Michael jokes that
he was wielding a crayon before he was a year old. Through his
school years, he excelled in art, making banners and decorations for
school events. And he was usually in trouble for filling the margins of
his class assignments with drawings of all description. At San Diego
State University he studied art under muralist and painter Jean
Swiggett, and developed his technique for realistic large scale oil
After graduation in 1973, Michael's life took two turns. First, knowing
his art wouldn't be paying the bills for a while, he began a career in
banking and real estate appraisal. Second, he married his long-time
sweetheart, Carla. With the birth of their first child, Michael changed
his art studio into a nursery. He scaled down his art work from large
canvases to paper and colored pencil. After their second child, they
moved to a larger house, restoring a studio for Michael. He began
producing drawing for galleries and shows. He also published two craft
books reflecting his interests, a recycled-materials book titled Don't Throw That Away!,
and a book on card making, Paper
In 1995, his art moved to the forefront again. Carla had become
enthused about rubber stamping, and Michael became intrigued by the
medium. He produced a small line of stamp designs in 1996 and began to
develop a following. With Carla's partnership, he was able to devote
full time to stamp design, marketing, and teaching and demonstration
A breakthrough came while Michael was doing a demonstration session during
the 1999 HIA (Hobby Industry Association, now called the Craft
& Hobby Association) trade show. A TV producer, Kelly Ehrlich,
approached him with an invitation to appear on the Carol Duvall Show.
That invitation led to 17 appearances, sparking a worldwide demand for
his rubber stamp designs. This exposure was increased with episodes of
the Internet craft show, Scrapbook
Today, Michael is one of the preeminent names in rubber stamp design. He
has been around the world, teaching stamping techniques and
card-making. We have been fortunate to attend some of Michael's classes,
and he made time for us in May 2010 to answer some burning questions
about his remarkable career:
VIC: Your rubber stamp
designs under the Cloisonné line are very distinctive and versatile.
How did the idea for this basic design come about, and what are the
"When I launched Michael Strong Rubber
Stamps in 1996 I soon discovered my stamps were not selling very well.
My wife Carla suggested I offer a collection of images with more
universal appeal than my original designs, which were heavily
influenced by mid twentieth century advertisement art. With the plan to
add 'Carla’s Collection' to my original line, I began researching all
kinds of decorative art. Happily, around this time, my Uncle Phil came
home from a visit to Syria with a small Cloisonné box as a gift.
Cloisonné designs are composed of intricate wire designs filled in with
enamel. That little box was the spark that lead to my first 'Cloisonné'
stamp idea, the Cloisonné Circle. I had the idea it would make a good
embossed image and it did. The raised image, embossed in gold, mimicked
the wires of the box. Adding colors to the designs with markers
completed the look. Carla’s Collection soon became my signature
look and a new stamp line was launched."
We understand you developed your most successful stamp designs after
some serious, on-the-road market research. What are some of the things
you learned as you explored the rubber stamp market in the mid-1990s?
"With a supply of new stamps designs
(10!), Carla and I embarked on our 'BC to BC tour' in early 1997. That
means we drove from Baja California to British Columbia, stopping at
every West Coast stamp store listed in the stamper’s bible, Rubberstampmadness.
After seeing dozens of rubber stamp stores and talking with the
experts, I had a much better idea of what kinds of designs were
popular, what people were asking for, and how I could potentially
create something new."
VIC: Conferences and
Trade Shows have brought you some great opportunities. What are some
memorable moments from your many demonstrations and classes?
"I have to say that I didn't always love the convention and trade show
experience. At first, I was pretty nervous about meeting all the people
and demonstrating stamping techniques. In fact, early on at one stamp
convention I was doing an embossing demo and I poured embossing powder
all over a freshly inked stamp. I looked up at the astonished faces
surrounding the table waiting for me to share my fabulous new way to
emboss. All I could do was laugh and say 'oops I guess I missed a step'
and to my relief they laughed with me! Over the years, I have come to
love doing this part of my job as I became more relaxed and found out
how generous and fun Stampers are!"
VIC: We too are rabid
recyclers when it comes to crafting. What was the inspiration behind
your book, Don't Throw That Away!, and what was one of your favorite projects?
been a passionate recycler. I was hooked when I participated in the
first Earth Day celebration. Over the years our family has always tried
to reuse stuff most people would throw into the trash. Our kid’s school
projects always had some recycled element. I can still hear 'are we
saving this?' The answer was usually yes! Of course, when I got the
idea to put together a book of craft projects, the first thing I
thought of was making useful or beautiful things from trash. The result
was Don’t Throw That Away!
One of my favorite projects uses onion skins. I glue them to a piece of
chip board, big pieces and little pieces all jumbled together. I paint
the surface with Mod Podge (decoupage medium) let it dry and cut the
chipboard into sizes that will fit onto a card for background, so easy
and really beautiful. I sold approximately five thousand copies of Don’t Throw That Away! (printed on recycled paper) before the book went out of print."
VIC: The magazine RubberStampMadness, founded in 1979, played a part
in your success. When we talked with the editor, Roberta Sperling,
recently, she warmly recalled the famous Halloween cover you
designed more than a decade ago. What are some of the contributions you
made to this magazine and other rubber stamp publications and websites
during your career?
"As I mentioned, Roberta and the magazine’s managing editor Michael Malan were instrumental in helping me get started. I had been sending in stamped art to
them for a few years and they generously published several of my
contributions. The magazine’s editor, Roberta Sperling, asked me to
design a cover. The September/October 1994 issue 'Stamping the Fright
Away' is my work. With my RSM cover art as a calling card, I showed
the stamps, got reaction, left samples and catalogs and hoped for the
best. Slowly but surely we started to receive orders.
on, there was not the huge variety of resources for rubber stamp
enthusiasts that are available today. This was also before
crafting on the Internet exploded. So, I was very lucky to be
able to share my work in RMS, the premiere stamping vehicle of the day.
One of the articles I did for them was based on my love for altering
images. In RSM issue #89, I altered some 'Peanuts' stamps from
Rubber Stampede for an article called 'A Peanuts Halloween Party.'
Since those early days, I've become so busy teaching and traveling that
I don’t get the chance to contribute as much as I would like. You can
see some of my more recent work in Scrap & Stamp Arts magazine, Paper Creations magazine and the sadly missed Expressions magazine."
We have seen first-hand how enthusiastically people respond to
you as a teacher. You are organized, articulate and very patient. Most
of all, you obviously love it. Tell us how you grew into your role as a
teacher and demonstrator, and how you prepare for classes now.
"If anyone told me years ago that
public speaking would be a huge part of my life I would have called
them crazy! It’s hard to believe now but I was always the shy guy in
the group. When I first started teaching workshops, I made myself
notes to follow in case I got addled. Over the years, I got over the
fear and began to enjoy the experience. It helped that the people who
came to the early classes clearly wanted me to succeed and helped me
relax. Now, I love everything about doing the classes! It’s the best
part of my job. My early fears have helped me understand some of my
students who have no confidence in their artistic abilities. It’s my
job to see that they can successfully complete the projects in a class.
I live for that 'ah ha' moment when someone makes something beautiful
and realizes it wasn't so hard to do after all. It’s also important to
make the workshops as stress free as possible. Part of what contributes
to a relaxed vibe in a class is a well prepared and organized
instructor. I always make sure each project is ready to be worked on
with all the needed supplies available. I am lucky to have the help of
my daughter Amanda. She helps prepare the class materials for me and I
couldn't do my job without her. Another essential part of my
class experience is laughter! I always encourage fun free flowing
banter, and sometimes among friends, even a little good natured trash
talk! That shy guy is long gone."
VIC: Rubber stamping has
swept you around the world, from crafting cruises with Carol Duvall to
conventions in Canada, Holland and Germany. How do you prepare for big
trips like these, what do you take with you, and what kind of reception
have you received?
"I have been very fortunate to get to
do what I love for a living. Part of that good fortune is the
opportunity to travel. I get invited to all kinds of events.
Sometimes my schedule doesn't allow for an extended trip but now and
again I get to go AND, Carla gets to go with me. We had a wonderful
time on Carol Duvall’s last cruise to Mexico in 2006. We did have to
outrun Hurricane Paul but that was no problem, we just crafted while we
rocked and rolled! We have attended the Art Specially stamp convention
in The Netherlands the last three years. We love to go to Holland! The
flowers are incredible and the people are universally friendly.
Next year we plan to go to Stempel Mecca in Hagen Germany. It’s a
big convention with visitors from all over Europe. Generally, we take
stamps with us on the plane. This past April we took 500 stamps with us
to Holland and sold almost all of them! We are also mulling over plans
for an intensified stamping and paper arts retreat in Italy for a small
group to be held in a private villa next year. I hope it comes
many appearances on the Carol Duvall Show gave your business a big boost.
Tell us about your first appearance and how you felt, and how did it
and your later guest spots affect your sales and teaching
"Oh, what can I say about Carol? I love her so! She really put me on
the rocket to the success moon! When you appear on TV, many things
change, all for the better. As soon as my first guest appearance aired
sales of my stamps and other products just exploded. I was
completely flabbergasted. Looking back now, it seems like one
moment I was doing demos at the HIA convention (now known as CHA) and
chatting with a charming lady who claimed to be a TV producer (the
delightful Kelly Chafee-Ehrlich) and the next moment I was on a set in
Burbank with a director, producer Kelly, camera operators, lighting
technicians, sound technicians and makeup artists getting me ready for
my first Carol Duvall Show.
have to say I was not nervous on that first show because I was too dumb
to know better! I just went along doing what everybody told me to do
and it turned out fine. I met Carol for the first time on that set for
a timing rehearsal. She immediately put me at ease and told me I’d do
fine, just follow her lead. A few minutes later, the lights came
up, intro music played and Carol introduced me. We chatted and I did my
little project, she asked the right questions, we had some laughs and
before I knew it we were done. I think Carol enjoyed having me as
a guest for a couple of reasons. First, I was a man doing crafts,
a rare bird! Most of Carol’s guests were women so the few of us men who
came on the show provided a little change of pace. And second, we got
on well. Even on a tightly scheduled show where taping eight segments a
day was common, we always had fun on the set.
years, doing Carol’s show became really important to me as I realized
what a tremendous impact it had on my business. I also made some dear
friends along the way including Cherryl Greene, Carol’s creative
assistant, who later became the producer of The Scrapbook Lounge, the best-ever Internet crafting show I appeared on for three years."
Most of us have no idea how a rubber stamp is designed and
manufactured. Can you give us the step-by-step, from inspiration to
"Wow, where to begin? For me designing rubber stamps is my dream job. As you know my blog is called 'The Born Doodler'
because that is what I love to do. I always seem to have a pencil in
hand. When inspiration comes along, I just start drawing. Sometime it
leads to a new stamp design. Other times, someone might ask me for
something specific and if I feel it will add something to the
collection I go ahead and do it. The actual process of designing is an
exercise in revision and refinement. I might do ten different versions
of a stamp until I get it 'right.' As soon as it's right I begin
cleaning it up. This, by the way, is done the old school way with a
pencil, eraser and paper. I then photocopy the image to a large
format and begin refining the lines with a black marker. Working with a
large image makes it easier for me to see any imperfections. When it's
ready, I scan the image, and clean up any stray pixels with a computer
program. From there, I send an electronic picture of it to my
manufacturer and they do all the rest! Usually it takes a couple of
weeks before a big box of new stamps arrives at my house packaged and
ready for sale."
Rubber stamping has moved through many phases since the 1970s. The rise
in scrapbooking seems to have sparked a resurgence of stamping for text
and embellishment. How do you view the art form now? What is in the
future for you - more stamps, more books, or something very different?
"Thank you for referring to rubber stamping as an art form! There are
incredibly beautiful works of art being produced by stampers. Take a
look sometime at the vibrant blog community devoted to stamping and
paper arts. It is truly inspiring.
also think the rise of the scrapbooking movement has helped propel
rubber stamping to new heights. I see more and more crossover between
the two art forms and I’m happy about that.
"One of the most exciting developments for me is teaming up with Club Scrap
to produce my own line of quality scrapbooking and card making papers.
As you know, Club Scrap is a singularly innovative paper arts company
founded in 1999 by my friend Tricia Morris and her business partner
Dinah Mueller. Last year I had the opportunity to work with the
CS design team to produce four collections of paper based on my stamp
designs. I’m happy to say we are continuing our collaboration
this year. I absolutely love the Club Scrap team and I love what they
have done for me!
"Of course, I’m always dreaming of something
new! New stamp designs, new videos, a new book, my own line of
embossing folders, digital images and most of all introducing new
people to the world of stamping and paper arts! What could be