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.