Sunday, November 30, 2014

Rochester Mini Maker Faire Review

Rochester Mini Maker Faire took place at the Rochester Convention Center on Saturday, November 22.  I had a blast being a maker on exhibit there!  I would recommend it to any artist/maker/creator for next year!  I found it very well organized, and attendance was great.  It was a wonderful opportunity to share my work, and make connections I never would have made if I was sitting at home carving stamps in my basement.

I created a series of stamps that I called "Godzilla's Monster Melee." I wanted to make a series of stamps in homage of the giant monsters from japanese films that I grew up loving as a kid.  The stamps would be used to stamp on blank postcards that attendees could save as a free curio, or send to a friend.

I wanted the monsters to have  local focus.  What better way than to imagine the monsters had come to Rochester, and were battling it out in the Rochester skyline.  I carved the familiar buildings like the Xerox, Bausch & Lomb, and Times Square buildings.  I also carved the Anthony/Douglas bridge.  To my surprise one of the bridge designers (Howard Ressel) attended the Maker Faire and I got to meet him, and make a couple more stamps of our amazing bridge for him.  What an honor!

I chose a host of the kaiju monsters.  Of course, the King of Monsters himself, Godzilla was star. But I also tried to hit some of this allies, like Mothra and Jet Jaguar.  I did Gamera also (who is not technically in the TOHO Godzilla pantheon) so you could set up a dream style match with the giant turtle vs. some of Godzilla's most famous opponents.  To face off against Godzilla or his allies were Gigan, Rodan, Hedorah (Smog Monster), and the MUTO from the newest Godzilla film from 2014.  In the near future I plan to add Mechagodzilla, King Kong and Ghidorah, but didn't have time to get them ready for the Make Faire.

Since carving these stamps I have fallen back in love with this genre and am gobbling up all the old DVDs I can find of these films. An honored guest I also got to meet was Prof. Joanne Bernardi. She teaches a film studies course at the the University of Rochester called "Atomic Creatures."  It focuses on this genre of films, and students watch and study films like Rodan, Gojira, and King Kong.  Her family attended the Faire and made several postcards.  I hope I can take her course in the future and really immerse myself further in the genre.

If you missed the Rochester Mini Maker Faire, stay tuned.  The Monster Melee will likely make a return in 2015 at other events.  For more pictures from this event, check out my Flickr album.

* Godzilla is a licensed trademark of the TOHO Co., so sorry I can't make any of these stamps or postcards for sale.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Scraps to Stamps

Over the last six year of JackBear Stamps, I have carved hundreds of stamps.  I haven't counted lately, but I'm confident it's over 500, maybe higher.  In the course of carving an image, I generate a fair amount of scrap (that's "crap" with an "s").  As you can see from my old pistachio containers pictured, it comes in all shapes and sizes.

My parents grew up in the Depression, so they weren't the kind of folks to throw stuff away unless it was beyond repair or worth.  So I keep the bits of corners that get cut off when making a larger image, or the long line that is leftover from trimming something square.  I do throw out tiny bits and shavings that can't be used again, I'm not a total hoarder!

But over the years I have generated quite the stockpile. The thought in my head was I would use this material to carve tiny stamps.  The size of which could probably be mounted to a penny or a quarter. So into the extra jars this material went.  I certainly have enough, and I am more confident in my abilities to carve smaller details.

Some of my letterboxing or stamp carving friends immediately notice the difference in colors of the material above.  The pink stuff is the tried and true, "smooth as butter", material from Speedy Carve from Speedball.  They also will notice the white material.  This is hard to tell apart, but I'm sure the containers are full of PZ, MZ, NZ, OZ, and Firm Kut (as I have carved a little bit of all these) from  Of course the one that would bring the most attention is the now defunct Orange PZ Kut from  Carvers think back to the days they carved on this material like they think back on their favorite Christmas present from their youth.  I still have a few scraps of it left.  I usually just stare at it wistfully.

With one of my biggest shows of the year on the horizon, Mayday Underground, I decided it was time to put the scrap to good use.  So I have been busy carving some sets of stamps to use it up, though honestly I haven't even scratched the surface yet (no pun intended).

Some of the scrap I used to make fault washi tape stamps.  Washi tape is decorative tape used in crafting to decorating just about anything you can tape, from clothespins to clipboards.  So I used a bit of the scrap to make sets of three designs that can be stamped side by side to create a washi tape effect.

I found this font online of all kinds of sci-fi ray guns.  Being a Sci-Fi fan, I was immediately drawn to them, and figured I could downsize them onto my scrap bits of carving material to create a set.  They are small enough that I think you could use them with other stamps of people or aliens and get it to fit snugly in their hands.  The one pictured in black reminds me of Han Solo's blaster.  The purple and green ones pictured remind me more of the Flash Gordon or art deco style sci-fi ray guns.

I have to say I am a skeptic.  I believe in proof, not intuition. However, there is a small part of me that wants to believe.  I hope aliens are out there.  I can't totally rule out that Illuminati are secretly controlling the world.  Is Bigfoot really wandering around the forests of our continent?  I don't think any of these things are true, but the lack of evidence does not immediately disprove it's existence.  So I totally get sucked into shows on the History channel that speculate on the treasure of Oak Island, or the hidden troves of Templar artifacts.  I guess my older brother and sisters watched a bit too much of "In Search Of..." with Leonard Nemoy and I got sucked in.

Pennants and chevrons are all the rage.  You see them all over craft shows, and all over Pinterest. So some of my scrap is going toward some pennants with patterns.  The cool thing with these is that you can use just one from the set of three, or you can use two, or all three, to create a line of banners. You can ink them up in any color you have, or even multiple colors of the rainbow.  They are VERY versatile.  I have fun printing with them, and then taking my pen and drawing a line to connect them. This could not be easier.

If you are interested in one of these sets drop by Mayday Underground this Saturday or Sunday at the Village Gate in Rochester, NY.  Or if you aren't local, drop me a message on my shop and I'll carve you up a custom order.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Art in a Cart

Imagine an artisan of old pushing around a cart from village to village full of his handmade wares. He peddles the treasures to welcoming faces who have never seen the likes inside the borders of that their town. Screeeeeeeech!  Wait, that isn't how this is supposed to start.

The story begins with an opportunity.  At the University of Rochester the student commons is called  Wilson Commons. Within the depths of the bottom floor lies a candy counter that sells candy by the bulk, as well as house made fudge, called the Common Market.  It is run by the Student Activities Office, which in full disclosure, is where my wife works (the office, not the counter).

The Student Activities Office had an idea to sell some items by outside vendors in a cart to be built next to the Common Market.  The cart was built to look like... well, like a cart.  It has wheels (though flat now), doors, and even lights.  First it was originally designed to sell plants, then imported hats, scarves, and mittens.  Those early vendors blazed the trail, ran the risks, but couldn't sustain.

Enter the idea.  What if the cart could sell handmade goods by local artists and craftspeople ?  I'm not sure who's idea it was, perhaps it was the Student Activities Office fearless leader Anne-Marie Algier.  Maybe it was the ever professional Laura Ballou (yes, that's my wife).  Or was it the cart's current supervisor, Michael Dedes.  Let's give them all credit.

Who could provide such handmade goods?  Who could work on such a small scale?  Who could bring enlightenment to the darkness?  Sorry.... getting carried away.

Along comes a man who knows a few people who could be of service.  Let's call him Jack.  Jack is a member of a group of local heroes artists who call themselves the Rochester NY Etsy Street Team (RNEST). The group is very diverse: jewelers, knitters, painters, illustrators, designers, photographers... you name it.  Though diverse, they all share three things in common: 1) they are local 2) they make things by hand 3) they have shops on Jack say's that he could get an artisan to set up in the cart for a month at a time.  They could call it the RNEST Art Cart.

New plexiglass doors were installed, new signs were made, contracts got written and rewritten. The RNEST Art Cart opened in the Fall of 2013. The first year was the trial.  Could this work?  Would there be enough interest?  Jack and Michael tried to pick artisans who might succeed.  Taking into consideration the time of year, students' interests, artisans with adequate inventory.  JackBear Stamps was first, since it would be important to work out some of the early kinks.  Next came Circuit Breaker Labs, Papersaurus Creative, Pure Bodycare Essentials, and DuncanClay.

The first year's trial taught Jack and Michael many lessons.  The successes outweighed the failures, so a second year was planned.  Leading the pack with her incredible letterpress-ed masterpieces was Chris Charles of Fly Rabbit Press.  Jack had hoped for a knitter to provide some warm hats and scarves in October, but he couldn't get one in time.

So coming full circle, back for the month of October 2014, JackBear Stamps will be in the RNEST Art Cart again until October 30th.  To finish off the semester, and throughout the holiday season, the Art Cart will feature Sunshyne Silverware's amazing repurposed jewelry and accessories.

How does the story end?  Will the RNEST Art Cart continue to flourish?  Can they keep local
handmade goods available to the University of Rochester community?  Will the mass produced forces of darkness take over? (Sorry, slipped off the edge there again)

The end is, "To be continued."

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Maker Moniker

I am happy to announce that I have been accepted into Rochester's first Mini Maker Faire on November 22, from 10 am to 4 pm at the Riverside Convention Center!

So I told my wife the good news and she said, "Can you tell me what a Maker is in one sentence?" (She knows I can be longwinded. )

But then I had to scratch my head a bit.  Can I capture this in one soundbite?  Someone who makes things?  A creator?  Part artist, part inventor?  Yes all apply, but that really isn't the full story.

The story really begins with the rise of the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement.  With more emphasis by print and broadcast media about projects you could do on your own, and more access to instructions on materials on the internet, a subculture formed of people looking to "make stuff."

Dale Dougherty comes along from O'Reilly Publishing and captures the essence of this movement and founds MAKE magazine.  MAKE begins in 2005 with a focus on DIY, technology, woodworking, metalworking, etc.  It publishes ideas on projects, expanding one's skills, and sharing what the maker learns.

MAKE also launched the first Maker Faire in 2006. Wikipedia chronicles the first Maker Faire, as "a public annual event to "celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset."... It included six exposition and workshop pavilions, a 5-acre (20,000 m2) outdoor midway, over 100 exhibiting Makers, hands-on workshops, demonstrations and DIY competitions."

Since then, hundreds of Maker Faire's and Mini Maker Faires have been held across the world. Imagine stepping into a giant show-and-tell room, filled with creative minded makers who want to not only show you what they do, but give you a hands-on taste of it.  Perfect for kids, but also those creative minded adults who like to tinker or create.

So to me, "Maker" is a moniker that serves as an umbrella term for anyone who executes an idea, to create a physical item, and wants to share his/her skills and knowledge with others.

If you are interested in learning more, here are a few quick links:
More about my project for the Rochester Mini Maker Faire to come, stay tuned.
MAKE magazine
Rochester Mini Maker Faire
Rochester Makerspace

Monday, September 15, 2014

Origin Story

original photo
First I will confess I am tired of origin stories.  As a comic book reader in my youth I read so many stories about how superheroes came into being.  And very often the comic book writers rewrote those stories with new details, so I got those stories over and over.  Now that all the Marvel and DC movies are coming out to the big screen, I am seeing all these stories again.  I get it though, producers need to introduce the characters to new audiences.  Origin stories answer questions like "Why" and "How" the characters got to where they are now.  Who will ever forget: Adam and Eve, A babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, the Earth on Turtle's Back, or Krypton exploding.  They are both memorable and powerful.

I have probably written enough about how I became involved in a hobby called letterboxing, my need to carve my first stamp, and my letterboxing handle "jackbear."

But an origin story that I haven't told in much detail is the one of how I turned an avocation into a vocation.  It answers the questions, "How did I create JackBear Stamps?"

It began with an email and a photograph in May of 2008.  I received a message on Atlas Quest, my favorite letterboxing website.  A letterboxer, going by the handle of JBBK, contacted me to carve a portrait stamp.  She was not confident in her own skills yet to carve faces, and she had a photo of her friend's boys (or maybe it was a relative?) that she wanted carved into a stamp to give to him as a gift. She wanted to know how much I charged.  I told her that I wasn't really carving for cash, but since I didn't know her at all up until this point, she could just order me some PZ Kut from, my carving medium of choice from my online supplier.  She was very pleased with that arrangement, and I had an opportunity to test my skills without too much pressure.

I ran the photo through some filters in photoshop, and managed to teach myself how to transform a full color photo into something black and white, and then into a line drawing that I could carve.  We worked out a size and I got started carving.

finished custom rubber stamp image
I don't remember how long it took me, but after I proofed it for the first time, I felt like I was onto something.  The biggest challenge for me, and many newer carvers, are "eyes."  If you don't get them right, the person looks strange.  If I had to carve the stamp again today, I would make a change or two, but for my first commissioned stamp for compensation I was pleased with the result.

The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive. JBBK and the recipient of the stamp loved it, and I got some extra PZ Kut in the arrangement.  But more importantly, it sparked an idea in my head. Up until this point the people I knew through letterboxing all carved their own stamps.  No need for my services.  But after this transaction I realized there might be people who weren't confident yet in their carving skills, or they might have friends who were NOT in letterboxing that needed a stamp.  That had never occurred to me before.

Around the same time I had learned about  Now there was a marketplace with low overhead that I could market my work through.  I rapidly researched how to set myself up as a business and get a sales tax number.  By that Fall I opened my etsy shop, and started selling stamps.

The rest is history as they say.  Every time I look at this stamp I think about how this was the one that started me on this journey of JackBear Stamps, and I will always remember it as part of my origin story.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

New Beginnings - It's time to tell some stories

Three times during the year I get the feeling of "new beginnings": New Year's Day, those early days of spring when the spring flowers start to bloom, and the first days of a new school year.  The last is probably due to years of going through that ritual of going back to school as a child, but even now working at a University I have that feeling with each new incoming class year.

It seems fitting then to do some rebranding at JackBear Stamps.  The first thing I'm rebooting, I just typed. I'm trying to capitalize the B in Bear.  JackBear.  Before, I left it a little b. Does it matter, not really. It's just that it often ended up as Jack Bear, or as JackBear when others transcribed it, so might as well roll with it, instead of Jackbear.  In most of my logos it will be all caps anyway, JACKBEAR.

Next, and this is the big one, I am adopting a new tagline that will define how I market my products. The tagline is "Rubber Stamps with a Story," or "Stamps with a Story."  I felt like my hand carved rubber stamps each had a story to tell.

You see I keep a big book, a portfolio of sorts, that has images of all the stamps I have carved for JackBear Stamps (I have a lot more I have carved for letterboxing that are in different journals).  This visual catalog of my stamps is fun to flip through to see how I have improved, see the size and shapes I have carved, and to get lost in the menagerie of topics covered.  When I share this portfolio with others, and they flip through, a common comment is often, "Wow, look at this one."  That always leads to me telling a narrative about why that stamp was carved.  I find myself telling a story about who it was for, and why they wanted an that particular image carved.

For instance, the image below I carved for a client on etsy.  She sent me an old photograph of this fellow, and told me that she wanted a stamp of it for a friend who was a photographer.  Her friend identified with this photograph because of how it was shot, the subject in the photo, the look in his eyes, and when it was taken.  Take a close look at it:

photo credit: Alexander Gardner

Would you then be surprised if I told you the name of this fellow is Lewis Powell (Payne) and the photograph was taken in 1865!  Now look at the background in the photo, see those large rivet like circles? Those are from the iron-clad naval ship USS Saugus.  Now look closely at his hands?  They are manacled. You see Lewis Powell was convicted and hanged as one of the co-conspirator's in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  Now that is a STORY!

My stamped image inspired by the above photo

So you see, each stamp tell's a story.  I wanted to start sharing those stories here on the blog, on my Facebook page, and Twitter.  Pictures do tell a thousand words, but sometimes you need to help build the background of the story.

With the new tagline, a bear paw didn't seem to visually represent "stories" to me.  But what did? In my mind, a rocking chair did.  Maybe old grandpa sitting by the hearth telling a yarn.  But what kind of rocking chair, a windsor back?  No, I love the rustic motif.  My favorite piece of furniture by far is the Adirondack Chair (having grown up north of those mountains).  So how about an Adirondack rocking chair.  That brings up images of old hermit of the Adirondacks, and folk heroes like Ham Ferry and Bill Smith (but that's a story for another day).

So here we are now, sitting by the fireplace, rocking away in our chair, telling stories on a chilly autumn eve as the smoke of the fire seasons our flannel shirts with its charcoal-like smell.  That is my happy place. This place is now JackBear Stamps.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Olympics = televised CURLING!

I have been curling for ten years.  That's not much, but for those of us in the USA who are curlers, that isn't insignificant either.  Most of us didn't grow up in a curling environment.  I also live in New York state, which I believe has four dedicated curling rinks statewide.  Finding curlers is like finding endangered pandas.

So when the winter Olympics come around, that means those of us who live in the backwater countries where curling is still small, we finally get to see curling on TV.  I grew up in Northern NY, where we had the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Channel) on our cable package, so I got to see curling on TV out of Canada.  I miss those days now!

So in honor of curlers worldwide, I have listed some items in my shop for curlers, or friends of curlers.

First up is greeting cards.  I have three designs.  They come in packs of two.  You can buy them in my etsy shop.

Next I have an ACEO/ATC in serval choice colors.  Also available in my shop.

And last but not least, a mini rubber stamp set!

Enjoy some curling on TV for a change!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Book Plates

Why do I love book plates?  Maybe it's the graphics.  Maybe it's the ownership of a great book.  Maybe it's the uniqueness and personalization. Maybe it's the Latin!

Whatever the reason I have carved a ton of great bookplates.  I took some quick snapshots of a few I have done and pictured them below. I keep a master book of all the stamps I have carved so I have a visula record of stamps I have carved before.  Some of the images were provided by the customer. Some of them were modified or designed by me.  Enjoy!