Carving Tutorial

I wrote this years ago for a rubber stamping forum on DelphiForums.

I am a novice at carving, but feel that it is a creative activity that can be enjoyed at many levels. At its most basic level, carving is not too far removed from tracing. If you have ever attempted to carve plaster or linoleum blocks or soap, the ease of carving erasers will surprise you.

Materials

White erasers and carving media are both used by eraser carvers.

White erasers

The premium carving eraser is the Mars Staedtler eraser. However, this eraser is  expensive, and limited in size. There are several brands of white erasers around that are much less expensive than the Mars Staedtler eraser, although these also tend to be
limited in size.

Carving medium

There are several carving mediums. I haven’t used Speedycut, as experienced carvers report that it is the most likely to crumble. I have used Nasco Safety-cut, with good results. Uncle Walter’s and PZ Cut have both gotten good reviews on the Carving Consortium, and email list for carvers.

Methods

Choosing patterns

My own preference is to start with images that are bold. However, some carvers do beautiful carvings of line drawings, and others do elaborate word phrases. For some wonderful examples of what can be done with carved erasers, try RuthAnne’s site.

Another choice is to use an idea from one of the world’s folk cultures as inspiration. The printing technologies used by these cultures tend to produce designs which lend themselves very well to eraser carving.

To carve a simple word stamp, compose the phrase using a computer font in a simple block outline style. Transfer it to the carving, making sure that it is reversed, so that it will print properly after carving. (If you write it freehand on the eraser, check it with a mirror to make sure it will work.)

Transferring pattern

With a little practice, carving an eraser is no more difficult than cutting out a stamped image. A clear image on the eraser makes it much easier to carve it. The two most popular ways to transfer the image is

  1. the pencil method
  2. the acetone photocopy method

Pencil Method

Using a soft-leaded pencil, trace the image on a sheet of paper with the pencil. Place the penciled image against the eraser, and rub the back of the paper with the bowl of a spoon, or bone folder.

Acetone Method

Acetone is a flammable liquid, so read the warnings on the container and follow them.

This method requires a photo-copy of the image. A laser printed image will also work. Some photocopiers use a type of toner that will not transfer with acetone.

Lightly sponge acetone (from hardware store) on the printed side of the image, and place the printed side against the eraser surface. Rub the back firmly, and the image will transfer. Nail polish remover (better without additives) will also work.

Carving

Although it is possible to use an Exacto knife to carve erasers, my own preference is to use the Speedball lino cutters. A set of these cutters usually has a handle, and various sized tips. The two tips that I use the most are the #1, which carves a fine line, and
the #8, which will quickly scoop out large areas. Here are my tools .

After I transfer my image, using either the penciled method or the acetone method, I rough cut the block using kitchen shears. Save the larger scrap pieces, as you can make interesting shaped carvings from them.

When I begin carving, I use the #1 blade to outline my image. I also use it to carve any internal lines. Although it is not always possible, I try to start the carver on the inside corners of the image, and carve toward the outside corners of the image.

I then use the #8 blade to remove the background of the image around the carved image, as shown in this photo . Avoid undercutting the image: a cut that slopes out from the image will print better.

When you get to the point where you think you may have carved enough, make a test print. I try to use a light colored dye ink, so I don’t obscure my transferred pattern. After looking at the test print, I will decide if I want to carve more. If there is too great a chance of the edge showing, I will use a knife or the kitchen sheers to trim the image a bit.

When you are happy with your carving, clean it thoroughly using soap and water to remove the chemicals and any oils from your handling of it.

Erasers and carving medium are usually firm enough that they do not require mounting before being used. The erasers and medium, in fact, tend to resist adhesives, so I just keep the eraser clean and store it as I would other stamps.

Printing with the carved image

When using the carved image, my experience is that a fresh dye pad or pigment pad works the best. The erasers and carving mediums to not seem to grab hold of either type of ink as well as a rubber stamp, so I spend a longer time inking, and inspect the inked image carefully before pressing it. A brayer can help smoothly ink the image.

As I mentioned earlier, I am a novice, so I carve simple images, and try to make up for it on the presentation. Here is a card that I made with my carved image of a swallow. If you would like to carve a similar image, use this pattern.

Please leave a Reply