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Around Home : Rubber Stamps

August 20, 1989|JUDITH SIMS

IT STARTED OUT innocently enough; I bought one little rubber stamp, a baby chick. I stamped it on everything: envelopes, typing paper, file folders, anything that held still long enough. My friends became bored with it, so I bought another: a rooster. Then I noticed that these fine rubber birds cost as much as a live clucker: $5 and up. And they didn't lay eggs.

How difficult could it be to make my own stamps? I wondered. Just some erasers and a knife, right?

Not entirely. The basics are quite simple, and it's downright easy to carve out a repertoire of rudimentary shapes. But as for the intricate feathers on a rooster's tail--I'm leaving that to the high-tech process that transforms photographs or prints into "engraving" plates and then burns away the background, leaving the stamp. This is beyond the scope of most kitchen-table stampers.

I happened to find a library copy of "Stamp It!" by Kay Gleason (out of print, sadly), which has excellent designs and instructions. While it didn't tell me how to carve a hen, it laid out the basics so simply, and with such amazingly complex-looking motifs, that I was hooked.

Any eraser will do, rubber, gum or vinyl, including the one on the end of a pencil. Start with simple geometric shapes--triangles, diamonds, circles--in different sizes, and then combine them. Whether dealing with pencil ends or large flat erasers, it's easiest to carve the entire eraser into a shape; none of this bas-relief business. One ingenious pattern by Gleason uses a small triangle printed over a larger triangle, with an even smaller triangle defining other angles. All of these are arranged in an "exploding" design, radiating outward, that looks very much like a quilt pattern. These designs are perfect for greeting cards and wrapping paper, even wallpaper. And once you've mastered erasers, move on to sponges, adhesive foam, felt, plastic modeling compound.

Erasers do tend to crumble with age, and the carved edges lose their sharpness after many vigorous stampings. When the design starts to smear, make a new one. That's the joy of an inexpensive hobby.

Erasers, X-Acto knives, single-edge razor blades, paper and ink pads are available at Aaron Brothers Art Marts in various locations; Saylor Supply Co. in Long Beach; Garden Grove Stationers in Garden Grove; Bush's Stationers in North Hollywood and Burbank, and Flax in Westwood. Alas none of these stores has any books on the subject of rubber stamps. "The Stamp-Pad Printing Book," by Florence H. Pettit (Harper & Row) is a children's book--but it is in print, so a bookstore can order a copy if one isn't in stock.

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