain and headaches. I enjoy the stamping so much I do it anyway, but there is a tension involved in stamping that can create its own set of problems!"

There are some careers to keep in mind if you take your rubber stamping seriously. People do make money selling high-quality papers crafts at fairs. Stampers also open their own stores or get into the ink, stamp, paper and paraphernalia end of things. Stamping can also lead to work in the printing industry, or engraving.

Rubber stamping doesn't have a national organization to keep track of membership. But we do know some things about the stamping world.

Rubberstampmadness (RSM) is a major magazine serving the stamping community. It has a readership of 100,000 "dedicated stampers" and a paid circulation of about 25,000. RSM claims that 96 percent of its readers are women, and most are between 36 and 62 years of age.

The hobby seems to be pretty evenly distributed across the country, and its future looks good.

"It looks great!" says Hayley. "I don't think stamping has hit its peak here in Canada yet. I've noticed that it's gained a great deal of popularity in the last couple of years, and I think it will continue to grow."

"Stamping grows where there's some enthusiastic stamper who just bubbles over with it," says Weldon. "They're the people who invite their friends over for a stamping party and enthuse about new products, images or cards to anyone who'll listen. These people -- more than books or stores -- create new stampers!"

Getting Started

Typically, you'll start by inking your designs on some sort of paper, cardboard, or envelope. Cardstock or art papers are great -- they're nice and heavy and take ink well.

Stampers also seem very fond of text and cover papers, the lightly colored and slightly heavier grades you can get at office supply stores. If you want to be really extravagant, try linen paper or laid paper (the type you use for resumes).

The typical ink used on paper works fine. It comes in standard pads, or in raise pads (the felt or foam holding the ink actually sticks up out of the case). A raise pad makes it easier to ink larger, cumbersome stamps. Pigment inks and embossing inks are thicker. If you're starting out, you might even want to use washable inks -- they cut down on the laundry bill!

There are also inks made especially for fabrics. Watercolor inks are markers that allow you to color in an already stamped image. Or they can be applied directly to the stamp for multicolored stamping.

There are rules for good rubber stamping. Do a test stamp on scrap paper. Don't rock the stamp -- lay it on the surface and press straight down with the palms of your hands. And lift the stamp straight up off the surface -- don't pull or slide it.

If there are areas that look dry, you need to ink the stamp better. And remember -- new stamps may need to be broken before they'll accept ink evenly. Reapply fresh ink for every stamping.

Masking is a technique that allows you to "mask out" parts of a stamp design and insert other stamps or designs. It allows a rubber stamper to create the illusion of depth. Sponging involves creating colorful highlights around stamped designs, and is also used with stencils.

Embossing separates the wannabe stamper from the die-hard fan. After you've used a thick ink to stamp an image, you pour embossing powder over the wet ink. The powder sticks to the image. After shaking off any excess powder, residue powder is melted on to the paper with a heat gun, a toaster, or even a light bulb. The technique creates a raised (embossed) and colored effect.

Powders come in all types -- glitters and sparkles, opaque colors, and metallic powders. Clear gloss embossing powders are also available. They let the natural color of the ink you've used show through. "A heat gun and embossing powder bring a certain class to stamped images and are a real must if you're going to do it," says Weldon "It's very easy and takes minimal skills to master."

Adds Hayley: "The most expensive piece of equipment is a heat gun if you're going to emboss. You can use a light bulb or an iron, but the easier you make it on yourself to do a craft, the more likely you are to do it. The ink pads and embossing powders last a long time."


Creative Rubber Stamping Techniques,
by  Mary Jo McGraw



Rubber Trouble
Great resource -- books, tips, projects

Beyond Cards
Some amazing examples of rubber stamping art

Silver Fox Stamps
A comprehensive list of stamping links

Heather's Stamping Haven
Store owned by Heather Hayley

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