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How to Make Beautiful Stamps using Vegetables

Updated on August 3, 2013

Would you like to go to your mailbox today and open it and find something other than your overdue credit card bill? I know that I would, but I highly doubt it will happen. I can count on one hand the number of times I have gotten more than the obligatory birthday card from my in-laws. How much would it make your day if you opened an envelope and found a card inside that was for no purpose other to simply say “Hi”? How much more would it make your day to open that envelope and find a homemade card?

Thinking on that for a moment, let’s take that one step further. How would you like to participate in helping someone else feel that way? How would you like to know that you put a smile on someone’s face and it took nearly no time out of your already cram packed day?

Our family, like nearly every other blue blooded American Family, is on a very tight budget. While I have a lot of paper and stencils at my disposal due to my brief obsession with scrapbooking, stamps and stamp pads was one item that I never invested it. I think stamps are a fast and quick way to add a fun touch to a card, invitation, scrapbook, or other craft. I just never could wrap my head around the amount of money required to invest in them, and still always be limited to the specific shapes I had purchased. I could easily see spending $20 for stamps at Easter and still be stuck with nothing to use during Halloween. Or spending money on girly stamps such as butterflies and flowers, and then still needing a full other set for the boy birthdays in the family.

Luckily, I recently stumbled upon an unusual way to make homemade cards.

While chopping up some yellow squash for dinner one night, the gears in my head started spinning. Or as my husband would say, “my hamster wheel was smoking”. I usually chop off that skinny crooked part at the top of the yellow squash and toss it in the compost bucket. I know that it is perfectly edible; I just don’t tend to use it, with really no logical reason why. Briefly a magazine article on quick art ideas for kids flashed through my head. In the article they made stamps out of halved apples. The seeded core makes a cool 5 point star shape. I wondered if the yellow squash would work.

I took the neck and I used a small paring knife and “carved” curved lines in it. I started with a nearly full tiny circle in the center and slowly added overlapping arcs around it until I got to the outside edges. It didn’t really look like a lot at first, but after adding some simple tempura paint to it and “stamping” it on a piece of construction paper, I realized that it loosely resembled a rose.

I took off the outside edges so that instead of a circle, it had the ruffled edges of the “petals” and tried again.

I could not believe how great it actually looked. It took no more than 5 minutes to carve the petals and even less than 10 minutes to stamp out a few designs on more than 10 individual cards. In no more time than it took to chop the vegetable up and lightly sauté it, I had also created beautiful art to send to my family and friends.

I also discovered that if you let the vegetable stump dry for about 45 minutes to an hour after you carve your design, the paint sticks a little better and your stamp doesn’t look quite as watery.

The key to a nice looking design is simplicity. My son continually wanted me to make him a truck. It looked awful on the small space afforded me with the crooked neck section. So I tried using the larger circle from the bottom of the squash. It wasn’t a horrible picture, but I think my carving abilities needed a little practice and a simpler design base.

I also discovered that removing the edges of the squash so that there is no round border on the design helped make it stand out and be more discernible. For example, a sun with a ring around it didn’t look much like a sun. The same thing happened with my first “rose” shaped design.

Round edge of squash left on.
Round edge of squash left on.
Round edge of squash trimmed off.
Round edge of squash trimmed off.

One design I created was taking simple lines and dragging them from the center outward. I was looking for an asterisk/star type shape. Without removing the outside edges on this particular design, I ended up with a shape that looked an awful lot like a morning glory. Then, adding in a little color with colored pencils when I was ready to send the card, add some green vines, a heartfelt message and the card was finished.

Morning Glory with and without added colored pencil effects.  Leaves were also made with squash stamp.
Morning Glory with and without added colored pencil effects. Leaves were also made with squash stamp.

After playing with this stamping technique for a few months, here are a few more tips for you.

  • Any part of your squash stamp that still has seeds in it, or the stringy section where seeds start to form will not work well for carving. It does fine for simply painting it and making a cool abstract design, but you need to solid fleshy part for carving.
  • Thin paint on the stamp is better than a thick globby coating.
  • Brushing the paint on in a perpendicular (opposite) direction as the lines on your design work best. This causes the paint to "catch" on the edge and then stick to your paper. If you go along with the lines, the paint lodges deep in the crevice and does not come out well. Or you end up with a very heavy line that might not suit your needs.
  • Dark color paint on light colored paper or contrasting colored paper works well. As does light colored paint on dark colored paper. At first I thought yellow wouldn't work well, but as it dried it got darker and was easier to see.
  • This project is fun for kids too. The adult does the carving of course and then the child can do the stamping.
  • If you cut off a 2 inch or longer length of squash neck, you can get (on average) 4-5 stamps out of it. Simply cut off the design you no longer want to work with and you will have a new flat canvas to create a new design.
  • Simple clean lines work best. Complicated designs with complicated detail might not come out clear. (at least they didn't for me)

Simple "daisy"
Simple "daisy"
Family logo that goes on the back of all our cards.
Family logo that goes on the back of all our cards.

There are a lot of things I enjoy about this new technique I have discovered. One of the most beneficial ones is the lack of things to store. The stamps get washed off in the sink and tossed in the compost bucket. Other than the kids tempura paint and cheapy paintbrushes that we already have, there is nothing to put away.

The second thing I like most is the individuality of the design. Even if I make the same "rose" over and over, it will always be different every time I use a new piece of squash. That means that my designs are as original as I am.

Making homemade cards was something my mom always inspired me to do as a child. Then when the crafting world exploded, everything seemed to get so complicated and expensive. I kind of lost my creative edge for quite a while, and had no desire to create anymore. Now that I have rediscovered a simple, fun, and easy way to make my own unique creations, I have once again fallen in love with homemade cards. I have a stack in my drawer ready to go should a friend come down with an unscheduled cold. I am no longer scrambling to find a meaningless card to toss in the mail when a birthday lands on the third day of the month and I wasn't prepared for it. I can now sit down and focus on adding a little color and flair, writing a message that means something and sending off a note that I know will brighten someones day. I also know that I am doing my part in reducing waste and spent resources because I didn't go and buy yet another trival stamp that I can only use once a year.

Homemade Stamps by Shauna Lopez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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