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The Sound of One Hand: Reaching Beyond the limits of Traditional Ink Painting

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Story of the Stone: Artist Seals

Little Treasures
Artist Seals or Chops

Using the seal as an integral part of the composition in ink painting is uniquely Asian. To authenticate and to show approval of his/her work, the artist uses a personal seal in red along with his signature. In addition to the personal signature and seal, most traditional Chinese brush artists use seals to enhance their compositions. Antiquity, artistry, and the quality of the material from which a seal is carved determine it's value. 

The seal tradition began as a way for the artist to authenticate his work. He would sign his completed work with his brushed calligraphic signature and then follow with a stamp of his seal  (Artist Name Seal), thereby identifying the work as his own. However, the seal soon expanded from a name moniker to more complex self-expression as artists commissioned special pieces to evoke ideas and emotions as well. This lead to mood seals and poetic seals such as the seal pictured above. As with many things in China, this practice goes back to early recorded history appearing on some of the most treasured dynastic artworks of antiquity.

In ancient China it was customary for each successive owner of a painting to add his own personal seal to that of the artist. This custom provides a valuable history of the work and accounts for the proliferation of seals found on old master paintings. In those dynastic days, only persons of great privilege, wealth, and position could own or sponsor such works of beauty.

For thousands of years, seal carvers have passed their specialized craft through family lines, from father to son, across time, to give us generation after generation of venerated carvers and remarkable, poetic carvings. Unfortunately, as China becomes more and more modernized, this ancient and honored skill is becoming more and more difficult to find.

 Seal Paste

Red seal paste, sometimes also referred to as cinnabar, is used to stamp the seal design. Many ink painting artists do not consider their artwork finished or approved by them until the seal / seals are placed on the painting or calligraphy piece.
I have an extensive personal collection of artist seals. They are works of beauty worth collecting and provide me with a lovely way of signing my work. Above are just some of the artist seals or chops that I use in my sumi-e. They translate (from left to right):

Square = Casey

Small Round = Spring

Large Round = Be Well

Large Oval = Elegant Style

Smaller Oval = Journey into Art

Lightly press your seal into the paste several times and, as you do, blow on the seal to help warm and soften the paste. Always test the seal first on a piece of painting paper. If the imprint looks good, tap the seal into the paste a few more times, and then place it on your painting in a firm manner. Do not wiggle the seal around or you will blur the image. Just exert firm pressure on it for a moment, and then lift straight up.

To get a sharp image, place a magazine under your painting before stamping. As an undersurface, a magazine offers just the right amount of yield and support. A softer undersurface can wrinkle the paper, while a harder undersurface could result in a poor contact. Practice placing your seals so that they appear straight. Always completely wipe off your seal before putting it away.

 Artist Seal Resources 
Asian Brush Painter  
Shanghai, China 
English speaking, Great Service

Blue Heron Arts
California, USA
California, USA
Dragon Artworks, Ohio, USA 
and Shanghai, China

Article by: Casey Shannon
China Seal Carving Gyoku-seki Society
Director for USA

Director of North America Branch ~ ICCPS
International Chinese Calligraphy and Ink Painting Society

国際中国書法国画家協会アメリカ支部:Ms. Casey Shannon アメリカ現代水墨画家

Copyright ©  Casey Shannon Studio Art. All rights reserved.

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