Of Chops and Seals and Sealing Wax

A Chinese soapstone seal alongside a rubber stamp showing the photographer Andrew Barnes' AB logo.
My chop and rubber stamp for my ‘AB’ logo.

Many years ago I had a soapstone ‘chop’, or seal, made for me in China, with an engraving of a transcription of my name. Although I still have the seal I won’t show you the characters, as I have a sneaking suspicion that, rather than being a noble, elegant and flattering translation, it instead probably says something along the lines of “Cheapskate Spotty Big-Nose Gweilo”.

The reason that this came to mind is my visit last week to the V&A’s Masterpieces of Chinese Painting exhibition, which I urge you to see before the exhibition closes on January 19th 2014.There are many beautiful examples of Chinese painting there, spanning more than a millennium, and I am sure that either their age (some of the pieces are more than a thousand years old), their quiet beauty or the microscopic detail will captivate you.

One feature that you will notice on the paintings is the red seals of the artist, patron, or in some cases the emperor, forming a history of the provenance and ownership of the work.

Like all photographers I sign my prints with a pigment ink pen, but I also mark my canvas prints with a small inscription, hidden away on the underside of the canvas where it will never be visible. This is partly for fun, partly a way of saying “I made this”, but also an extra means of marking the artwork and securing it against copying. However, I felt that my little messages lacked a certain something, so instead I have recently started marking my work with my own ‘seal’: a rubber stamp of my AB glyph (or is it a ligature?), designed for me by the wonderful graphic designer Tracey Gill.

The stamp was created and ordered online from customstampsonline.com, but there are a number of companies providing similar services so do hunt around if you are interested. All I had to do was upload an image file derived from Tracey’s original artwork, and a laser-cut stamp dropped through my letterbox a few days later. The ink I use at the moment is Onyx Black Versafine from Tsukineko, a quick-drying oil-based pigment ink which renders beautifully crisp images.

Although I am thrilled with the results of my stamp this is still a project in progress, and the next step is to find someone who can make good wooden or stone version. Any suggestions would be very welcome.





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