500 YEARS AGO, Michelangelo sculpted angels and demi-gods, not out of narcissism in which he saw himself in the likeness of his own works, but to explain the philosophy of Humanism - “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
In comparison to traditional sculpting, rubber stamp crafting is more often than not, dismissed as a hobby available in scrapbooking stores. “My family prefers that I work in a full time job and earn more money,” said Josephine Ho, 37, a rubber stamp artist based in Singapore. She almost conceded to her family's expectations, but the call to perfecting her craft eventually triumphed.
Seven years after her first “very ugly” rubber stamp of a girl with a bird on her head, she has gone on to receive her Advanced Level and Instructor's Certificate for Rubber Stamp Carving issued by Hinodewashi (Japan) in 2013. “Carving a rubber stamp requires controlled breathing because your breathing will move the knife and spoil it. You have to be very calm,” she explained. “Practice makes perfect.”
Self-taught, she first started out from Pilot, Stabillo and Pental erasers, and has since experimented with more than 20 different types of carving blocks from all over the world, different brands and types of knives and cutters, and almost every type of ink pad she can lay hands on.
Her list of muses include Mogerin, Tomoko Tsukui and Tanaka Ippo, all of whom hail from Japan and are known for their clean designs. Their works are frequently spotted on objects like teapots and coasters, leaving an indelible impression of Zakka on these objects, a Japanese philosophy of bringing art to everyday life.
Josephine left her teaching job in 2007 to take care of her newborn and during the last year of her teaching career, her interest in rubber stamp carving was piqued by a book by Tomoko Tsukui, a Japanese artist who is well known as the pioneer of the field. To date, she has taken part in both local and overseas exhibitions, was a contributing artist in Jenny Doh's “Stamp It! DIY Printing with Handmade Stamps”, and is currently in the works of a collaboration with National Library Board for an exhibition.
A chance meeting with Joseph Chiang, a Singaporean silk screen maker from Monster Gallery, led to her first participating exhibition “The Book Show” in 2012, jointly organised by Monster Gallery and Lomography Gallery Singapore. Her bookplates were fashioned out of Walter Crane's illustrations for Red Riding Hood, Jack & The Beanstalk and Frog Prince, and it was the first time she had attempted such realistic illustrations.
“I want to achieve the same level as those Japanese artists. I want to make it look machine-made and have people ask 'Are you sure this is handmade?'” When I pointed out the irony of passing off such handicraft as machine-made, since the beauty lies behind the unpredictability and inconsistency of two seemingly similar rubber stamps, she reasoned that she has one main aim: To raise awareness and elevate the status of rubber stamp carving in Singapore.