This is my neighbour Chen Qi. Since he was fifteen he has been carving soapstone stamps (“chops”) with peoples names on, which traditionally you put on paintings and calligraphy next to your signature. He very kindly gave me one of my own for Spring Festival, with my Chinese name in seal script.
There is an art to using a stamp properly, and I’ve definitely been doing it wrong. So Chen Qi’s son Chen Jiahe showed me how…
1. Tap the stamp into the ink. Don’t press the stamp directly down, this will force ink into the concave gaps, leaving a stamp that blots and is difficult to clean. Tap in different directions, checking that the ink has adhered evenly across the stamp.
2. Breath on the stamp. The warmth of your breath will ensure the ink has a better flow, cold ink does not adhere as well.
3. Make sure the stamp does not shift on the paper, press with circular motion. But before that, make sure you’re pressing on to a surface that gives (like this pad of paper, or the thick cloth used in calligraphy practice, a hard surface like a wooden table won’t work). Once the chop hits the paper you have to be really careful it stays in one place, otherwise it will blur. To ensure the ink spreads evenly, shift the pressure in a circular motion.
4. Lift straight up. Otherwise it will smudge, obviously.
Just a couple other things, the best ink is from the Xiling Academy of Traditional Arts in Hangzhou, which though over a century old now has a taobao shop (link). This ink will last for longer than you need, it’s the same stuff you see on scroll hundreds of years old that still have a bright red chop on them. The ink from local art shops (let alone stationery shops) barely lasts a year before fading out in my experience.
Once you’ve used your chop, cleaning is just a matter of wiping it on paper. If you need to change colours (traditionally it’s red, but you can get a range of ink colours) better to clean it thoroughly with alcohol.
Chen Qi also makes these amazing miniatures (below), each one is smaller than your little finger, carved in soapstone.
If you would like your own stamp, Chen Qi now has his own taobao shop too… It’s called the Studio of Ten Thousand Stones (Edit: They’ve closed the shop now, but you can contact them here, email@example.com, Jiahe has great English).
Notes on the Chinese:
My Chinese name 万哲生 Wàn Zhé shēng
Chen Qi 陈旗 Chén Qí
chop 印章 yìn zhāng
seal script 篆书 zhuàn shū (Chinese calligraphic style)
Chen Jiahe 陈嘉禾 Chén Jiā hé
(Jiahe is a presenter on Chinese Central Television’s economic’s channel)
Xiling Academy 西泠印社 Xī Líng yìn shè
Studio of Ten Thousand Stones 万石斋 Wàn Shí Zhāi