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Making a mark with a hanko, or chop

Carving a gago-in, a kind of chop seal, also called inkan or hanko. I first encountered seals in my corporate life, working on an IT project in China that would allow for electronic contract signatures. They’re used in China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan both formally and casually. Formally, they may be used to execute legal documents and are considered harder to forge than a signature. Their historical equivalent in the west would be wax seals and signet rings.

They’re also used personally and more casually to sign correspondence or mark images and artwork. They can be carved to mark nicknames, pen names, studio names, or personal sayings. In Japanese, gago-in refers specifically to their use by artists, which is how I am using mine, with the initials of my illustration business’ name - Black-Haired Demon

Traditionally, you use your seal with an oil-based cinnabar ink paste, not a stamp pad. Red is the traditional color, but I have obtained green paste, as it is better aligned with my branding. To make your mark, you should pat the chop gently and repeatedly into the paste to ensure the ink is distributed across the design. Don’t push and smear the seal into the ink as this will just gunk up the carving. Don’t rush the stamping - this is a different process, and is lends itself to being a little more of a thoughtful production. Breathe on the inked stone to warm up the paste a little. Press firmly without moving the chop around. It will work better on top of a pad of paper or calligraphy mat vs directly onto a hard surface.

You can find soapstone chop blanks, soapstone carving tool sets, and ink paste on Amazon, eBay, and Etsy - a small kit with stone and paste can be found for as little as USD $8.00, and the carving tools for under $20. The clamp bed can be found for as little as $16, although you can spend more for a heavier one, or take your chances at stabbing yourself in the hand by simply holding the stone while you work it.

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