So why make potato stamps? Because my boys love to DO. They love to make, create, assemble. Decorating is just a by-product. We spread a roll of brown paper across the entire kitchen table before we started. Don't do this. We got potato "juice" all over the paper and had to cut those sections off because I wasn't sure if they'd keep till Christmas or not. Probably would, but I'm a bit anal about mold these days.
Here's what we used:
1 large roll of brown paper & regular letter size paper folded in half to make cards
1 set basic (kid quality) carving tools (pictured right are the ones we used)
4 medium/large potatoes
red & green acrylic paint (paintbrushes, paint tray)
large sharp kitchen knife to halve potatoes in one chop
sharp, non-serrated steak knife (optional)
Here's what we did:
1) Gather supplies above.
2) Wash potatoes and slice in half through the widest part of the potato so you have the largest surface area to carve/stamp with. Using a knife longer than your potato so you can do it in one chop helps ensure a flat surface for stamping.
3) Brainstorm and sketch on paper what simple designs you'd like to make into stamps. We chose to do a cross, a Christmas tree, a candy cane, and later, I did a holly berry design. Starting with Christmas trees & crosses helped. Keep in mind, any small intricate designs may fill in with paint when you apply it. Think chunky, preschool-like designs at first and try more detailed designs once you've played around a bit. Large, simple designs are also more forgiving when wiggly little hands move them while stamping and smear the image a bit.
4) Use a flat carving tool (or the tip of a non-serrated steak knife) to cut the design you want about 1/2" into the potato. Think of this as using your carving tool to "draw" the outline of the shape the way you would use a pencil. You're not removing any potato at this stage of the game, just making the outline that you'll be carving around. (If you're making a candy cane, I suggest only doing the "J" shaped outline of the candy cane this way and waiting to use a curved carving tool to create the lines on the cane in the next step.)
5) Carve down at LEAST 1/4" (half an inch is much better) everywhere you do NOT want to show up when you stamp. In other words, if you made a Christmas tree drawing, you'll cut away around the tree (see picture above) but will not carve into or cut into the tree you drew on step 3.
TIPS: Use the curved carving tool to scrape away at the potato, or with great care, you can use the tip of a non-serrated steak knife to cut from the outside of the potato and "slice" off right up to the edge of your outlined design.(pictured below) Do this with care- I messed up and broke my holly leaf. Thankfully the chunk that came off was about the size of a pea, so I used a broken piece of a toothpick to stick it back into place! Also, we tried spinning the curved carving tool to cut out small circles in one Christmas tree stamp. Since the circles were so small, they simply filled up with paint and didn't leave a nice print most of the time. I tried to scoop it out and we did get some prints to work.
7) Show your kids how to stamp. Unlike stamping with foam stamps and dry ink pads, you do not want to slam down the potato with force (my kids would do this to try press out the last bit of ink) because it will splatter the thick paint and the stamp will not be as clear. Hold the potato firmly with one hand, choose a location and press it straight down, apply a bit of pressure (not much is needed if your potato was cut flat and even), and lift straight up. The first print will have heavier, thicker paint, and later ones will have less paint. Therefore, we discovered the most "crisp" print from the candy-cane was usually the second or third print rather than the first, when the thick paint tended to squeeze out a bit. If you do more intricate designs later, apply thinner paint layers more frequently.
8) Have fun and embrace the fact that doing art with your children gives you permission to be imperfect. I found myself hoping to get the stamp to come out as clear as possible, wincing when the paint colors almost mixed, and generally fretting over nonsense. Then I saw how adorable it looked when my 3-year-old gave a bit of a wiggle and was surprised at the blurry tree stamp. This is about the fun and the experience. And gooey paint. And getting to tell Grandparents "we MADE that" without any guilt that they'll feel obligated to hang onto it for umpteen years (because like I said, they're off the hook- it's disposable)
9) Give your kids permission to try things and mess up. Obviously, the knives and carving tools need to be used by the appropriate aged person. The carving tools we have are rather blunt despite their looks, so I allowed my older kids to use them under my supervision. My son had the idea to carve in the shape of a candy cane, so the shape of the potato around it would be shown when he stamped. He didn't care for it because of the lack of detail, but I loved the variety and I think having a "potato" outline on our wrapping paper just adds a special touch. (You can see a blurry image of the stamp it made at the lower left corner of the picture with the Christmas tree stamp where there is a green "circle" around a candy cane.)