Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Carving a Calligraphy Seal

"a seal not only establishes authorship, but also provides balance to the composition and adds interest by virtue of its own value as an artistic creation. Seals are so important in Chinese art that they are referred to as the “eyes of the artwork." A piece of art without a seal is like a face without eyes." - p170, Wendan Li, Chinese Writing & Calligraphy (University of Hawai‘i Press)

An ancient Chinese seal stamp.

Yesterday we carved our calligraphy seals. The seal name is traditionally presented in Bronzeware Style. 

Ancient Chinese characters on a bronze cup.

The author's Chinese name given to him by his Insight Calligraphy teacher. Rendered in ancient Bronzeware Style by Paul Wang in preparation for carving a seal.
We wrote the characters for our names backwards straight onto the stone in ink, and then used a sharp steel tool to engrave the characters into the stone. It can get a bit tiring, and slip-ups can happen, like the tool suddenly jumping and scratching a smooth area. The stone is relatively soft and the tool etches into it quite effectively.

The author and partner carving their calligraphy seals.

The stone seal carved by the author with his Chinese name on it.
The seal is pressed into a red oily paste called ‘Yìn Ní’ (印泥) and then placed on the paper below one’s name written in ink. Pressure is initially applied in the centre, and then one moves one’s weight around to the four corners. Here’s how mine turned out:

The name is read from right to left in the ancient traditional way. I want to carve another seal with my name in relief. It will be more time consuming than carving this one, but will look a bit better I think, and I would like to get more practice using the special tools.

From Chinese Writing & Calligraphy, p171:
"Seal carving is an art in and of itself. Carvers must be skillful in three specific areas: calligraphy, composition, and handiwork. The engraver today must be proficient in the ancient Seal Script in order to design a seal. He or she must also be skillful enough to shape a number of characters into a small space to achieve a vigorous or graceful effect in perfect balance. Familiarity with the various seal materials is another requirement, so that the right exertion, technique, and rhythm are applied with the cutting knife. Every seal is unique; the material and character style can be chosen to match the personality of the owner. For these reasons, engravers are considered artists. Some famous calligraphers are also known for their engraving abilities."

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