Carving Your Own Stamps

Carving Your Own Stamps

In researching Chinese name stamps recently, I ended up veering off into a tangent.  It seems that a lot of people carve their own name stamps in China, where you can buy cheap little kits at stationery stores.  I even found some places online to buy stamp blanks, small columns of soapstone which you can carve yourself for about $10.  Of course, you don't have to use stone to carve your own stamp, and you're not limited to Chinese characters!

Throughout history people have used a variety of materials to carve stamps.  Stone is most durable, but it's also most difficult to carve.  Other possibilities are wood (particularly fruit woods like apple and cherry), linoleum, and fired pottery.  

These days, the casual stamp maker's best option is to carve erasers!  The classic big pink eraser is an excellent medium for stamp carving.  It holds its shape, and can be easily carved with an X-Acto knife.  This is obviously not a craft for very young children, but kids old enough to be entrusted with an X-Acto knife will relish the opportunity to make their own 100% custom, hand-carved stamp with which to make their mark on the world.  (Hopefully the paper parts of the world.)

Once you have chosen your medium, and the tools you need to carve it, the next question is "Resist or Intaglio?"  It's all about positive and negative space - these are the two basic ways that you can carve your stamp.  With intaglio, you carve your design into the stamp.  This results in a stamp where the background is inked, and the design is white.  With resist, you carve away the background so that the design stands out.  This results in a stamp where the background is white, and the design is inked.   

(For Chinese name stamps using the resist method, it's traditional to include a border around the shape.  This obviously isn't necessary, but it can give your design a nice finished look.)

If you want to make a Chinese name stamp, there are several English to Chinese dictionaries available online.  You can also translate the syllables of your name into Chinese characters.  (I'm not too keen on  this myself - what if you chose the syllables that mean "porn" in Chinese?  Personally I think this is best left to the help of someone who speaks Chinese, and thus can translate your name without any embarrassing cross-cultural gaffes.)

You can also draw your stamp free-hand on the stamp, in which case you'll want to practice on paper ahead of time.  Or, with a bit of Xeroxing or Photoshop work, you can reduce your drawing to the exact size of the finished stamp.  You can then lay this on the stamp blank, and use it to trace out your design.  This can be done with ink, pencil, or an X-Acto knife, depending on the medium you're using.

Don't forget to flip your image, if that's going to be important to the finished product!  You will be carving the mirror image of how the actual stamp will look.  

Let's get carving!