Many of you may have seen a red ink seal in the corner of a piece of calligraphy or painting. Have you ever wondered how those signature seals are made?
The process of making Hanko (seals) is called "Tenkoku".Tenkoku is a traditional technique of making seals by engraving personal names on the surface of stones. Although stones are usually used as the main material, there are other types of seals that are also made of metal, wood, and bone.
Tenkoku is originally constituted by the ancient style of handwriting of kanji (Chinese characters) called “Tensho-tai” (篆書体).
Tensho (篆書), also known as Seal Script, is a kind of ancient Chinese handwriting, which the characters are written in a different style from ordinary Chinese characters. Tensho-tai is characterized by a kanji style reminiscent of hieroglyphics in vertical and horizontal lines, or in a shape close to symmetry.
Fun fact! Tensho-tai is also now used in the cover design of Japanese passports.
The original use of Hanko was to stamp the name of the artist on the calligraphy work had been made, as a sign of the painting, or it could be stamped on a book as a way to identify who’s the owner or collector of the book.
Nowadays, artists from all around the world found the elegance and interest of Tenkoku , which make the designs and uses of seals are becoming more and more diverse, such as stamping on the greetings, postcards or letters.
Furthermore, not just Tensho-tai but you also can customize your Tenkoku with other fonts, patterns, illustrations, zodiac signs, quotes, etc.
Now, I'll show you how to make your own personal Tenkoku!
The Hanko that shows in this picture was made by our PIGMENT staff at a workshop of Tenkoku, which we held in the past.
It is based on the Kanji word "色" (Iro, means color in Japanese) and the design of a pigment bottle.
It's only stamped by using a red inkpad, however, look how bright and beautiful the color is!
About the Tools:
印材 (In-zai, seal stocks/seal materials)、印刀 (In-tou, seal-engraving chisel)、印泥 (In-dei, inkpad), etc.
These are some of the tools you may not be used to hearing in your everyday life.
To carve a single Hanko, you will need different kinds of tools, so we’re offering a new seal-engraving set that comes in a paulownia box.
There are a lot of delicate tools, and since each tool comes in a variety of different models and uses, it can be quite difficult to choose the right one to fit.
Now, PIGMENT TOKYO comes out with a complete set of tools for making Tenkoku, packaged in a neat box, makes it easier to keep track of your tools, and a booklet is included to help you get started with instructions and examples.
It may seem difficult to carve on stone, but we provide stones and tools that are simple to use, so even first-time carvers can easily create a Tenkoku!
Here is a description of the main tools for Tenkoku, referring to the contents of the Seal-engraving set.
What’s in a Seal-engraving set?
1. A tutorial booklet (Stone Carving) - Japanese version
- For non-Japanese customers, the English version of the description is included in the set.
2.印箋 In-sen - writing pads
7.A brush (for cleaning the surface of the seal)
8.印刀 In-tou - seal-engraving chisel
9.印材 In-zai - seal materials (four stones included in the set)
10.印床 In-syou - wood clamp
11.印泥 In-dei - inkpad
- 2 pieces of sandpaper
Although the two-sided inkstone might be slightly smaller than the usual ones, it actually is quite the right size for seal engraving. When drafting a design with the inverted patterns on the surface of the seal, a two-sided inkstone can be very useful because it usually uses two colors of ink.
By drawing draft in red and black ink, it is easy to visualize the final result, and if there are any adjustments to be made, it is still possible to make adjustments at this stage.
Also, we recommend you to use the ink that is grinded from an ink stick because liquid ink takes longer time to dry.
Although nowadays we don't have many opportunities to grind a sumi ink, the gentle scent of sumi ink and the way of grinding the ink peacefully are said to improve your concentration and mind.
We truly hope you will take this seal-engraving as an opportunity to enjoy the fun of sumi ink.
For those who are new to using an ink stick to grind your sumi ink, here's a video to help you get started.
PIGMENT CHANNEL “How to Use Sumi Ink Stick”
In addition to the tools listed above, here are some other tools you may want to prepare.
It is also useful to have a large size sandpaper (about #180〜#240 grit). When I say large size, I mean the size you can usually find in DIY stores, you can also use paper, cloth or water resistant paper.
Since the In-zai (seal material) may not always be smooth at first, it is better to polish the seal surface with the sandpaper before starting to carve. Although there will be a small piece of sandpaper that comes with the set, the larger ones are easier and more convenient to use. Sandpaper is a consumable product, so please prepare a new one if you are engraving the seal more than just once.
Here's how the actual Tenkoku seals look like.
Although this time I carved the seals only by hand, I felt that it might be more stable and easier to carve if I used an In-syou (wooden clamp), especially when it comes to the smaller parts or the details. Moreover, I suggest that you should choose letters and shapes that are easy to carve at first.
Especially if you are not used to holding a chisel or a blade, please choose a tool that is simple to work with, particularly with safety in mind.
The "PIGMENT" and "東京(Tokyo)" seals in the image above were stamped with a red inkpad that you can normally find in any stationery stores. For those who want to use it just for fun, you can try to stamp your seal with any colors you like!
Even for the same red In-dei (inkpad), the color of the inkpad differs slightly depending on the type of Shu (朱, vermilion) that is used. Furthermore, since In-dei has more stickiness, it has better adhesion to the seal surface. If you’re going for more kinds of Shu In-dei (red inkpad), it’s better to find the right color that suits your preference.
For any further information, please click the link below. In the following article, it introduces the history and instructions of seal-engraving.
Engrave Letters and Create the Seal -History of Kanji Through Seal Engravings-
※ We are currently not accepting any applications for the workshop courses mentioned in the article due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In this set, you can feel the magic of engraving and make your own one-of-a-kind seal. Therefore, because of the unique design structure of the letters and the choice of shape created in a tiny stone, Tenkoku provides you a whole new hand-crafting experience!
Tenkoku is a great way to preserve your value as a seal of honor, a decorative ornamentation, a design, or as an artistic expression to engrave every word of your precious notebook, book, or a gift to someone else.