Jie Cheng: The art of Chinese seal engraving

By Jie Cheng.  Posted April 17, 2014.


Chinese seal engraving can be traced back to more than 3,000 years.  Originally, seal engraving print was a way to show ownership or authorship. It was primarily used on legal documents, commercial papers, or business contracts.

With its development, seals gradually became the symbol of personal status or social hierarchy.  While the average civilian used fingerprints, the upper class owned private seals.  The Chinese Emperor owned a kingdom seal called “Yuxi”, which represented the power of the empire.

With the popularization of seals developed an art form. Integrating calligraphy and sculpture art, a seal can demonstrate the beauty of Chinese character within a 5 inch square or less, showing the flexibility and variety of its strokes or lines.

Tools of seal engraving

Seal engraving requires stones with fine texture, fine hardness and excellent ink-saturation property, therefore, seal engravers gradually set down their options for 4 major type of stones:.

types of stones
Fujian Shoushan stone, Zhengjian Qingtian stone, Changhua Bloodstone, and Inner Mongolia Balin stone.

Some essential tools of seal engraving include setting, knives, inkpaste, a dictionary, mirror, chalk, brush and so on.

seal dictionary
A seal dictionary.
seal setting
Setting:fixing the stone.
engraving knives
Knives used as the main engraving tool.
Inkpaste for developing images.

Production of Chinese Seals

seal layout
Step 1: Layout of Chinese characters within available area of the stone.
mirrored seals
Step 2: Mirror-writing Chinese characters.
mirrored stone
Step 3: Carve following the design until finally done.

There are two easy ways to sure the image has developed.  The seal engraver can either dip the carved design in a little inkpaste or fill in the groove with chalk dust.  It is important to view the carving in the mirror to make sure it is the glyph you want. 

Jie Cheng personal seal
Cheng Jie personal seal (程捷).