Chinese Arts Notes

2 Seal Stones

Sticky Notes for General Chinese Arts

How to use and care for a Chinese Seal and Vermilion Seal Pad.

by Mike Harty, a local Chinese Seal carver

The Stone

Your new Chinese seal has been carved in a relatively soft stone. This means it can be easily damaged, by being dropped or knocked. Handle it carefully and it will serve you for many, many years.

The Seal Paste or 'Mud'

This is the special 'ink' for printing your seal impressions. It is called 'Mud' in Chinese. You should choose an oil-based mud, as this will last you for years and give better impressions. This mud is made from vegetable oil, cinnabar (mercuric sulphide), and fibres from the artemesia plant. When you buy it, it will have a neat flat surface. However, this is not good for inking your seal. The mud should be thoroughly stirred, using the small bone or plastic stirrer that comes in the box. This mixes the ingredients well, as they can begin to stratify after long storage. The mud will form into a (sticky) ball.

Preparing to make an Impression

There are two important considerations. The first is the surface on which you are placing the paper or silk on which you want your impression. This should be firm and resilient but not soft. Traditionally, you should have at least five layers of paper under the area where your impression is planned. The second consideration is the printing surface of your seal. This should be absolutely clean. If it is coated with old dried mud, it can be cleaned with warm water, soap and an old toothbrush. Usually, a good wipe with a paper towel is sufficient.

Inking the Seal

With the mud dish in one hand and your seal in the other, gently dab the seal onto the ball of mud, creating an even layer of mud on the face of the seal. Turn the seal as you dab, and check often to see how the layer of mud is being built up. When the seal is evenly coated, you are ready to make your impression.

Making the Impression

First, check the orientation of your seal ***. To make sure you don't print it upside down.
Decide exactly where you want your seal impression to appear on your artwork. Then gently lower the seal onto the surface of the artwork, and press down firmly. Carefully rock the seal slightly towards each of the four corners to make sure they have printed. Press down one more time, then with the fingers of the other hand holding the artwork, carefully lift the seal straight up.

Cleaning the Seal

While any excess mud on the stone is still fresh, thoroughly clean it with a tissue or kitchen paper, then carefully put it away till you need to make another impression.

*** Examine your seal. Many seal carvers sign or dedicate the stone with a side carving. This is usually done so that if you hold the seal with the side carving facing left, the seal will be upright.

Wax Sealing with a Chinese Seal.
Making a Wax Seal

To successfully melt wax sticks a refillable torch burner is best to do the job, one is shown in the picture below-left. Cigarette lighters will not do the job, as you will burn your fingers from the heat, before enough of a melted wax puddle is ready for the impression. These gas torches cost from $6 to $12 from art shops. BBQ lighters are the same, from KMart, Coles etc.

For the standard small size seals, (around 20mm diameter), a circular blob of melted wax a little larger than 20mm will be enough to give a finished seal - like the one in the picture below-right.
Wait a few seconds for the wax to cool a bit, then insert the seal into it, to get your finished impression. Lift the seal upward from the wax after a 2 second count, it will come free from the wax cleanly.

# Care for your seal by checking the tip to see if it starts to retain small amounts of wax on it. If so, don't use a metal item to scrape the seal, just use a wood toothpick. Anything tougher will mark and scratch the seal.

Bulk Seal Making

An alternate method exists to melt sticks and maximize the amount of seals produced, but it only works if a job has a large-ish quantity of seals to do - say 50x or more at the one time. By breaking some sticks and melting them in a small can or an old small cooking pot, heat the can on a low setting gas or electric hot ring . If the heat is to high the melted wax will splutter - SO KEEP IT AT A LOW TEMPERATURE - but loose and runny. The hot wax can be poured out - VERY SLOW and GENTLY - until the right size of wax button is poured. Wait 10 seconds for the wax to cool a bit, then insert the seal into it, to get your finished impression. As the speed of production is so much quicker by this method, you will need to cool the tip of the seal as much as possible between seal impressing. This is best done by having a shallow saucer of water with a few ice cubes in it on your work table. Simply stand the tip of the seal in it while pouring the next five or so wax buttons. Dry off the seal with a paper tissue before impressing more wax.

Unfortunately the pot used will not be cleanable after this use, and must be thrown out or kept for the next occasion.

Using Wax with a Seal Stone

Quality Control

A standard of quality is neccessary to allow normal growth and development of any path or fruit. Standardised quality therefore should be the 'norm', and treated like an everyday thing. Just as we expect the sun to shine, just so should quality of goods and services.