Photo Credit: Chris Blakeley
A Chinese Chop is a seal used officially to sign documents, and artistically to sign artwork. Chops have been used for over 2000 years, and continue to be used today. Official seals are used within companies for legal documents, and personally for all official documents, for example when signing for mail or buying a house. Artists use chops as a signature and artistic element to their artwork and calligraphy.
Keep reading to make your own seal
Chops are traditionally carved from stone, and sometimes wood, bamboo, jade or ivory. Carving a seal is considered an art in itself. The seal is stamped with a red paste, red being a lucky color, which is either silk or plant based and kept covered in a small ceramic or plastic container.
Chops are quite versatile. Often used as a signature, personal seals can have your name, a proverb, a lucky saying, or even an image. It can be a personal motto, a favorite or symbolic word. Artists have seals with their artistic name or pen name.
This picture shows two artistic seals, used at a calligraphy demonstration we saw a few weeks ago. His artistic name is Three Stones, but I'm afraid I can't remember which seal represents that.
His seal is done in the Yin style, in which the carving is done into the stone, and when stamped we see the character surrounded by red. Seals can also be done in the Yang style, carved in relief, and when stamped the character itself is red.
The script traditionally used is an ancient seal script, which is more rounded and similar to ancient Chinese pictographs. In the image below, the characters on the left in regular script have been converted to seal script on the right.
The girls and I made our own chops. We (re)used styrofoam, and corks. We "carved" with a toothpick, and stamped with red paint.
In order to determine what we would "carve", the girls first thought of a word that would be their artist name, a word they felt symbolic to themselves. Then we converted these words into seal script with a free online Chinese seal generator. This proved more complicated than I initially expected - I thought I could write the English word and it would be converted, but I had to have the simplified Chinese character for the word, which then becomes converted. It is an interesting tool that gives you options for which script to be used, which style, different color "inks", and whether you want it in the Yin or Yang style. At any rate, I had to find a translation of the words the girls wanted given in typed Chinese characters, that I then copied and pasted into the generator.
UPDATE: I've created a page of various seals generated from the online tool described above. If you or your kids are inspired to use any of these as your artist names, you can download a pdf by clicking on the image below, print, and use them as the model to carve.
You can also carve your initials (see further below), or a drawing of something you love, like an animal or flower. There's also a site that translates English names into a Chinese character here. Just find your name among the many listed alphabetically, and draw the character shown.
Above are the generated seals we used to carve our chops. From left to right,
"Crane" (in Yin, or negative style); "Starfish" (in Yang, or positive style); and "Shining Moon" (in Yin style).
Elle (right) was very patient, and after drawing her character on the cork, carved into it with a toothpick. Pea and I tried that for a minute or two, then took up a square of styrofoam. We drew the symbol, then carved it with a toothpick or in Pea's case, a well sharpened pencil. The foam square was then glued (using a glue gun) onto the cork to create a stamp. *Don't forget to carve your character or letters reversed.
"Carve", glue to cork, dip in paint, or in our case, brush with red paint, and stamp.
|My "Crane" Chop|
Then, when your daughter points out that the characters are stamped reverse because we drew and carved them as one would read them, hesitate about making a second one since you can't read your symbol to start with. Then start over, because, we are trying to be semi authentic here.
|Pea's Yong character, with Shining Moon seal, and attempted cork seal|
|Elle's English initials|
After all the time spent carving her character into the cork, Elle was not starting over to carve it reverse. So we made a simple foam chop with her English initials. Reversed.
You can find more cultural and historical activities at the following linkups: