11.21.2009

Behind the Scenes: Designing Rubber Stamp Molds for Metal Clay Charms

Moonlight and Honeybee, Beth Hemmila (Hint Jewelry):
1 x 1 inch rubber stamp molds for precious metal clay

In this Behind the Scenes feature, I demonstrate how to transform a two-dimensional drawing into a rubber stamp mold in order to create a three-dimensional charm. The picture above shows two different kinds of stamps and illustrates a fundamental concept when thinking about the design of your charm. The left stamp is a picture of a moonlit window that when pressed into any type of clay (i.e., precious metal clay, polymer clay, porcelain, etc.) will produce a sculptural relief with a raised image. The stamp on the right is a bee that when pressed into clay will create an incised image and resemble an intaglio print (i.e., engraving and etching). In an earlier post, I compared these two techniques for pressing images and suggested ways to combine low relief and incising. For my demo, I am using Sculpey polymer clay to explore this process, but these techniques are the same ones I use for creating Hint Jewelry's precious metal clay charms.

Moonlight and Honeybee, Beth Hemmila (Hint Jewelry):
white Sculpey polymer clay and blue acrylic paint.

Each stamp was pressed into white polymer clay and painted with blue acrylic so you can see the dramatic difference between a raised sculptural relief on the left and an incised image on the right.

To work with sculptural relief, I think primarily in terms of shapes and patterns. When I work with incised images, I am thinking about line and texture. I focus on sculptural relief when making Hint Jewelry charms because I like simple shapes and rounded edges. If I wanted to create something with more detail such as a human face, I would probably choose to create an incised image based on a line drawing.



Honeybee, Beth Hemmila (Hint Jewelry):
white Sculpey polymer clay and blue acrylic paint

Here's a detail of my incised bee pressed into polymer clay. See the way the bee stamp creates a concave area in the clay. It's like when you walk in mud or snow and create footprints.



Honeybee, Beth Hemmila (Hint Jewelry):
pencil and paper


To create a rubber stamp, I first sketch my drawing in pencil and then scan it into the computer where I save it as a jpeg image. I re-size the image to be 1 x 1 inch and sent it to Rubberstamps.net to have a mold made. Notice all the textures and shadows I created with cross hatching and circles on the wings. Almost none of that translates into a stamped image. If you scroll back up to the previous picture, you will see that any part of my pencil drawing that was a black line will be incised into the clay and anything that is white will be raised. Because the little stripes on my bee had some areas of white these turned out raised in the clay image. If I was to improve this desigm, I would simplify my cross hatching by creating more spacing between the lines and more area for white to show through.


Moonlight, Beth Hemmila (Hint Jewelry):
white Sculpey polymer clay and blue acrylic paint

In contrast, here is my moonlit window that was pressed into polymer clay, creating a sculptural relief. Take note that with rubber stamps a sculptural relief only has two levels: a background and a foreground. For instance, it is impossible to have the moon and stars be at a greater depth then the window. I found that sometimes these varying depths just naturally occur because if a shape is smaller such as the little star in the front, it will squeeze less clay into the image then the window. This will make the star appear to be at a greater depth then the window, but I never plan for this in my stamps. It's just a happy accident!

Moonlight, Beth Hemmila (Hint Jewelry):
pencil and paper

To create a rubber stamp for a relief mold, I've found it easier to think in two steps. First I create a very simple line drawing like the window pictured above, scan it into my computer, re-size it to 1 x 1 inch, use the brightness/contrast tool to create really stark black lines and a super white background, and then save it as a jpeg image. Your pencil drawing can be small or big, but for me, I've found that a 4 x 4 inch image allows some freedom to express a shape with line. Sometimes if you do a small, tight drawing your shapes are less fluid.

Moonlight, Beth Hemmila (Hint Jewelry): digital image

The second step involves taking the scanned pencil drawing of the window that is now a digital image and reworking it in Adobe Photoshop so it has a black background. The above picture of the window is the final digital image that I would send to Rubberstamps.net to create a relief mold.

This editing process in Adobe Photoshop reminds me of making an image for a woodcut print. The key is to maximize the size of the white shapes and to minimize the width of fine black lines. So for instance, I created larger white star shapes then seemed logical because when they are stamped into clay they become smaller. I make as narrow as possible the black lines on the window frame in front of the moon so that they create a subtle rounded edge to the shapes, but don't become a dominant part of the image.

Here are my personal guidelines for creating an image:

1. Maximize size of white shapes and minimize thickness of the black lines.
2. More white shapes then black lines.
3. One or two bold images filling space rather then a bunch of smaller images.
4. Black lines no larger then 5 pixels wide.
5. If I have a small white shape like the star, make it two times the size as I think it should be.



Background Template for Adobe Photoshop,
Beth Hemmila (Hint Jewelry)

Over time all Hint Jewelry charm designs have become based on the concept of a circle. I created a template in Adobe Photoshop for the black background so I don't have to figure it out it every time I want to work on a new stamp design. I always start with this black circle template that is approximately 1 inch square because I found this to be the size that allows me to scale lines and shapes correctly when drawing in Photoshop. Originally, I was accounting for the shrinkage of metal clay when sizing my image to 1.181 inches, but unfortunately I didn't follow through with this math on all my other designs. I've provided the different sizes I use for my stamp images, but when they are fired they shrink to be less then this size.

Digital Image Template
Grayscale
Resolution: 360 pixels/inch
Image Size: 425 x 425 pixels (1.181 inches squared)
Black Circle Shape: 425 x 425 pixels

Stamp Sizes
Extra Large: 270 x 270 pixels (3/4 inch)
Large: 225 x 225 pixels (5/8 inch)
Medium: 180 x 180 pixels (1/2 inch)
Small: 155 x 155 pixels (3/8 inch)




Final Digital Image for Rubber Stamp,
Beth Hemmila (Hint Jewelry)

I copy the digital image of my drawing (in this case a flower) as a second layer on top of my black circle template. I select the white area outside my flower drawing and cut it away to reveal the black circle in the layer below. Then I re-size my flower, move, and rotate my drawing to my liking so it looks well framed inside the circle. It's like taking a pair of scissors and cutting out the flower shape from a piece of white paper and pasting it to a black background. Because the black lines on the interior of the flower match the background, when you flatten the image it will look seamless. At this point, I usually take my paint brush tool in either black or white and clean up edges and fix lines so that the shapes will be clear when translated into a stamp.



I create charms in a variety of sizes, and because the molds are so small, I realized that it was more economical to group multiple images together on one stamp. This method works well with my process, because I use the stamps facing up, put clay on the top and then press down instead of laying my clay on the table and pressing the stamp into the material. See my earlier posting for a video demonstrating how I press metal clay charms.

Rubberstamps.net offers a variety of stamp sizes, and my favorite is 4 x 2 inches. In Adobe Photoshop, I create a new image that is 4 x 2 inches with resolution 360 pixels/inch. I copy and paste up to 15 of my smaller digital designs into this 4 x 2 inch file, arrange images so they each have some spacing around their edges, flatten all layers, and save as a jpeg. This collection of images in one file would be the final stamp design I send to Rubberstamps.net to create my mold.

If you do not have access to Adobe Photoshop or are not familiar with its drawing features, you could still do this process by creating a pencil drawing, going over the lines and filling in background with black ink, and then scanning this into the computer. The drawback is that you would have to create the exact size you want for your stamp and use micro fine ink pens for your lines.

Ready Stamps is another resource for stamp making that will allow you to send a sheet of paper with your drawing instead of a scanned image. I've never used this company, but an article on Art Bead Scene shows you the results from sending a hard copy of your drawing to create rubber stamp molds.

Be sure to check out my Behind the Scenes series for more articles about designing for Hint Jewelry and running an online business.

12 comments:

  1. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Ah, I am working on drawings right now for a similar process. I have the stamps made then make a polymer clay model, which I then add detail to. Then cast a mold from that. I have found that I can draw images at a large scale, scan, then shrink them to the size I need. I am old fashioned and love to draw so I make life harder than it needs to be for this.

    I started using the stamp company you use after you mentioned it previously. I've had lots of stamps made from lots of sources and find that rubberstamps.net produces the crispest images for detailed work.

    I've enjoyed this series you've done. I know this takes quite a lot of time to put together the clear details and photos. I really appreciate it. Thank you!

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  3. beth, this was informative, fascinating and enlightening as to the process... thank you for spending the (lengthy, i am guessing) amount of time on this post that you did... it is appreciated...

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  4. Beth, thanks so much for posting this tutorial. I've wondered about having stamps made and how to go about it. You gave me all the info I need. You've covered every question I could possibly ask! Your designs are brilliant and it's wonderful to see the process behind the art.

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  5. Thanks everyone for the warm feedback on this post! As you can probably guess I had been procrastinating on this one for quite some time, because I wanted it to have some clarity :)

    Leann, I think your a genius. I love the method you described and hadn't thought of taking that extra step. So thank you for sharing and opening me up to another possibility. Also, it's great to hear that Rubberstamps.net is well worth the expense in comparison shopping.

    Mary Jane and Leslie its great to know that this material was understandable and may be of use to your creative process!

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  6. OMG Thanks soooo mcuh for sharing all this wondeful info!!!

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  7. Wow, another great Behind The Scenes article! Although I don't do polymer clay or the PMC's, I still enjoyed reading how you create your charm molds. Thanks so much for sharing with us!

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  8. Thanks for sharing this Beth! Right now I use etched brass plates for getting my images onto my PMC. I think I will try the rubber stamp out for some relief designs which don't come out very high using an etched plate.

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  9. I had absolutely no idea the process you went through and this was such a fascinating article. Thank you for sharing that glimpse into your process! This should really be in a magazine or book someplace. You are a wonderful technical writer and I totally feel that I could do this if I needed to! I love to learn about the creative processes of artists that I admire, and I certainly do admire you, Beth! Enjoy the day! Erin

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  10. I have just begun experimenting with metal and polymer clay. I had no idea how endless this possibilities were with rubber stamps. Thanks for the insight. I hope to build off of your experience.

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  11. This is an awesome tutorial and thanks to your generosity, many of us will create our own stamps-the possibilities are endless! Thanks again!

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  12. First time to see this site. I seen your posting on Etsy and thought how kind of you to share your knowledge with us. I will return often and thanks again.

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