Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly....

Hand-carved stamps are the heart and soul of letterboxing. When I first started letterboxing, I was fortunate to live in an area populated with letterboxes created by Der Mad Stamper who carved amazing miniature works of art. It was April of 2001, and I found my very first letterbox at Horsetail Falls, and the stamp was beautiful. Later that day, I picked up a stamp carving kit and carved my very first stamp.

It was crude but cute, but that's okay. I did not expect to carve a masterpiece right out of the starting gate, and I wasn't the least bit embarrassed to hide it later--even after my carving abilities improved dramatically. It took me several months before I hid the stamp in a box, but I did. My first stamp is still out there, in the Ramona Falls box, if anyone wants to see it. I checked up on the box last summer. The logbook is slightly damp, but it's still in pretty good condition after being out in the woods for five years.

My biggest concern when I first started letterboxing wasn't to plant boxes, however. No, I wanted a signature stamp. That first carving of a bird of an undetermined species was nice, but not something I wanted as a signature stamp. So I set on carving a second stamp. I used a picture I took of Mount Hood, traced it, and carved it. And I liked it. It became my signature stamp.

At least for the first month of my letterboxing career. It didn't take long for me to realize that the stamp was way too large for a signature stamp, and I downsized to a smaller stamp of a spider I always stamped in with purple. It wasn't until my 100th find when I wanted to celebrate by carving a new signature stamp that I carved the turtle you know and see today. There's a clear progression of improvement with each of those three signature stamps.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because we were all beginners once upon a time. Don't look at these amazing carvings that other people do and think, "I can't do that!" Instead, you should be inspired to think, "Yes, I can do that!" Der Mad Stamper was my inspiration to improve my carving ability, but alas, not everyone has had such a wonderful carver for inspiration.

That's why I collected a few carvings from a variety of people to showcase different styles and skills for inspiration. It's a new page of the carving tutorial I call Samples and Examples. There's a wide ranging of carving abilities and a lot of inspiration in these stamps. ArchimedesScrew's carvings are nothing short of astounding--and has me thinking for the first time in years, can I do a stamp like THAT!? I've carved some nice stamps, but looking at her carvings is a humbling experience. =) Celtic Quinn has a carving that's extremely simple, but with the right colors is adorably cute. And if there's anyone out there who thinks, "I can't carve anything--I have no artistic talent!"--let me draw your attention to Warrior Woman's carving. She's legally blind. It's a simple carving, but I have little doubt that most people would love to find a stamp like that.

I've created a couple of new albums in the photo gallery--links are provided on the samples page. Stamp Carvings is for your own carvings you'd like to show off, but preferably, stick with images from stamps that have been retired so as not to ruin the surprise for people who like to stay surprised when they find a stamp. =)

And the First Carvings album has some of our first carvings, primitive though they may be, including my first signature stamp of Mount Hood. =) (My first stamp ever carved I don't intend to show here since it's still in an active letterbox, so you'll have to enjoy the second stamp I ever carved instead.)

Feel free to add your own carvings to the appropriate folders, and show off both your most embarrassing stamp carvings and your best. And I hope these examples inspire you to carve even better stamps in the future, or perhaps start carving stamps if you haven't already.