This week's Iron Craft challenge was to make some sort of Valentine's Day treat to give to someone else. My husband and I have never really celebrated Valentine's Day and the traditional holiday paraphernalia makes us gag a little. Really, how many cherubs and roses can a person be expected to stomach? I wanted to fully embrace this challenge and have some fun with it, though, so I decided to make Valentine's Day postcards-- sweet, creepy, slightly morbid postcards. And before you begin speculate that we don't have a loving relationship, let me just say that true love is not asking any questions when you come home after a long day at work and your wife asks you to pose like a zombie while she takes pictures. I've been dying (no pun intended) to try block printing or stamp carving. I've had a thin sheet of linoleum mounted on a 4x6 wooden block sitting in my desk drawer for the longest time, but I was having trouble committing to a design to carve on it. Bingo! Nothing says love like memorializing your zombie husband in carved linoleum.
I used Gloria Page's excellent book Art Stamping Workshop as a guide for this project. I seriously love this book and highly recommend it to anyone who's thinking about hand-carving stamps. Anyway, I started by uploading the pictures I took to my computer and selected the best one. I used my computer's photo editing program to make the image black and white. I played with the contrast and highlights to try to get as much bright white and black blacks as possible, with fewer gray areas. I printed the photo and traced over the outline with a black inkpen. Then I traced the image onto a clean sheet of paper and used a pencil to fill the picture in. I tried to simplify the image while maintaining something that would still have a dramatic black/white contrast when turned into a stamp. Granted, I took a little artistic license, but ultimately Jeff conceded that it still looked like him. Interestingly, strangers frequently tell Jeff that he looks like Jason Segel, so if you've ever wondered what he would look like as a victim of the zombie apocalypse . . . . When I was finished with my pencil drawing, I put it graphite side down onto the block and rubbed it vigorously to transfer the image.
The transfer was very light, so I filled in a little with the pencil directly on the block. I drew the design in a way that any linoleum that was not marked would be removed. Also, I drew the image exactly as I wanted it; it reversed when I transferred it to the block, then it reversed back to the original during printing.
I used my Speedball linoleum cutter to carve out the image. I used a No. 2 V blade to carve most of the body and face. I used a larger V blade to remove the background material. It was pretty delicate work on the sides of the body and the fingers, where I just wanted a dark outline to be printed. When my image was completely carved, I did a test print. I used a rubber brayer to apply black printing ink to my block. I found that the prints came out MUCH cleaner if I left the inked block facing up on the table and pressed the paper onto it. After I did a test print, I could see areas that needed to be carved down a little more. When it was how I wanted, I printed 4x6 postcards with my image. It took me a few prints to get a feel for the right amount of ink to apply and how much pressure was necessary to transfer a complete image. When my postcards were dry, I stamped a phrase on the face of each postcard. Phrases included: I love you to death, Eat your heart out, I love you to pieces, and I want your body. I am not well-practiced (meaning not practiced at all) at using letter stamps and it was probably the most difficult part of the whole process for me. I used a red marker to add a little color to the wounds, heart, and mouth of my zombie prints.
My cards are a little sloppy, but I like that they definitely look like they were printed from a hand-carved block. And, I was pleasantly suprised to find that the carving was actually a lot easier and more fun than I anticipated. The blocks are pretty inexpensive (I think my 4x6 block was $2.99). For anyone who has ever bought commercial stamps, carving your own is clearly a deal! No matter what medium you choose, I hope you'll try carving your own stamps. And of course, happy early Valentine's Day. Be creative and enjoy!
P.S.: Thanks to my friends at Wash U for your help with the zombie love phrases (Jane, Tyler, Elizabeth).
Update: Due to the interest in these cards I received on Flickr, I am hoping to have sets of 6 on sale on Etsy within a day or two. I'll update again when it happens.