Hello creative friends. As per a few requests I received last week, I thought I’d set up this quick stamp-carving tutorial. In Hong Kong, I used to give workshops on stamp-carving, it is fun and easy…and addictive!
Here’s how I go about it. First, your supplies. My favorite carving block to use is the Speedball Easy Carve. It’s expensive but great to use, comes in various sizes and easy to find (I found these blocks on Etsy). If this is your first time, I would buy a smaller size to see if you enjoy stamp-carving before buying more.

It looks like a big block of pencil eraser material!

When I was in Hong Kong, we found this type of stamp-carving block at our local craft store. So for those of you in Asia, it may be a good option (especially considering shipping prices). I belive this is Korean or possibly Japanese (?)

The asian block is thicker and a little harder to carve, but still a very good option.

Next, you need a tool to help you carve. In Hong Kong we used this set of wood carving knives. I would use the thinnest one (the first on the left).

But I recommend this carving knife set, also by Speedball. The handle has a space to hold the different sized knives, just like a screwdriver.

Now that you have your tools, it’s time to find an image to make a stamp of. This can be anything you want. If it’s your first time, I would recommend an image with not too many details because – as we’ll see – you have to adjust how you picture the end result of your image before you carve your stamp. Because I’m inspired by the season, I decided to find an image in my Icons Halloween book.

I settled on this lovely witch.

Once you have found your image (or text, it’s up to you), trace just the outline of it on tracing paper. As you can see, I left out the cat and the writing to make it simpler.

Once the image has been traced, we need to put it on our carving block. If we want the printed image to be the same as the one in the book, the image needs to be reversed on the carving block. That way, when you print it will be the right way around. To help us mirror our image there is an easy trick. You put down your tracing paper with the pencil drawing touching the surface of the carving block and then you re-trace all of the lines.

This leaves a mirrored imprint of your drawing on the carving block.

You can go back in and re-trace some of the lighter lines, just to make the drawing as clear as possible.

This is also where you can finalise some details. In this case, I added the steam volutes from the cauldron and a line inside it to show that there is some liquid. I also added a log. Because this image is in color in the book, I have to image it in terms of black and white and try to picture how clear the image will be. 

Next comes a tricky part. You have to remember that whatever you take off the carving block will not be inked and therefore will be white. Whatever isn’t carved-out will be colored (according to your ink color). This is probably the more difficult step when you are just starting out. To help you out, here’s the trick : anything that is black doesn’t get carved out (including fine lines like my moon). So go back to your drawing and color in black whatever you want to be inked on your stamp.
Next, we carve. Take the smallest knife size you have.

By applying a little pressure, cut out a strip of the cutting block on one side of a line – you can practise on an open space on your block, but close to the edge so you don’t waste too much of it. Remember that the line itself cannot be carved out so you will have to carve out on each side of any fine lines. For example here, I have to carve the outside and the inside of the moon if I want it to be a round line behind my witch.

I like to completely outline my image with this small knife as a first step.

You can see where I’ve had to outline the moon and carved out the space between the moon and the broom on the left.

Here I’ve carved out all the outlines. This takes more or less time depending on your image. Go slowly and don’t tear the pieces of carving block because that will show up when you stamp. You’ll notice I also separated my image from the big carving block using an exacto knife. You just need to leave enough material  around the drawing to be able to grip the stamp.

Once the outline is done, you can take a wider knife size and take away a lot of the carving block that has no pencil on it.

As you can see from the cuttings on the right, this knife has less of a V shape and more of a round U shape. So you can take out more of the material. This is good to clean up the edges. For this stamp, I used the wide one to do her dress.

So now it’s just a question of taking away all of the space that has no pencil on it. It can get tedious so take a break and don’t rush it. You may also have to go back to a smaller knife point to clear up the details. Once you’ve taken away a lot of the ‘white space’, it’s time to test out your stamp. Ink it up.

Try it out! Because whatever part that is raised above the surface will get inked, doing this helps you see where you have to take away more of the pink material to make the image clearer. In my case, the lines on the left side need to be trimmed off, also the ones near the logs. I also added a couple more lines in the broom.

After clearing off those things, I re-inked and tried it out again.

After this picture, I just trimmed off the two lines under her dress and called it done!

I love my new stamp and it took me about two hours all in all. You can apply this technique to anything you want, portraits, quotes, whatever. Just remember to try and picture what needs to receive the ink (= raised up from the surface) vs what needs to stay white (= taken away from the surface). As you go along, you’ll get better at it and will be able to make more intricate designs.
If you have any questions, please send them my way. You can also see past stamp-carving posts here. There are lots of tutorials and workshops on this technique. But I think that by far the best ressource is Julie Fei-Fan Balzer’s blog. She’s been stamp-carving for years and is crazy good at it.