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Stamp mania.

There are few art media that make a detailed mark as quickly as a stamp. There years ago, I made my first commercial stamp purchase through a mail order company and that was the beginning of a habit. One thing led to another until my attic was cluttered with scores of stamps and I littered my mail with things like dinosaurs, pandas, the moon, and eggplants. I began to use rubber stamps at school - grading papers stamping hands, making awards and designing art communiques. Stamping was a fast, enjoyable way to make a visual statement and the children were delighted with the colored inks and images.

I did run into one problem concerning rubber stamps: I didn't have enough of them. Before I knew it, the holiday had arrived and I hadn't ordered any holiday stamps. I had heard of people hand-carving stamps from erasers, so I bought a book on the subject, some plastic erasers and began to carve my own stamps using linoleum knives.

Before long the kids at school noticed the eraser stamps and were intrigued by the carving and the stamping. They wanted to know how to carve them, how to design them and most importantly, how to stamp with them. Student's interested was obviously simmering, so I decided to take advantage of their enthusiasm and ordered a batch of plastic erasers and began to plan a lesson.

An Introducing to

Stamp Carving

Motivating the students was not a problem. After they listed to a brief history of rubber stamps and examined commercial and hand-made varieties, they were anxious to get started. The problem was getting kids to slow down, listen to directions and think carefully about what they wanted to carve. I instructed kids to trace around their eraser four times on a sheet of 9" x 12" (23 cm x 30 cm) newsprint and make four different preliminary designs inside the tracing before deciding which one to carve. This helped to slow the tidal wave of impatience and served as a learning experience. As they drew, we discussed which kinds of designs would be easiest to carve, whether to carve the entire object and what kind of detail possible. Simplicity was emphasized because a 2" x 1 1/2" (5 cm x 4 cm) carved format was not the place to attempt an intricate design. After consulting with each student, a design was chosen and transferred onto the eraser with a ballpoint pen.

Carving the Stamps.

Students were instructed to begin cutting around their design with a #1 linoleum knife. This was demonstrated by drawing one of the projects on the chalkboard and diagraming how to cut around the entire image leaving a silhouette. Individual help with cutting was given to anyone who desired one-on-one instruction; it was imperative to circulate around the room and observe carefully. Generally, there was no problem carving the stamps. Unlike linoleum, the surface of an eraser it soft and very easy to carve.

After several of the children had completed work with the # 1 knife, I demonstrated how to cut away the area around the design with # 3 or #5 knives. As soon as this was finished, instructions about how to cut detail with the #1 knife were given individually. Some kids wanted a simple silhouette, some preferred to cut in all detail with the knife, and still others wanted to cut around the detail. As they worked, they made sample stamps on newsprint, looked at the samples and decided what others areas of the stamp they could remove. As students experimented, excitement grew; everyone was eager to begin work on their own stamp art.

Art from Stamps

As soon as the kids were finished with thee carving, they were instructed to stamp a border around a sheet of "9 x 12" (23cm x 30 cm) paper using only their stamp. The fine art of gently applying ink from the stamp pad and firmly pressing the eraser to the paper, was demonstrated before stamping began. This part of our project was fast and simple and the students completed their borders quickly.

With their borders freshly stamped, students began to look at each other's work. There was a tremendous variety of subjects: parrots, heads of various characters, unicorns, houses, rockets and flowers. What to do? I decided the best approach was a playful one and told the students to carefully consider all the other stamps at their tables. How could they combine different stamp images with drawings to really interest a viewer? How could their stamp be combined with other students stamps to produce a creative combination? We discussed two of the student projects - a rocket and a flower. I asked the students what kind of a picture they could make combining a rocket and a flower. The first reply was "The flowers grow up from the ground and the rocket takes off into the air". This was a good reply, but I asked how they could change that idea to be a little more surprising. Some interesting solutions included planting the rockets while the flowers zoomed off, planting the flowers on top of the rockets, and putting arms and legs on the flowers so they could run out and greet the rocket.

Stamps and More Stamps

With most of the drudgery taken out of repeating an image, children let their creative juices flow and the results amazing. Moonheads sprouted from bodies that tumbled over the page, ghosts floated over haunted houses and parrots sat in trees surrounded by musical fruit. There was real work involved in each project while an atmosphere of playful creativity filled the art-room.

Enthusiasm for the process remained high even after the projects were hung in the hall for display. Kids wanted to know where to buy erasers and linoleum knives, some sported temporary stamp tatoos, and others collected classmates' stamps on paper instead of autographs.

Carving and printing with handmade stamps guarantees an exciting class project because children love both activities. Combining and sharing a classroom full of stamp forms assures playful creativity and total student involvement. Be prepared; you may get caught up in the excitement yourself. Just relax, put a little time aside, sharpen your linoleum knives and you'll be in the stamping business. Don't be surprised if your too end up addicted to the pleasure of creating stamps.

Shirley Ende-Saxe is an art teacher in the Stow, Ohio public schools.
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Author:Ende-Saxe, Shirley
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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