6 Things to Know Before You Get Your Own Carved Seal

Carving a personal seal was always considered one of the artist's / calligrapher's skills. The seal completes a painting and is an important part of it. Artists used to make their own seals as part of the creative expression and expertise. Having more than one seal to symbolise different periods in artistic progress was common.

Sampled seal of AI/LOVE - Talia Lehavi
Sampled seal of AI/LOVE

Brief historical background

Seal carving has a fine history of over a thousand years in Japan. The tradition originated in China and is over two thousand years old. The ancient seal script, known as tensho in Japanese or zhuan-shu in Chinese, is still used in most seal carving today.

In 221 BC the first emperor of China united the many states of the continent, and had a Jade seal made to represent sole heavenly authority over the land. This seal was passed on from one emperor to another as part of the ritual of power and control. During the 10th century upheavals, this legendary seal was lost, and from then on other seals were used throughout history by the rulers.

The seal represents authority and authenticity of the author and writing. Used by emperors early on in history, it later became a tool for government officials and institutes, schools, teachers and scholars, as well as artists and collectors. With the development of paper, seals have become more important to confirm the writer and writing authenticity, be it official papers, poetry or painting.

Materials and design

Ancient seals were made of hard materials such as Jade, bronze, gold, silver and agate. Other less successful materials, in terms of longevity, were used, such as bones, amber, wax, clay, bamboo and wood. During the 14th C., soft stones became popular and an easy material to carve seals from.

New styles and designs developed, and the craft of seal carving became an art form of its own. Poets, calligraphers and artists specialised in making seals and developing both design and technique. High quality seals have become sought after. They showed knowledge of scholarship and high aesthetics.

Sourcing the right stone was important. The place where the stone came from connected the owner with that place. Therefore, ancient temples, well-known calligraphy centres, sacred mountains, and the like, were places from which seals stones were highly praised.

The stone quality, like a small sculpture, would be selected according to its colour, texture, shine, and transparency. Seals would be cut into various sizes and the carved areas could be square, round, oval or a unique irregular shape.

A high quality seal will have a