Sunday, 11 September 2011

Special Autograph

I have mentioned before on this blog, that one of my hobbies is astronomy. I have been interested in it since I was 11. Here is a short story describing how astronomy and stationery collided for a moment.

Sir Patrick Moore is known internationally for his books on astronomy and here in the UK as the presenter of the long-running science television programme, The Sky At Night, which he has presented monthly since 1957. To say that he is something of a childhood hero of mine is an understatement. I had never actually met him, although I did see him once at a British Astronomical Association meeting in the mid-1980s.

So, when a friend who is also a keen amateur astronomer suggested that we drive down to Selsey to visit his house, I jumped at the chance. He was to open his large garden for the afternoon in aid of charity, and there would be stalls selling books, bric-a-brac, tea and cake, and so on. He is 88 now, and confined to a wheelchair, and was unable to join the crowd for most of the time the event was taking place. One of the organisers of the event told me that he would come out of the house at four o'clock to draw tickets for the raffle. I was hoping to get an autograph or perhaps a peek inside one of his observatories.

At the appointed time, Sir Patrick emerged from the house to draw tickets for the raffle, and auction a few books for charity, which he was to autograph. He did not sign them with a pen, however: I saw his personal assistant sign one of the books on his behalf - with a self-inking rubber stamp. I quickly asked for an autograph for myself; fortunately I had some 3x5 index cards handy in my bag, and quickly produced one, which was duly stamped:

He apologised for being unable to write the autograph personally; arthritis has robbed him of his ability to play music, write and do other tasks. I assured him that this was just as good, however, and it is. It's not that often that my interests intersect like this. I will treasure this autograph, and have already framed it.

Afterwards, he did show me and my friend his observatories, and we left for home very happy indeed.

Friday, 9 September 2011

First Steps in Rubber Stamping

Things have been a bit quiet on this blog so I really should post about something. Some may remember that I mentioned becoming interested in carving my own rubber stamps; here are a few of my early efforts.

A few months ago, I ordered a block of Speedball Speedy-Carve and carving tools from a US-based seller on eBay, but whilst waiting for the goodies to arrive, I made a couple of attempts using what I had to hand, my old Stabilo Legacy eraser and a Swann Morton number 11 scalpel. The first effort was this, an aircraft stamp based on the UK road-sign to warn motorists of low flying aircraft:

You can see from the stamp that my carving left a bit to be desired, but I thought this was OK considering the lack of proper materials. The Legacy had a bit left over, so I then created another stamp, this time based on another UK road-sign, a direction arrow:

I had very little eraser left for this stamp, so the arrow is somewhat truncated compared to the original. This is a simpler shape to carve than the aircraft, as it has no curved edges; I was able to cut the lines cleanly with the scalpel and a steel rule.

By now my parcel had arrived from the States and I was able to start carving with the Speedy-Carve. I decided to keep things simple so I carved another version of the arrow, this time in the correct proportions:

The rubber compound in Speedy-Carve is different to that in the eraser material. For one thing, it's nowhere near as porous as the eraser. You can see it above with the slight marbling effect in the stamped image, when the Tombow Brush Pens are used for the ink. On a larger area, the effect is even more pronounced. (It is much less pronounced when a stamp pad is used.)

My next project was a hexagon, one of the symbols used by a favourite band of mine, Boards of Canada.

As one of their best-known pieces is called Turquoise Hexagon Sun, the hexagon had to be turquoise, obviously. Actually, I like the effect this has on the stamped image.

Having had some practice on this, I felt a bit more confident and carved a favourite symbol of mine. Growing up near Heathrow, I saw many old airliners and airlines. Among them was BOAC, one of the two airlines merged to form British Airways, whose symbol was the beautiful and iconic Speedbird. (The rubber on the stamp is blue because I tried stamping it using a Sharpie permanent marker. I am sure that will wear off in time.)

Speedy-Carve is very easy to carve, and has the consistency of a firm cheese like a Cheddar or LinkJarlsberg. I still have a fair bit left over, and have a few ideas of what to carve next. Actually I have already carved another stamp, but have not mounted it on a block of wood yet. I also have one failure, an attempt to carve this stamp from a Texas Instruments scientific calculator operator's manual which Gunther at Lexikaliker had made into a professionally-made stamp, and which he very kindly sent to me. The design is too intricate for my ham-fisted efforts; I have learned to keep things simple, and go with bold designs. Corporate logos and road signs offer much potential for this medium of expression, but I am sure I'll branch out into other areas such as portraiture.

The stamps shown above are glued to a wood block, with a layer of rubber from an old mouse-mat in the middle to absorb pressure, as the Speedy-Carve does not compress much.

It's been a lot of fun doing this - I hope you don't mind this minor diversion from the core mission of this blog: pencils and pens.