Thursday, April 21, 2016

Seal (인장) Carving Tutorial

National Museum of Korea hosted a seal-carving class for foreigners to experience Korean culture. In two hours a group of us were to be instructed briefly on the history of seal carving, design our own name (simply of course) on a roughly 2 cm square seal, and carve the name. Rather ambitious but carving on soapstone really is quite simple. I had a seal carved a few months ago out of a regular stone and the professional took a full hour - a very interesting hour for me as I watched and talked intermittently with him on the process. See "Carving an Artist Mood Seal".

Korean Traditional Seal Making : 한국을 새기다

What is a seal (인장)?
  • stamp with letters or patterns, and in modern times, pictures or symbols
  • has been used since 4,000 BC
  • helps to identify a person's social class and their grade or level of social achievement
  • symbol for denoting possession
In the Korean Times article "Injang: A square inch of art" the definition of a seal is more clearly explained:
"Injang" refers to personal and official seals in Korea. The origin of the seals goes back to "jeongak" in the Neolithic age, referring to a carving a person makes on trees and stone walls to leave a trace or to communicate with others. 
During the Joseon Kingdom, seals were widely used by artists to leave their signatures on their paintings and calligraphy. 
Wood, stones, metals and ivory are great materials for making a seal. During the Joseon Kingdom, Confucian scholars made their own seals from wood or stone, retaining the material's natural and unique style. From the 1800s, however, traditional Korean seals were influenced by Chinese styles, which were flamboyant in technique and decoration.
In East Asian countries such as China, Korea and Japan, seals instead of signatures are widely used for identifying a person or for government documents, such as in financial and business transactions, and communication.
There has also been a preference for a seal that can simultaneously function as an amulet to be carved from the lightning-struck wood of a jujube tree. Such wood is filled with the energetic power of fire, one of the five elements, and therefore believed to repel evil spirits.
"The temperature of lightning is around 30,000 degrees C or six times as hot as the surface of the Sun. It is believed that sap is one reason trees are common targets for lightening because sap is a better conductor of electricity than air. When lightning strikes a tree, the energy is discharged through the tree turning the sap into steam, which causes the bark to split apart. 
In Chinese folklore, a special divination system called lingqijing uses lightning struck wood as the material from which to make the divinatory objects. The word lingqijing consists of three characters – ling means 'magic' or 'spirit' or 'supernatural', while jing is simply 'book' or 'classic'. Traditionally, the disks were made from wood taken from a tree that has been struck by lightning, and prepared over a 60-day cycle in a rather involved ritualistic process, with the characters being inscribed with a cutting tool and then filled with red pigment. Lightning-struck wood is ideal for seals, since lightning is powerfully yang and wood is powerfully yin, and in Chinese mysticism lightning-struck wood is regarded as good for expelling ghosts and malevolent spirits. 
To consult the lingqijing you need 12 flat wooden disks. Four are inscribed with the Chinese character shang, meaning nothing more complicated than 'above', four with zhong, 'middle', and four with xia, 'below'. The backs are left plain. You throw the 12 disks to the ground all at once and arrange the fallen disks into a trigraph of three rows, according to their inscribed positions, of which there are 125 possible combinations. (The term 'trigraph' was brought into usage by Ralph D Sawyer, to avoid confusion with the three-line figures associated with the yijing, the 'trigrams'.)" (SOURCE)

Chinese (and Korean) seals were initially a symbol of political power, and were used to authenticate a signature on a document for the appointment or removal of governmental officials in the past. All the official documents should be affixed with an official seal. Later on the literati and officials also used seals as identification to show their social status, ownership, and authorship. Over time seals broadened to include predominantly three groupings: name-carving, zodiac and mood/object seal.

There are three ways to make a seal: carving, casting and clay-baking. The materials used range from gold, copper, iron, jade, ivory, stone, wood, porcelain to crystal and glass. Characters carved on seals could be in relief (yang) or in intaglio (yin). The script on the seals developed with the evolution of Chinese characters over the past 3,000 years and displayed different features in different times. For a clearer history on the Chinese seal, see "Buy Chinese Seal". 

  • The imperial seals - a symbol of power and authority; having the mandate of heaven 
  • The official seals - a token of office and authority
  • The private seals - (two kinds) seals with names and pen names and used as a signature; leisure seals having a quote from a famous writing or saying

The materials from which the seal were carved often depended on social status, rank and wealth. Many variables came into play when deciding material but typically:
  • royal family - gold, silver, jade
  • commoners - wood, stone
  • lowest class (the illiterates) - traced around their hand 

Structure of Eastern seals

Seals are comprised of four key parts: the 뉴, 인신, 인면 and the 인문.

  • 뉴 - the top or head shape of the seal; different shapes originally based on one's class or status (a king or high official would have a dragon, tiger, turtle on the top; only a king could have a dragon)
  • 인신 - who and when the seal was made (in old-style, specific dates were not used but rather the season in which the sentiment was flowing and therefore the seal carved. [In Eastern thinking, each of the typical four seasons was further divided into three sub-seasons, e.g. early-spring, mid-spring, and late spring.)
  • 인면 - the "face" of the seal; generally square-shaped, but circles or irregular-shaped stones often used
  • 인문 - the carved space, whether relief or intaglio

The actual seal carving

Materials needed: carving clamp, carving knives, soap stone or other carving material, clear tracing paper (optional), glove to protect non-carving hand (optional).

Insert the stone in the clamp. Tip: If afraid of scratching the stone or the stone is irregular and therefore slippery, wrap the area to clamp in tissue paper and then clamp.

Next, decide how you want your seal -  relief (yang - easiest to carve) or itaglio (yin - time-consuming as detail work can be intricate).

Draw your name or pen-name differently than how you write; this is a stylized version. Or you can plan to carve out a zodiac symbol or a mood seal with sentiment or even a object that inspires you. Once that is drawn how you like, draw it on the clear tracing paper and turn the paper over. The reverse side is what you will draw in pencil on the 인면 or "face" of the seal. Go over the pencil marks with a felt-tipped pen when done, and if mistakes are made, an alcohol solution can probably remove the ink and you can start over. Then carve. Carving an Artist Mood Seal is a pretty clear step-by-step carving process.

의인 means "someone's name"

Obviously I made little "scratches" where the blade slipped a bit. This is not a problem at all.
It lends character to the final seal and it makes the seal harder to counterfeit.

And my finished product! Lecture, planning and carving done in the two hours allotted!

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