We frequently use stamps in our work. There are many commercial stamps available to buy that are fine to use in your work. There are also quite a few that are not, so be sure to carefully check each maker's angel policies and copyright information. We personally feel that one way to preserve our personal style is to create stamps ourselves or trade one-offs with other artists.
To make stamps, you'll need some scrap clay, not too wet. All sorts of tools can be used to carve and mark the clay. A set of small loop tools will come in handy. Our favorites include a dull pencil, a scrap of steel, needle tools, a double ball stylus, and a knife of some sort. The final tool is some canned air. This is not a must, but it is a lot better than blowing away bits of clay until you are dizzy!
We start with a ball of scrap clay. We shape the ball into a cylinder, cube, or mushroom shape. We create quite a few stamp cubes with designs on 6 sides. This helps to keep our collection compact.
After the base shape is created, we clean up the sides with a fettling knife. Cubes tend to have an indention in the center of each side, so it helps to shave off the high edges. Now leave your base alone until it is leather hard.
So now that your base is leather hard, it is time to create a pattern for your stamp. Of course, you can carve directly into the block without a sketch. If you are nervous, you can draw onto a small piece of paper with a washable marker. Then place your sketch face down on the clay and rub gently with your finger. When you pull the paper away, your design will be transferred to the clay!
You may also use your computer and ink jet printer to create your designs. We find the computer to be exceptionally helpful for complex designs or lettering. Use the same method to transfer your image to the block. Just remember, with both methods, your image will be reversed on your block, but then stamp true to your original.
Now it is time to begin carving. There are no rules here. Use whatever works the best for your design. Just make sure your clay is leather hard. If it is too soft, the base will warp as you try to carve and your design will not stamp well. You will also find the bits of clay you are carving away will stick themselves back to the stamp.
The canned air comes in handy now to blow away the bits of clay that have been carved away. The deeper the carving, the better the stamps will work. Just be sure not to undercut your design or it will hang up in your clay when you are using it.
If you are working on a cube, go ahead and carve the remaining 5 sides. Carve around a cylinder to create a roulette (a rolling stamp), or carve each end to make circular stamps. Carve the top of a mushroom shaped base to create an ergonomic stamp that will work particularly well in bowls. Once you have finished carving, gently test your stamps in soft clay. Do this only once or twice or the stamp may alter.
In a short time, you can carve quite a few stamps. Often, simple and even ugly stamps create patterns that are very appealing. Don't rule out a design until you have tested it. Once you have completed all of your stamps, allow them to dry completely. This may take weeks for cubes. We test for dryness by touching items to our lips. If they are still cool to the touch, they are not completely dry. When they are completely dry, bisque fire them. Now they are ready to help you create amazing works of art!