Kigel Studio

Seals/chops in Asian Brush Painting


Seals are used in painting to complete a composition and identify the artist or give other information.

The viewers eye is drawn to the bright red color which contrasts with the rest of the painting.  Although sometimes small, a seals are visually powerful, giving the painting an important balancing effect.

The red paste used for seal ink is made from finely pulverized cinnabar (mercuric sulfide) mixed with a seed oil either from Fukien Tea or caster oil.  The oil is exposed to the sun for three years; then, added to the ground cinnabar.

Early name seals were small, about 2.5 cm square and 5 mm thick, except for Imperial seals, which were so large they required two men to make the impression.

Originally the small seal's grip was pierced so a cord could be attached. Later animal shapes were carved as part of the seal's grip.  As seals grew in height, a grip was no longer needed, but continued to be carved as dragons, hares, lions, elephants, turtles, fish, and other figures, making them collectable as works of art.

Seals are carved in two styles:  yang positive (relief) seals in which the characters are in red with white space around them.  They are airy and light in mood.  This "male" relief is said to include the concept of light, heat, day, south, positive, sun, heaven, and spirit, among other things.

Yin negative (intaglio) seals print the background in red and the characters in white.  They are said to be weighty and heavier.  The idea of Yin includes shade, dark, water, black, lower, North, female, moon, earth, and matter, among other things.

In addition to name seals, artists used mood seals,  which state some reflection, poetry or idiom.  Both types of seals come in a variety of shapes, square, round, oval, and irregular.

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