Technique Tuesdays: 10 Tips for Stamping

Stamps are pretty straightforward art supplies: apply some ink or paint, press onto a substrate, and you have an image. But the way mixed-media artists create and use stamps is anything but basic, and these 10 tips for stamping prove that. Stamps can be used to created embossed images, designs can be altered by using watercolor and acrylic paint, and patterns can be stamped into clay, plastic, or gesso to create impressions and add texture.

Create custom motifs by hand carving rubber, using found objects to stamp, or by drawing into craft foam. In the hands of an artist, there are no boundaries for what can be done with a stamp. Use the following tips and techniques in your next project and gain a whole new perspective on stamping.

1. Focal foam: Turn your favorite doodle designs into stamps, using a method Kari McKnight Holbrook shows in the Fall 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop magazine. Using sheets of Inovart’s Presto Foam, draw directly onto the foam with a ballpoint pen, pressing firmly enough to create grooves with the nib. Don’t worry—the ink lines won’t show! Cut the foam to size if you prefer. Spread some acrylic paint on a sheet of freezer paper, roll it out with a brayer, and brayer an even coat over the stamp. Then, press the stamp onto paper, rubbing the back of the stamp to get an even impression. This is a great technique for art journal pages, since you can create backgrounds, borders, and focal images. Bonus tip: When you’re done with the paint-covered stamp, use it as an embellishment in your artwork.

Doodled foam stamps by Kari McKnight Holbrook from Zen Doodle Workshop magazine

Doodling on foam sheets turns them into quick, handmade stamps. (Art by Kari McKnight Holbrook, photo by Sharon White Photography)

2. Make an impression: Stamps and polymer clay are a match made in art heaven. Stamps can be used to create texture and designs on clay, and the look is further enhanced with paint and patinas. In the January/February 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Staci Smith shows how to create stunning necklaces in polymer clay and metal. After conditioning white polymer clay, roll it into a ball and flatten it, then stamp into the clay (she used a fern leaf image). Sand the surface, if desired, to create more texture. Bake the clay, then brush on acrylic paint, immediately wiping it off—the paint stays in the recessed areas, highlighting the stamped image. Sand again for a more worn look.

Polymer clay jewelry by Staci Smith, from Cloth Paper Scissors magazine

Make impressions in polymer clay with stamps, then paint to highlight the design. (Art by Staci Smith, photo by Sharon White Photography)

3. Layer by layer: Karen O’Brien loves using stamps to create interesting layers texture in her artwork. In her book Imaginary Characters: Mixed-Media Painting Techniques for Figures & Faces, she suggests this technique for adding pattern and texture to a collage on paper: Paint a stamp with white gesso, and print on the paper. Add texture by carving into the wet gesso using texture tools or the end of your paintbrush. Let dry. When fluid acrylic paint is applied over the gesso, it pools into the texture marks, producing a more interesting surface, and the gesso image glows.

Stamping with gesso by Karen O'Brien

Stamping with gesso creates images with texture. (Art by Karen O’Brien)

4. Take off the mask: Using rubber stamped images with monoprinting produces eye-popping results. In her book Gelli Plate Printing: Mixed-Media Monoprinting Without a Press, Joan Bess details the process: Stamp the images you want to use onto sheets of sticky-note paper, then cut them out, cutting slightly inside the image. Then, stamp the same images onto a sheet of paper and cover each image with its corresponding mask. Create a monoprint on the paper using a Gelli Arts printing plate, leaving the masks in place. Create a layered print if desired, making sure the masks stay in place. When finished printing, remove the masks for the big reveal!

Great tips for stamping include this mono printing technique from the book Gelli Plate Printing

Stamped images pop on this mono printed piece. (Art by Joan Bess)

5. Present a good image: Have you ever stamped a focal image onto a piece, only to discover that part of it didn’t print? Dina Wakley feels your pain. She shared one of her tips for foolproof stamping  in her webinar, Layered and Stamped Images. First, cover watercolor paper with layers of paint, stenciling, and stamped images created with acrylic paint, and let dry. Then, stamp images with permanent ink onto Tim Holtz Idea-Ology Tissue Wrap, which is white and uncoated. Dina likes to go for a mix of focal images (flower, faces, people, etc.) and background-type images (textures, text, dots, etc.). Next, cut out the images and use gel medium to glue them to your substrate, overlapping some with the previously stamped images for a layered effect. Cover with another layer of gel medium. The combination of the lightweight paper and gel medium allows the tissue to disappear into the background.

Stamping techniques for mixed-media by Dina Wakley

Among Dina Wakley’s many tips for stamping: stamp onto tissue paper and adhere with gel medium; the paper will disappear into the background, leaving just the image. (Art and photo by Dina Wakley)

6. Renew, reuse, rework: Artists may be the best recyclers, always looking or items to repurpose in their work. Nathalie Kalbach talks about how she uses household objects in her artwork in the May/June 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. She says, “I love to incorporate something unique and personal in my work, and I also love the thought of saving money while thinking about the environment.” In the article she shows a number of ways to make stamps from things around the house, like carpet tape. Apply a piece of carpet tape to sturdy cardboard (the adhesive on the mesh should provide a strong hold). Cut the cardboard to the size and shape you want. Then, roll some acrylic paint onto a palette, dab the carpet paint stamp into the paint, and stamp. You can also use a cosmetic wedge to apply paint to the tape.

Carpet tape stamp by Nathalie Kalbach

Carpet tape makes a great textured stamp; adhere to cardboard and stamp away. (Art and photo by Nathalie Kalbach)

7. From mundane to magnificent: Jennifer Coyne Qudeen also has an eye for using unusual objects to stamp and make marks. In her columns in the January/February 2015 and March/April 2015 issues of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Jennifer shows how to stamp with the round ends of paper tubes, like paper towel rolls. Dip the end into paint or ink, and gently press it onto paper or fabric. Continue stamping, overlapping some circles, and using different sizes of circles to create a variety of patterns. To fill in some of the circles, use the end of a wine cork—the more cracked and pock marked, she says, the better. One more idea: Cut a piece of corrugated cardboard from a box, and use it in two ways: Apply paint to the flat side for a block of lines, or add paint to an edge cut against the grain. This produces wavy lines, courtesy of the corrugation. Stack and glue several pieces together to create a series of rough, wavy lines lines.

Found item stamps by Jennifer Coyne Qudeen

Don’t overlook the mundane–even corrugated cardboard makes great stamped images. (Art by Jennifer Coyne Qudeen, photo by Sharon White Photography)

8. It’s a match: Tons of stamp carving techniques can be found in the book Carve, Stamp, Play: Designing and Creating Custom Stamps by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer. One of the best tips for stamping is Julie’s process for creating a quarter repeat stamp, which can be combined in numerous ways to create an array of designs. To start, draw ¼” grid lines directly onto the rubber block, so it looks like it’s covered with graph paper. This will help the image repeat properly. Decide which two opposite corners will be the rotating corners, and mark the points that need to match. Draw the design, keeping in mind two rules: Nothing in the non-rotating corners should touch the edges of the block, and anything that touches an edge in either of the rotating corners must be matched on the other edge of that rotating corner. When stamping, change up ink and paper colors for even more variations.

Quarter repeat carved stamp by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer from Carve, Stamp, Play

Even a small carved stamp can become something big, as with this quarter repeat stamp. (Art by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer)

9. Raise it up: Embossed metal looks stunning on any mixed-media project—jewelry, handmade books, collage, and more. To create those embossed designs, look to your stamp stash. In the July/August 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Elitia Hart demonstrates the technique using a large flower stamp, stamping with permanent ink onto a 36-gauge tin-coated pewter sheet. When the ink is dry, place the metal onto a thin foam mat and trace the lines of the image with a Teflon stylus. Turn the sheet over so the back side is facing up, and trace slightly inside the embossed lines you just created, again using the stylus. Now, place the metal stamped-side-up on a hard acrylic mat and, using a paper stump, flatten the background around the design. Place the metal back on the foam sheet, back-side up, and gently push the design up, using the paper stump. Flatten the background one more time on the hard acrylic mat, with the stamped side up. To ensure the raised designs don’t get crushed, fill with melted beeswax and allow it to harden. Color the image with alcohol inks.

Tips for stamping on metal include using permanent ink and embossing the image to give it depth.

This embossed metal flower started with a humble rubber stamp. (Art by Elitia Hart, photo by Sharon White Photography)

10. Plastic fantastic: Create unique embellishments by stamping into moldable plastic strips. The simple technique is explained in the book Mixed Media in Clay: Techniques for clay, Plaster Resin and More by Darlene Olivia McElroy and Patricia Chapman: Place plastic strips in a shallow bowl of warm water to soften them, remove with tweezers, and place them on a protected surface (the shiny side of butcher paper works well). While the strips are pliable, apply a rubber stamp. Any excess can be trimmed with scissors. The strips can be left plain, painted, or highlighted with metallic rub. The textured pieces can be adhered onto your artwork with glue.

Stamping on moldable plastic, from the book Mixed Media in Clay

Stamping into moldable plastic creates one-of-a-kind embellishments. (Art by Darlene Olivia McElroy and Patricia Chapman, photo by Christine Polomsky)

Ready…set…stamp! Check out these great products from the North Light Shop that will rev up your stamping game today.

Get tons of stamping, carving, and designing tips in Carve, Stamp, Play

Get tons of tips for stamping, carving, and designing in Carve, Stamp, Play by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer.

Art Journaling Live 3 video

See how versatile stamps can be in this Art Journaling Live 3 video!

Discover tips for stamping on metal and embossing in the July/August 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine

Discover tips for stamping on metal and embossing in the July/August 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.

Mixed Media in Clay

See how stamps and clay make great art partners in Mixed Media in Clay by Darlene Olivia McElroy and Patricia Chapman.

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