Tutorial: Make a Faux Chinese Seal or Chop!

5:57 AM

Are you familiar with Chinese seals? They're sometimes referred to as a chop. They are used as a means of signature to show authorship in personal documents in several Asian countries. They can often be seen in artwork and they have since become favorites of artists the world over. They are almost always used with red ink and they come in a variety of styles, shapes and are carved from many different types of material.

If you google Chinese seals or chops, you will find a myriad of sellers that will carve a seal for you...if you know what you want it to say. And that's where I get stuck! I've wanted a chop for several years, but every time I start looking at all the possibilities I get overwhelmed with way too many choices.

You can even carve you're own if you're handy with a knife. You'll find instructions here. There are several articles and some videos as well. Uncle Google will be more than happy to provide you with several hours of links to "help!"

The other evening when I finished the sketch above, I wanted a small stamp to go in the area just below the cap but did not have anything appropriate. I couldn't help but think if I had a chop, it would be perfect for that small area...and so the adventure began.

I've been hoarding some styrofoam I'd cut from the tops of clean takeout containers and as I pondered my stamp challenge, my eyes happen to land on my stash. Could I, I wondered. I figured there was only one way to find out and I'm happy to say it was just too easy! In fact, I created several temporary chops in a little under an hour.

Let me be very clear upfront, these faux seals are TEMPORARY. They're not going to last long and they are ridiculously easy to damage...but...they're so easy to make, if one gets damaged, you just make another one!

Styrofoam - clean and flat from either a takeout container or meat tray.
Stylus - the smaller the ball the better
Black pen
Ballpoint pen with a fine or extra fine tip
Template of Shapes
Pencil (not shown)
Wine corks or acrylic stamp blocks
Double-sided tape
White scrap paper
Piece of tracing paper

Be sure to read the entire tutorial before starting as there are several tips at the end of the tutorial!

1st Method (Slightly Difficult)
Draw out your design on a piece of tracing paper. I kept mine to my initials, the year and the copyright symbol, ©. Drawing out the borders first made it easier to figure out the placement of the various elements I wanted. I kept the overall size of my stamp under one inch. I already had a space in mind when I started so I didn't make any attempts at stamps much larger than 1.25 inches. Most traditional seals are small.

Once you draw out your design and are happy with it, flip the paper over so that you're looking at the reverse image. Measure out the dimensions of your overall design and mark it on the styrofoam. I found it easier to go ahead and cut out the shape with scissors before I added my design, but this isn't absolutely necessary.

Next, draw your design, in reverse on the styrofoam with a stylus. Use the reverse image as a guide. I have four stylus tools and I found the one with tiniest head worked the best, but I was also working very small.
Once you have design on the styrofoam, go over it two or three times with light pressure to get as smooth of a design as you can. Cut it out with scissors if you have not already. Apply double-sided tape to the back of the styrofoam and stick it to a hard, firm surface like a wine cork, acrylic block or piece of wood. Ink it up.
Stamp out an impression on the scrap paper...and there's your first stamp!
You may need to ink it up and stamp it to see any areas that need to be redrawn with the stylus. Stamp it after you've made the tweaks to see if you're done. You'll note the date is falling off the bottom of my stamp above. Oh well, I can either use it as it is or make another one!

Method 2 (Easier)
Draw out your design on a piece of tracing paper. I kept mine to my initials again, but this time I used the template of circle shapes to create a round shape and then put my initials inside. I drew the second, inside circle freehand.
Next, take your pencil and either go over the lines or go over the top of the entire design with an even coat of graphite. Note that the letters are still readable because the design is still face-up. 
Flip the paper over, position it on the styrofoam and use a ballpoint pen to trace the design. (Be sure the design is reversed. If you can still read the design as normal, you have not reversed it!)  Go lightly as it's way too easy to go too deep to quickly on the styrofoam. Once you have a light tracing, set the paper aside and go over the lines with your stylus. 
Cut out the design with scissors if you have not already done so. 
Using double-sided tape, stick design to a hard surface. I chose a wine cork for this design. 
Next, ink it up and make an impression on the scrap paper. Tweak the design with your stylus if necessary. 
And there you have a faux Chinese Seal! Pretty cool, huh?! 

Once you get started, it's hard to stop. There are all kinds of options in the way of designs and what you put on the stamp. A favorite date, the name of a city, a spirit animal, your name, the options are endless! Below are a few of my designs:

Thoughts On This Process

  • Don't expect perfection—you won't get it! Styrofoam is very soft and easily damaged. 
  • You'll make mistakes. Don't worry about it. Just get another piece of styrofoam and go again. 
  • When drawing with the stylus, you may run into resistance from the styrofoam. If this happens, don't force it. Instead, go to the other end of the line and draw towards the area where you met resistance. 
  • It's better to go with several gentle impressions than one heavy application of pressure. It's likely you'll dig or tear the styrofoam with too much pressure. 
  • If you have fingernails with any length, take care. It's quite easy to "dent" the surface with the edge of your nail. I figure it adds character, but it could just as easily damage the stamp. 
  • Make sure to adhere the seal to a hard, smooth surface larger than it is. Otherwise, it will not make a good impression. 
  • If you do not have a stylus, you can use a ballpoint pen, but I didn't get as good of results using a pen as I did using a stylus. 
  • I used double-sided tape that could be repositioned rather than permanent double-sided tape. On the off chance the seal is crooked on the surface and you need/want to move it, the seal will mostly likely be damaged as you try to lift it from the surface if you've used permanent double-sided tape. 
  • I found chalk ink stamp pads worked the best with styrofoam. You may have to do a couple of tests to see what works for you. I tried a distress ink pad by Tim Holtz and it did not work well.
  • Other than stamping the excess ink off the stamp, I made no attempt to clean it as I don't believe they'll withstand much. 
  • Store the stamps in a box or bag where they cannot be hit from the outside or rattle around if you want them to last any length of time. 
  • Tradition dictates the use of red ink. Since I'm bucking the tradition of a "carved" stamp to begin with, I decided to be a bit more of a rebel and test out other ink colors. 

If you wind up making a stamp or nine, shoot me a link or a photo as I'd love to see what you come up with!

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10 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Replies
    1. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

  2. Laure this is GREAT! Thanks for the terrific instructions!!! I've always wanted to learn how to make my own, short of going down to Chinatown to buy one!

    1. My pleasure, Dorothy. Someone besides me needs to be addicted to these things!

  3. I love the idea of having a chop so I think I will try this. I don't have any fingernails to get in the way so maybe it'll last a little while lol.

  4. I have thought about doing this before. I have just never got around to doing it. A good idea to use styrofoam to practice on.

    1. I refuse to admit how long I've been hoarding the styrofoam with the intentions of doing "something" with it! Glad it finally happened.

  5. What a cool idea Laure. When I get an opportunity I am going to have to give this one a try. Thank you for sharing - as always you inspire me. Hope you are having a delightful day. Hugs!

    1. It's lots of fun, Debbie, I think you'll enjoy it!


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