Practice makes perfect—or at least charmingly handmade, right? That’s the idea behind this 101, on making potato stamps. You see, HOMEGROWN is hosting a group potato stamp art project in the HOMEGROWN Skills Tent at Farm Aid 2013, and we wanted to hone our cutting and printing skills before the big day. Thankfully, this is one craft project that's super easy, quick, and immediately useable. Plus, you can compost the potato scraps! Just make sure an adult is wielding the knife.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
» one large potato (we used a russet)
» one large knife, Santoku or similar
» one small, sharp paring knife
» a cutting board
» a stenciled message or design
» ink (a nontoxic variety meant for paper or fabric, depending on the surface you’ll be printing on)
» a plate or another clean, hard surface to use as an ink palette
» paper, fabric, or another surface to print on
WHAT TO DO
1. Select a potato that’s large enough to accommodate your stamp design or message. We used a russet approximately six inches long for a four-inch design. It’s not absolutely necessary, but we found it helpful to print out stencils: “HOME” and “GROWN.” If you have the option to print backwards, do it. Otherwise, you can lay your stencil upside-down on your potato—a necessary step so that your finished stamp reads correctly.
2. Using your large knife, cut your potato in half lengthwise. If you’re making two stamps, you’re in luck! Otherwise, you might recycle the unused potato half as dinner.
3. Lay your stencil, if you’re using one, on your potato. (If your stencil is printed backwards, lay it face-up. If it’s printed as it would read normally, lay it face-down.) Make four deep cuts, one on each side of the stencil, then four perpendicular cuts, about halfway down the height of the potato, to create an overhang that you can use as a handle. At this point, we made nicks down the length of the stamp to mark off the width of each letter. Then we set the stencil aside to use as a visual aid. We found it easier to cut freehand, looking at our stencil as reference, than to cut around mushy paper. We reversed the color of the text of our stencils, so that the negative part, or the part we cut away, was black. The positive image, or the part that was left behind and acts as the stamp, was white.
4. Using a sharp paring knife, begin to cut away the negative parts of your design (the parts that won’t show up in your stamp). We used the knife pictured below to cut out all of our design. First we made vertical cuts (the space between the “W” and the “N,” for example) and then we slid the tip of the knife blade flat under one end of that space to pop out the unwanted potato bit.
5. The finished stamp, ready for inking.
6. Pour yourself a puddle of ink on a clean plate or whatever you're using as your palette. (Since this was a test run, we used one piece of paper as both our palette and our printing surface.) NOTE: A regular old stamp inkpad doesn’t work for potatoes; you need a thicker coating of ink. Nontoxic tempera paint works, but please post a comment below if you have other suggestions! Dunk your stamp in the ink, thoroughly coating the design, then press the stamp firmly on your paper or fabric of choice to print. Be careful not to slide or jiggle your hand while printing. Ta da! Art!
7. We washed the excess ink from our stamps, let them dry, and stuck them in a sealed container in the fridge to store. Update to come on how long the stamps remain print-worthy. If anyone has a suggestion for lengthening the life of a potato stamp, please share it below. And have fun!
Got a question or a tip on potato stamps? Or a photo of your own stamp to share with fellow spud artists? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling. If you’re interested in growing your own potatoes, check out Janine’s awesome blog post. Or, for a no-dig potato method, don’t miss this video and this discussion among HOMEGROWN members. If you’re a crafty sort, you might be interested in 101s on making beeswax candles, repurposing wool sweaters, and creating a coffee filter wreath. And if you’re curious about composting, check out the Homemade Compost Bin 101 and the Composting 101. You can always find more things to make, craft, cook, preserve, plant, grow, and stamp in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.
ALL PHOTOS: JENNIFER