I have been in to all of the little shops that sell curios in chinatowns from Brooklyn to Queens to Manhattan. To my surprise, I have been unable to find someone who engraves seals. Not even one that does it with a machine. Yes, I know you can order them online, but thats not as fun. I had my first seal stone made in Taipei by the guy near main station who sits on the corner with the machine. He did a good job, but yet, it was with a machine. Its not difficult to understand that when seals were made in ancient china, there was no machine to do this. The engraving of a seal was done by hand. As it was then, so can be done today. About 6 months ago when I was in Kinokuniya book store by Bryant Park, I was surprised to find a little kit for the engraving of seals in their stationary department. My first attempt back then was not so good, its difficult to write the desired characters backwards on the seal in order for it to be the right way when you use it. And even more difficult to engrave deep and detailed enough for it to work in the first place. I thought I would share this with my fellow learners for perhaps someone out there may be interested in doing the same thing. Yeah, its not the most practical thing to be doing at 4 am but it makes learning chinese more interesting. I’m just setting it up again now for my second attempt at making a seal, still haven’t decided what I will engrave on it, but I think I will use a cool cheng yu and do it in oracle bone script. I’ll post a update when its finished in a few days.
Some progress, couldn’t find the 甲骨文 for the 知 character, so decided to just do normal script. Quote from 老子, " 知人者智， 自知者明 ".
This is very cool indeed!!
Can we see some of the stamps it makes? I imagine carving characters backwards is a completely different skill to writing them in a practice book. Perhaps you could use a mirror to make writing them easier??
Yes, when I get home from work tonight I was planning to continue working on it. I’ll definitely post the results, just don’t get your hopes too high! Lol, yea I didn’t have a mirror so I sketched them out on paper then used my iphone screen to reflect them to see if I did it correct.
Okay, so the results aren’t that great. The one on the top left worked the best. I learned a few things while doing this and after watching a few demonstrations on YouTube. First, I should have drawn the characters bigger. Second I realized there’s a bigger knife that the pros seem to be using. I also realized that the most difficult strokes to perform with the knife are ones that have a curve on them. It’s quite difficult to cut on a angle without the knife slipping and creating strokes undesired. All in all, it was my second time attempting this, so I wasn’t expecting to have a huge amount of progress. I definitely plan to keep working at it, as I find carving a seal relaxing in it’s own unique way. It’s not a common hobby in the west, I don’t think, but definitely worth trying, as I have gained much respect for those who do this at a high degree. Peace, hopefully this was inspirational!
Pretty amazing going for your second time. I think this could be a cool step-by-step guide to make. Do you just buy pre-made seal wood, or can you just buy a regular length of wood and chop it into pieces so your can practice?
This is really cool! Great job so far, keep it up
The stones are actually made of something called “soap stone” it’s kinda like a rock but obviously not as hard. I’m not sure why it’s called that but I’m sure there’s a practical reason why. This one I bought already cut, they have fancier ones with dragons on the top and stuff but for practice it’s not necessary. You can buy this stone in bulk at the hardware store and have it cut with a water saw(I think that’s what they’re called) that ways definitely cheaper. Also, I saw one guy on YouTube initially write the characters on this paper that when you wet it, it will impose the writing on the stone, that way you don’t have to bother writing anything backwards. The best guy I have seen doesn’t even write the characters and just engraves it as if he’s writing normally! Yea although I’m not a pro but I figured, may as well kinda create this guide here for anyone who might be interested in this kind of thing. Definitely more appealing to the arts and crafts crowd of mandarin students…
Thanks Matt! Glad you like it!
This is soooooooooooooo cool. I love getting chops and experimenting with fonts. I’ve recently got some nice stone ones with stone from my hometown - 澎湖. It’s at home. I’ll see if I can dig it out and share it with you guys.
Thanks Fi! Please do share! it’s always cool to see a chop! I’m glad I’m not the only one nerding out on this stuff lol. When I was in 故宮 I saw a lot of cool ones there, it’s fun trying to decipher the characters. By the way, your hometown is beautiful!!
thanks for this post KnowledgeAllah, I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time but not known how to start. I might have a go this weekend!
Does anyone know if there are any ‘rules’ for what characters are suitable for a personal stamp?
No rules as far as I know… Usually people will put their names on them, but it’s not the rule. There are chops with business names, poems, idioms and pictures. Usually in 楷書kai shu (regular script) or 篆書 zhuan shu (seal script).
Also they are used in Japan and Korea, so you may see some with hiragana, katakana or Hangul on them.
If you want to use seal script and don’t have a physical dictionary, you can type 篆書字典 into google and there are a few websites that have a search engine for these fonts.
Have fun and please share results with us here!! 加油！
I’m really chuffed with this:
<img src="/uploads/default/original/1X/f9ac0689e7dbb31ea61a109848b66e1565b88c6e.png" width="544" height="500">
my first go at a seal, it’s now going to be my new avatar!
Thanks KnowledgeAllah for the inspiration.
Yo! That’s mad nice! I wish I had those skills!! I gotta try again, I’m going for the bigger knife tomorrow lol!