It’s always important to make a good impression. You don’t want to come across as weak, shaky, or disconnected. Instead, you want to be powerful, even, and striking.
Spoiler Alert: This post contains a picture of my LTC for the upcoming silhouettes swap hosted by The Red Cat.
There’s a rumor floating around that Firm Kut (FK) can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be used for stamps that contain large uncarved areas. Can there be any truth to the rumor? or is it simply propaganda from the pro-“pink stuff” faction? I’ve carved many, many stamps in Firm Kut and haven’t had a problem getting good impressions — but it does take a little bit of preparation.
The first thing to know is that I am a gouge carver. Eventually I will try carving stamps using knives, but for right now I need all of my fingers. My primary gouge is the Speedball #1, but I also use the #5 and Kirbert’s miniaturized Staedtler, and I recently picked up a regular 1V. Firm Kut is fairly firm (go figure) and elastic, so like linoleum and wood blocks it is probably not the perfect medium for knife carvers.
The image below is the card that I made for the “Silhouettes” LTC swap. I was prompted to join the tracker after reading yet another post that warned people not to use Firm Kut for stamps that require large positive areas.
The source image is an illustration by Alexander Ovchinnikov. The stamp is carved in FK (obviously) and stamped using Brilliance Graphite Black onto 110lb white cardstock. Except for the fact that I gave the pointing kid a rubber arm, I think that it came out pretty well.
Unless I am a liar and a cheat, this proves that this specific FK deficiency is highly exaggerated. So how can you make a good impression with FK? The answer is two-fold: good preparation and good stamping technique.
Firm Kut Preparation
The surface of the Firm Kut material is shiny and highly hydrophobic, and needs to be prepared before carving. The basic idea is that a thin layer of material needs to be removed, and this can be done with sand paper or acetone. I start with a little bit of acetone (actual acetone — nail polish remover is not strong enough) on a cotton ball and I rub the entire surface of the piece that I want to carve. The acetone softens the rubber and the cotton ball removes and re-posits some of the material. After a little bit of scrubbing, the surface becomes soft, smooth, and not at all shiny.
After carving the stamp, I first stamp up with StazOn ink several times. StazOn is a permanent ink that doesn’t build up on the surface, and I feel that it better conditions the stamp surface for use with other inks.
Making a Good Impression
Regardless of whether or not you’re using FK, you still want to get good images with your stamps.
In order to get a good impression, there needs to be enough even pressure over the entire surface of the stamp so that it lays flat and squishes the ink around for full coverage, but not so much that the stamp distorts and prints the cut-out material and bends the lines.
A store-bought stamp has three parts: the die (stamp), the cushion, and the hard backing. The hard backing takes the pressure that you apply and spreads it evenly over the cushion. The cushion absorbs excess pressure, and distributes pressure (unevenly if necessary) to ensure that the die (even if warped) lies flat. For the new acrylic stamps, the die and cushion are combined and you’re left to supply the hard backing.
When stamping your own stamps, you want to mimic these properties. Usually this involves mounting your stamp with a soft foam backing, and optionally with a hard backing. Do not mount your stamp directly onto a hard backing — the cushion is very important.
When stamping up LTCs, I often use my Speedball press. For the Silhouette cards, I left the stamp unmounted and stamped them upside down. In this configuration, the base of the press and the table take the place of the wood backing in a store bought stamp, the cushion of the press the cushion of the mount, and the top of the press becomes the hard stamping surface that will keep the paper flat. The press is an awesome tool that’s saved me a lot of time and effort when batch-stamping cards.
Of course even if your stamps aren’t mounted, it’s possible to get good impressions, but it’s more difficult and error-prone. I always mount my stamps with a soft foam backing. At the very least, this backing helps prevent the stamp from moving or lifting, which can cause a blurry image or multiple registrations.
If you want smooth, dark, even coverage, you’ll need to have ink. I’m willing to bet that at least 50% of the ink pads used by letterboxers are hopelessly dry. Re-ink your ink pad, if necessary, and get a nice even coverage on the surface of the image. Don’t apply too much pressure with the pad and try not to fill all of the nooks and crannies with ink, as this will blur lines and fill details. If your stamp pad doesn’t have a flat, stiff surface, it’s probably time that it was replaced.
Stamping up properly takes some time, so don’t pressure yourself into rushing.
I love Firm Kut, and I hope that this information helps mitigate the bad name that it’s been given. As I’m writing this, I’m also reading that FK may be going the way of the original PZ. I hope not! I did carve one stamp each in NZ and Original PZ, and I think I could live if NZ replaces FK. Maybe I need more experience with it, but I found PZ to be too soft. While carving my stamp I accidentally ripped out a line, which would never have happened on FK.
Whichever material you choose to carve on, have fun and experiment with different tools, techniques, and ink! There are many ways to make a great impression.