Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Stamp Carving 101, Part One: Image Transfers

Well, it would seem that I've acquired myself a letterboxing buddy, who is unfortunately not as artistically bent as I am. To that end, I decided to carve a stamp for him this morning, and share the process here because it's my day off and I've got dick all to do. I was originally going to do an entire tutorial from start to finish, but I'd only gotten through the image transfer stuff when I decided that it was enough and the carving information could be a post for another day.

This one's pretty easy; first of all, pick your design. Everyone has some personal iconography that they relate to. Here, I've made a copy of one of my friend's favorite emblems, the Gangrel clan symbol from Vampire: the Masquerade.

I think this is a great candidate for stamp carving; it has a clear, recognizable shape, with just enough detail to be interesting. Certainly nothing's stopping you from using your own original design, but this is what he decided on. If you want to be brave, you can draw directly on the surface of whatever you're carving, but if you want to use a pre-existing design or to carefully work on your image and play around with it before committing and wasting materials, you can easily do so on paper or in whatever image editing software you have first and transfer it very simply.

The most important thing to remember for preparing an image for transfer is that it has to come from a photocopier or laser printer only--these both use a powdered toner, which behaves in a different way than ink from a regular inkjet printer does. (Not sure if your home printer is inkjet or laser? If your print comes out with a discernible smell and is a little toasty right when it comes out, you probably have a laser jet. If you can hear the ink cartridge carrying back and forth as it prints and the paper feels just as cool coming out as it went in, you probably have an inkjet. Get thee to a Kinko's.) A photocopier is a great resource for any artist--it allows you to resize your work easily, and to easily make transfers using a number of different techniques without damaging your original drawings. Today though, I'm just going to focus on how to make a basic solvent transfer.

Make at least one more copy than you think you actually need, it can sometimes be tricky to get the whole thing to come out the first time, and it can be easy to damage the paper during the process. I made three copies today, just in case. Keep in mind that if you have any text or want your final stamp to face a certain direction, that you need to reverse the image when you photocopy it, otherwise it'll turn out mirrored. I cut my image out to a more manageable size, and then placed the copy face down onto my carving surface. You may want to actually tape your cutout down to keep it from shifting or moving around during the transfer process, especially if you have a large or intricate design. This should also help to keep your paper from curling up, so that the print stays against the carving surface where it belongs. Next, you apply your solvent: I've used xylene, mineral spirits, turpentine and similar harsh solvents before, but for safety and expense purposes, I used plain old non-acetone nail polish remover today. I read somewhere that 100% acetone works really well, but I haven't tried it.

The back of the paper should be saturated with your poison of choice using a rag or a cotton ball. Most solvents evaporate quickly (which is why you should always work in a well-ventilated area!) so don't skimp. You should let it sit for a moment for the solvent to do its thing and break down the bond between toner and paper, but don't wait so long that it dries up. Finally, agitate the back of your paper. Like, really annoy it. An old spoon works very well for this. All you have to do is press firmly and rub, being careful to move all around your image, with the edges being the most important. I find a circular motion works best. If you look closely, you'll notice that certain parts of your image will start to look lighter, and this means that the toner is being successfully moved from the paper to the surface beneath.

My transfer, as you can see, didn't turn out so great. However, that's because 1) I didn't tape down my paper, so the top area where the wolf's ears are kept curling up, 2) I didn't use a spoon or baren, I used a q-tip. The surface was too small to apply pressure evenly, and too soft to work the wet paper without pilling and tearing, but this was good enough that I could go back and strengthen the edges with a permanent marker. This transfer method can be used on a wide variety of surfaces; wood, rubber, canvas, really anything that the solvent won't eat away at. Always do a spot test. If you mess up and want to try again, you can clean the surface off using the same kind of solvent you used to make the transfer with in the first place and start over with a fresh photocopy.


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