Rubber Stamp Carving with Sarah O'Brien

​With the immediacy of email and text messages, keeping in touch through snail mail might feel like a thing of the past -- especially when the only things we seem to be getting in the physical mail are bills and advertisements. Sarah O'Brien doesn't subscribe to that notion. 

O'Brien, who works as a Montessori educator and ESL instructor in Tempe, believes the trick behind keeping hand written cards alive is making them unique with her own handcarved stamps. 

Check out her process after the jump ...

O'Brien traces her fascination with stamps back to her childhood. "I had a box full of stamps," she says. "But I never really considered it an art back then."

Today, O'Brien gets the art, and she's turned it into a business. You can find her handmade cards at Solo Café Gourmet Coffee and Tea House and Open Source Project in Tempe. 

O'Brien's current stamp collection (apart from her own creations) includes a vintage set from the 1970s she picked in Portland. She says stamps give cards a little something extra, and creating them can be a therapeutic.

- a rubber carving block (available at Wet Paint and Arizona Art Supply.)
- a pencil and pen
- a carving tool (O'Brien suggests the Speedball Lino Carving Tool or the ESSDEE 3-in-1 Lino Cutter), an X-ACTO knife and an inkpad.

1. To begin, O'Brien draws the image she wants on a piece of paper.

2. O'Brien then outlines the image and fills in details in pencil. She says you need to keep negative space in mind (that is, the space inside and outside of the image) and decide whether you want the outline or the interior of the design to be what prints.

3. After she's satisfied with her design, O'Brien transfers the image to a rubber carving block by holding the paper face down on the block and using a thin item (like a coin or jar lid) and rubbing it on. 
4. Once transferred, outline the design on the carving block with a pen. 

5. The next step is to start carving, by scooping out the negative space carefully. She recommends the Speedball lino carving tool or the ESSDEE 3-in-1 Lino Cutter.

6. Using an X-ACTO knife, O'Brien cuts the block down to a more comfortable size to work with. O'Brien usually carves her stamps in the comfort of her home after a long day to relax.
"You get into it and you just zone out," she says.

7. Once finished carving, O'Brien dabs an inkpad onto the rubber and does a test print. While it helps with noticing mistakes and refining, O'Brien says you shouldn't get too ambitious or overzealous when crafting a stamp. "Human errors are kind of beautiful," she says of the imperfections.

8. After she's satisfied with her design, O'Brien carves away the "buffer zone" with her knife. She usually glues the design onto a small wooden surface to hold the stamp.

9. Once finished, O'Brien says the only remaining step is to ink the stamp again and admire the result.

To learn more about her other projects (she also makes elaborate marionettes) or request original stamp designs, visit her site or contact her on Twitter.

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook and Twitter.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jorge Salazar