24 July 2011

Making a stamp from a photograph

The August technique of the month is making a stamp from a photograph. This is a technique I adapted from a Lyric Kinard DVD on stamp making. The first time I used this technique was to make a stamp of a feather from a photo I had taken of three feathers I used to keep in my car visor. I actually have that stamp at the end of this tutorial. Lately I have been using a certain motif, a picture of a man, in all sorts of work. The man happens to be my brother and it all started when I did a 4 color fabric portrait of him. I am now doing a totally stitched portrait of him along with Judith (quiltordye) who is working on her own motif in stitch. I digress.
I took the photo of my brother and made it greyscale then posterized it in two values. I also tweeked the contrast a bit before posterizing til I got an image I liked.

 I took a soft lead pencil (#7) and penciled in, laying down graphite, over the areas that were black. I didn't do the entire background, just a band and all the details inside the face.

I think you can see the shiny graphite around the image. Then I cut the image to the width of my stamp material. I used soft-kut from Dick Blick. It is dead cheap. A 4x6 sheet cost a bit over $1. As you can see from this photo I missed filling the dark patch next to the mouth with graphic. Drats. Then I took the soft-kut and laid the image graphite side down and rubbed the back of the paper as hard as I could with a spoon back to move the graphite from the paper onto the soft-kut.

I thought I took a photo of the soft-kut BEFORE I went over the lines with a permanent ink pen but I guess I didn't. Oh well. When I removed the paper after transferring the graphite onto the soft-kut, I drew "cutting" lines because the graphite is unstable and will rub off easily. I think my paper shifted about and my image was not as crisp as I know it could be. Probably taping the paper to the substrate before rubbing the graphite image would be a good idea. Learn from my mistake. Now it is time to start the cutting process.

I used Speedball linoleum cutters, also dead cheap at Dick Blicks, like under $7 for a handle and 5 blades. I also used an Xacto knife to do intricate cuts. 

The upper picture is my first cut and the lower photo is after removing a large amount of soft-kut near the chin.
When I used the Xacto knife I used it in a bevel so as to keep the material (soft-kut) as stable as possible. I will show you what I mean using this eraser. I place the knife on a bevel towards the area to be removed, then the next cut is beveled towards the first cut. The excess to be removed easily pops out.

See how the bevel stabilizes the center image?

OK, after removing all the material from the stamp, it's time to print a rough sample image to see what I forgot or what is too high and getting into my image.

I THINK I am done so I ink up the stamp and print.

The paper with the graphite is on the left, the rubber stamp is on the right and my first printing of the image is in the center. I see some high spots (on the forehead) and I take this opportunity to trim away "hairs". You can even see where the high spots have ink on them on the stamp.

This is a close-up of "hairs" on the first print. I also had forgotten a piece near the mouth so I cleaned it up and printed again.

Now I want to mount this stamp onto a rigid substrate so my fingers wont push too hard on the carved areas which are now thinner than the raised areas. This will give me nice stable uniform pressure when printing. I have plans for this stamp. I want to do multiple touching images a'la Andy Warhol so I want my backing to be the exact same size at the stamp to make calibration easier. You'll see what I mean when I make my prints. I used rigid 1" insulation board, rough cut a piece maked it with the stamp on it and made the final cut on my bandsaw (because I have one). A knife or razor will also make a nice cut.

Measuring for a rough cut

                                                     marking the exact size of the stamp

Cut perfectly on a bandsaw

 Now it's time to attach the stamp to the rigid backing. I used Elmers contact cement. Paint it on, wait a minute or two til dry then placed the stamp on the substrate. See below

And then I mark the side with an arrow so I KNOW which way is up. Ask me how I know!!

I decided to use craft paint with a brayer just to see what it looked like. Interesting images. You could see the brayer marks which is neither good nor bad and the image was NOT crisp. Same reaction. It was a good first try. I now know I will do 3 over 3 - 6 images to make a 12X12" square.

Not really what I was going for but a good start. I am making this for a specific purpose but I have used stamps from photographs many other times as motifs in quilts.Here are a few.

 Above is a stamp I made from the photo below. The stamp has that stamp feel as opposed to the yellow image which is a solvent transfer and a pretty sharp image.
 This is a stamp from a photo of a feather. I have used this image over and over again. It's one of my faves.

Over the course of the month, I will blog back with my finished piece done with this stamp. I have become obsessed with this image of my brother and I am doing 3 pieces this month alone, all very different.

OK. Now it's the next day and I really couldn't wait to start experimenting. On the first multiple print of the stamp, I had brayer marks which I actually quite liked. Here is the next print, done today, where I brayered the paint onto my glass plate and pressed the stamp into the paint to load.

It has what I refer to as "smack marks" where the paint forms ridges when the stamp is lifted off the paint filled plate. I like!

Next I used a smooth foam brayer (4" foam paint roller) to load the paint onto the stamp. THIS is the color I most associate with my brother because he is a red head.

This method has given me the best definition and smooth color that I was looking for. Wish I had more paint this color. I will give it another go with fabric paint in this color later. Love the look and the format - 4 across.

Now this last one is with the same technique, foam brayer, with the dark brown which I accidentally poured onto the glass plate. It is the format I want to use for the art show 12X12 - 3 over 3.

I will keep adding to this tutorial until August 1st when I paste it into the "Fire" blog.

I can't tell you how much I love making these stamps from images. I have done a friends dog and made a quilt all about her. It is such a wonderful way to pay tribute or just "go" with a motif.  I hope you all have a ball.

Beth from Maine


  1. Are any of your portrait quilts going into the coming up portrait show?

  2. Cool! Thanks for all of the detail steps.

  3. very nice, thank You Beth for sharing.

  4. Yes. As many as I can get in which is 3. Only one is done but I am about to "use" my stamp in a new way also make it 12X12 (3 over 3)and think about embellishments. I actually LOVE the weird way the stamp printed when I brayered right onto the stamp. It gives it a "certain look" that I love. I also want to do a piece with more definition of the stamps nuances. Stay tuned. I will not put this on the "Fire" site til Aug and hope to have more pieces done.


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