Saying Good-bye To Rubber Stamping?

November 16, 2016

1BoxesDrawersStampsDSC05002Left: Six stacks of drawers and a couple boxes of materials waiting for the pick up. (Materials on the table are from an aborted trip I couldn't take because of an injury—I didn't even worry about putting that stuff away, I was that focused on sending the stamps to their new home.) The boxes contain the indexes (a catalog) for the collection. See the end of the post for information on that. (And yes, the wallpaper drives me crazy too, but we were going to move about 20 years ago and I never got around to 1. moving, 2. replacing it. I can't see bothering to do it now, but that's a long story for another day.)

In my last post I mentioned the studio reorganization I've been doing the last few months. I wanted to share one huge step I took to clear the clutter and unused items from the studio.

A step that most of my friends thought I would never take. 

It feels really, really good.

This summer I gave away my 3000 plus rubber stamp collection. (I don't count alphabets as individual stamps. I don't recall how many alphabet sets there were.)

I gave them to my favorite 10-year-old. Because I knew he would use them.

2Front-Drawers-DSC05005Left: The front of the drawers. Every drawer had a number and every drawer had eight boxes inside it labeled 1A, 1B, 1C,…1H. This organizational system made it easy to find and return rubber stamps to the correct drawer.

Art supplies that aren't used are sad. ( I think that's the message of this week's posts.) They are actually sad (imbued as they are with the creative spirit) and you are sad just looking at them and seeing all that wasted potential.

I'd spent over 20 years involved in mail art. I'd created tons of missives, participated in numerous mail art projects, created several mail art projects of my own, and published eight issues of a rubber stamp zine in a two year period—all because I loved rubber stamps. 

For me the fun of rubber stamps was the ability to create multiples quickly and send them out to lots of friends. And also I have difficulty walking away from ink in pretty much any form and rubber stamps are married to all those delightful stamp ink pads!

Above: A peek inside one of the drawers. There are two layers of boxes in each drawer, for a total of eight boxes. This drawer is PLANTS and contains everything from trees and grasses to fruits and vegetables. I could make talking and flying cabbages, or create visual puns with potatoes, peach pits, and radishes, but I could also use all those trees to make a forest scene on an envelope or give a bald head some hair—masking makes all your stamps do more!

Rubber stamps also tied in with my love of collaging with 19th century etchings. In fact the majority of my stamp collection for a long time was 19th century etchings. As time went on I became friends with artists who had their own stamp companies and more modern works seeped into my collection. And my love of vintage advertisements also found a home in my collection. 

4DinoDrawerDSC05019Left: Here's a drawer of dinosaurs and "collaged" animals. The latter were things I put together and then made into rubber—like the rodent with a long tail holding a pocket watch (don't ask, yes there are multiple situations in which you would need one of these!). Yes there is a box of squirrels. Some boxes seem empty because the stamps are large and the wood blocks they rest on take up most of the box space.

I also created a lot of custom rubber—phrases and sketches of my own devising. You know, those essential stamps like a phrase stamp that says, "Soon to be a major motion picture," and stamps of Sir Sean Connery in multiple sizes because you always want the scale of your stamped creations to work out!

Originally the drawers housing this collection were in my storage room where there was a desk set aside for stamping. But when I moved out of mail art to focus on other aspects of my art the storage room became so packed that it was difficult to access the collection.

Then I cleared out this area enough so that I could use the stamps, just so that I could determine if I would return to them. I didn't.

Yes there has always been an aspect of rubber stamping in my work. Look at how I create textures in my journals for instance (with letters and shape stamps).  (And lots of rubber-stamps for texture in this Chicken portrait.) 

I'll still use SOME rubber stamps in my art. I have kept several larger rubber stamp alphabets, some texture stamps, and some antique office stamps that I just adore—oh, and my old galley stamps: Master Set, Duplicate Set etc. I always looked for ways to save time and work stamps are really useful I just never threw them away when the world went digital.

I also did keep some old sentimental stamps—mostly stamps I made of the girls when they were alive. I don't imagine I'll use them much, but I couldn't see giving them away.


Above: You can't have too many phrase stamps. Above is just one drawer of such stamps. Some phrase stamps were utilitarian—postal related. But other phrase stamps were just because that's the way my mind works.

What remains with me are the few stamps that I still use not only in my journals, but also when I work with the Gelli Arts Printing Plate. These are the stamps I never stopped using. Now instead of 50 some drawers of stamps I have everything in a few drawers and a portion of one shelf (the large alphabets).

They are easy to access. That means they will be used.

Of course, in order to give these stamps to a 10-year-old I did have to check with his parents. Such a collection—and the related indexes (because yes, how is a collection like this usable if it isn't indexed so you can retrieve a woman stamp and a certain phrase for instance?) take up space. And maybe rubber stamp art is too subversive for 10-year-olds? It isn't for me to decide. But with a go ahead from the parents I took out all the swear words (I had a lot of them) and some other stamps that weren't suitable for a 10-year-old (his grandmother is using them until he gets older) and the collection was ready to go. Mother, grandfather, best friend, and new rubber stamp collection owner showed up one bright summer day to load it all up along with my old drafting table, which I hope gives him years of happy service—and off it all went.

And I have felt so happy ever since— and every so often I get a rubber stamped note in the mail from my friend! 

It just feels so light—to let go of something you used, and used hard for so long, but then didn't use, and don't need to use, and now really want to see used by someone else.

Yes, watching Dick's folks grow old and frail and having to clear out their entire house in 4 days—66 years of living—influenced me a bit. But mostly what influenced me is that I had a creative friend who would use these things when I wasn't using them.

I've had friends sell their collections—but they always spend so much time answering queries and sending out stamps one or three at a time. I couldn't imagine the time it would take to dissolve this collection. 

Instead, four people came over, and helped by Dick they loaded up all those drawers of my life and drove it away. I have not stopped smiling since. 

The joy and excitement I've felt at making this gift has given me the energy to keep going with the clear out. I'm scanning and tossing all sorts of things I thought I'd never part with. I'm keeping one sample of a printed piece instead of 20 or more. I've taken boxes of books off to the used book store. (And I'm pleased to report in most instances I've not returned with more books!)

I have an invitation to go over and use the rubber stamps whenever I want, but I haven't had a single urge to do so.

I don't feel fickle that I gave up my connection to rubber stamps and mail art. I'm content that the time I spent was well spent and now I have other things that take focus.

And there is breathing space for what's next.

Postscript: A Word About Indexing (Cataloging) My Rubber Stamps

I don't want to confuse anyone with the use of the word "index." In rubber stamping when you print a copy of the stamp on the wood block that holds the rubber, that's called "Indexing."

But for me the indexing I'm talking about is creating a catalog of stamps (images and phrase stamps) which allow you to look up each and every rubber stamp so that in no time you have the 10 or so stamps you need to create the image you had in mind, stamp up multiples and put all the rubber stamps back in their places so that you can find them again immediately.

Yes I think in a previous life I was an efficiency expert.

My favorite and most beloved gift that my father gave me (besides my budgie of course) was a FIRE ENGINE RED with orange drawer fronts legal paper size file cabinet—with lock!

What 11 year old girl doesn't want that for her birthday????

OK. And you already know that I index my journal pages, so it should come as absolutely no surprise to you that I also indexed (cataloged) my rubber stamps.

I didn't take photographs of the index volumes before they went to their new home, but what you would have seen were 5 large 3-inch wide ring binders. Each was labeled with a drawer span contained within, e.g., 1-18. Every drawer was numbered as I wrote above. And within each drawer there were eight boxes which were lettered, e.g., 1A, 1B, 1C,…1H. 

In the index each drawer had a tabbed section. 1, 2, 3, etc. And each tabbed section contained a page for each box, that 1A, 1B, 1C,…1H I've already mentioned.

On each box page there was a space at the top of the page that was the exact size of the inside of the box. In this box were stamped all the stamps in that actual box. I put little numbers next to the stamped images. Below this visual "box top" were two columns of ruled lines on which I wrote the numbers and the name of the company I purchased the stamps from. If they were custom rubber I wrote that on the corresponding line.

These notations allowed me to know where my stamps were coming from should people ask me, or should one of my pieces get printed in a rubber stamp zine (because they always asked for stamp credits). 

A photocopy of the box top portion of this page was made and taped to the inside of the related box. Facing outwards. This means, as you can see in the box photos, that you could look down and instantly see what was in the box without having to do any mental gymnastics of trying to reverse a rubber stamp image (uninked and one solid color) in your mind.

Yes there were times when I would have to update things, but it was easily accomplished. I could update the index sheet, and then with the same stamp update the box top and just replace the box top inside the box. If a box filled I could then make a photo copy and replace that box top. It wasn't a burden to keep up with the minimal maintenance because it meant fluid use. (OK, also I had a great photocopier because I worked at home.)

There was also an alphabetical list of phrases, so if I couldn't remember "sort of" which box a phrase was in (and believe me if you are using a collection like this daily you really do remember where things are even without the index), I could remember the start of the phrase and bingo, go right to the appropriate drawer and box. (And no, I never made "Bingo, bango," into rubber—darn.)

Now back to that ring binder index—each box page was placed in a plastic sheet sleeve so I could pull things easily in and out for updating, but also because I didn't want to have to worry about reinforcing paper holes in a heavily used binder system.

And of course there was a funny rubber stamp of me on the cover of each binder (if you go to my website, at the top left you'll see an image of me pointing to my bicep—that's the image), along with the drawer span contained in that volume of the index and a quote from "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer,"

I don't know how this happened to me. I guess I owe it all to clean living, proper outlook, and the help of my friends

That's something Richard Nugent says when he wins an obstacle race at a school picnic. (Have you not watched the movie? You really should drop everything and watch it right now. Cary Grant is perfection, Myrna Loy is magnificent, and Shirley Temple is just about all grown up and acting in a way that isn't saccharin so you're sure to enjoy it.)

I would say that statement is my motto. Yes. That's it.

But you have to watch the movie to really get it.

To understand the indexing (cataloging), well you just have to be someone who likes to work efficiently, and it couldn't hurt if you've been reading my blog since 2008 and knew what to expect.

Mellow Greetings, Yookey dookie!

    • Susan S.
    • November 16, 2016

    That is one lucky 10 year old! I had to laugh at your statement “Yes I think in a previous life I was an efficiency expert.” You are an efficiency expert in THIS life. I am struggling with disposing of much less organized stuff, but this helps to keep me motivated.

    • bilby
    • November 16, 2016

    You are an inspiration. I have been simplifying and downsizing in earnest since the passing of my parents, having made little progress in their getting rid of the clutter. It has become a way of life for me and yes, my art materials have been the most difficult to reduce. I admire your organization skills, and have been seduced by the thought “it’s not clutter it’s so well organized:-)” It’s encouraging to see someone make the choices on such a large scale. Keep up the good work inspiring us to follow suit. BTW love your drawings and gouache paintings.
    Cheers, bill b.

    • Tina M Koyama
    • November 16, 2016

    I did this very same thing recently with my HUGE collection of beads (mostly very tiny seed beads) that I had accumulated and used for years. I stopped beading when I developed a repetitive stress injury, but it took me years to let them go. They went to a nonprofit group making and selling jewelry, so I feel really good about their new home, but mainly I’m so relieved to get them out of my house, where they were taking up so much space. I don’t know why I waited so long — I guess it felt too much like giving up a part of myself. But if they aren’t loved and used, they are just things. Now they are happy again.


    • Sharon Nolfi
    • November 17, 2016

    Amazing collection and indexing. Did you index as you acquired each stamp or after you had a large collection? It’s a treat to learn how you think – your processes are very elegant.

  1. Reply

    Tina thank you for mentioning your bead collection. I too have a large bead collection, it is actually now stored where the rubber stamps were stored so that I could move them out of the studio. I stopped beading about 4 years ago, and 4 years before that stopped beading as intensively as I had been, because I didn’t have a injuries yet but was worried about my hands for binding going forward and it was more important for me to bind. (Choices.) But I have kept them because sometimes at the holiday season I like to make ornaments or small little things for friends, and Phyllis loves it when I make a necklace for her. The seedbead colors I have are also often discontinued.

    But I know that I will be passing them on to someone in the future, perhaps near future and your mention of donating them to a non-profit is a fantastic idea and it’s one that I’ll keep in mind. THANK YOU.

    They haven’t become non-useful yet, but I can see the day from here and now I just have to find a place.

    For me the hard part was actually stopping the beading I did, but it seemed silly to continue. I was making jewelry and I don’t wear jewelry! I was beading and weaving baskets but had stopped showing that work and it’s so bulky to store. And I was watching friends with arthritis deal with all sorts of issues. I have been a leader since I was 8 years old and learned at summer camp (seed beads, daisy pattern in a band). It was like letting go of a part of myself. Now it just remains to let the final bit of it go (which would give me so much more room.)

    But right now it’s still fun to be able to walk back there and get small things out and make or repair something for Phyl. I think when she’s gone that will be it.

  2. Reply

    I started indexing right away because I went from one day having just a bunch of office stamps to having about 50 stamps and then it kept growing so I started buying the drawers and boxes right away to put it in and my brain just thinks this way.

    I updated as I mentioned, on the fly until a box got full and then maybe would do a new photocopy. Over the years I sometimes did a reorganization of a drawer or two, but because I started right off the bat and knew my interests I left extra drawers for what was to come, like more people stamps.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve never had my processes called elegant. Thanks! That makes me smile.

  3. Reply

    Thanks Bill. I know you understand the impetus of all this.

    I think in some ways I’m doing all this not just to have more room, but to have less to move when we do move, because we really do have to move from this house at some point. We were going to move 20 years ago and it didn’t happen because we got more and more involved in care of Dick’s folks and being in this location was the easiest and still is. But it’s way past time to move.

    And I’m glad you enjoy the paintings and drawings. Thanks for writing and good luck with your own clutter reduction. Sometimes it does hide as well organized doesn’t it!!!!

    • Sharon Nolfi
    • November 18, 2016

    The processes I’m talking about are your cognitive ones (although your artistic ones are pretty interesting, too). I guess I just like and appreciate the way your mind works. I can relate!

  4. Reply

    Sharon, yep, that’s the way I took it. I’m all about the mind. It made my day! Thanks.

    • Chris
    • May 29, 2017

    I can’t believe you did this, but I’m sorta in the same spot. I have an old metal parts cabinet full. So I’m ripping the ones I’ll use off the index to be mounted with the cling stuff and donating the rest somewhere. Not sure yet. Oh, and the Stampscapes will stay mounted because they are a PITA otherwise. And I wasn’t as smart as you have been. I gave up the record keeping and this will be another chore. Sigh…… congrats…I think…

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