Monday, October 19, 2009

make your own name seal

If you already have an interest in traditional Japanese Art, you probably realize how important that final pressing of the name stamp is to the overall appearance and balance of the work. And if this blog is your first exposure to Etegami, you probably noticed, and were curious about, the name seal that is always pressed somewhere on the card in red ink. The common name for these name seals is hanko. They are usually carved with the hiragana sign for the first syllable in the artist's given name. Sometimes they are carved with the entire given name, and sometimes they are carved with other words that enhance the artwork, such as the character for "Spring," or "Welcome the New Year," or something else that applies to the season.

If you go to an art supply or stationery store in Japan, you are likely to find a nice collection of ready-made hobby hanko, even ones that have a cozy, home-made feel to them. Using store-bought seals is a great option, especially if you are a beginner. But soon you are sure to get the itch for a name seal of your own design and carving.

Furthermore, you may be one of those people whose name begins with a syllable that is nowhere to be found among the racks of commercially produced name seals. I belong to this group. My name begins with the syllable De (Te with two dashes next to it), and I haven't met a Japanese person yet whose given name starts with that syllable. So from the beginning, I had to make my own hanko. I did this the way most etegami artists do, by carving my syllable into a rubber eraser.

The photo posted at the top was scanned from an introductory Etegami textbook, and illustrates the steps to making a hanko. The steps are very simple: (1) Draw your initial or syllable on a smooth piece of paper (tracing paper is good) with a soft lead pencil. (2) Press the drawing against a clean, flat piece of eraser, and rub gently till the drawing has transferred from the paper to the eraser. The transfer will be a mirror image. (3) Using a sharp craft knife or carving tool, cut away the white part, or alternatively, cut away the dark part, depending on the effect you desire. (4) Ink the seal and press on paper to see where you still need to cut away. Keep doing this till you are satisfied. If you want to start over, slice off the layer you were working on, and go through the steps again.

I've attached a photo of some of my own hand-made hanko. Some represent my name in various forms (De, DeBi, DeBoRa, dd) and others are images (slice of watermelon, mouse's paw print, human foot print, leaf, star, wind chime). I use the images to add humor or otherwise personalize certain etegami. They're easy and fun to do.


  1. This is great tips and the ideas. Could you guide me more about to the Japanese traditional art....?

  2. Hi! I love your fun blog! I have an award for you, at Happy Little Bento! Thanks!

  3. Thank you! I love this idea. Definitely want to try it.

  4. When I was a child my sister and I did such seals from erasers.

  5. @aperol Do you have any left that you can show me? Did you carve pictures, or just your initials? What did you use the seals for? Drawings? Letters? I am very interested in your experience.

  6. I visit your site read your article nice article & love your great idea & blog.Thank,s for so nice sharing.
    Plastic Card.

  7. Fantastic & so clever idea,I like it so much,THANK,S

    Wire Harness

  8. おかげさまで助かります。