July 2015 Smart Art Box, Part 2: Carving the Chop

Originally published on February 5th, 2016, at SharondaWoodfin.net.
Edited February 8th, 2016.
Edited and republished at Sharonda.net on March 6th, 2017. 

Or, “10 Things that Don’t Blend Well with a Blister on the Palm of the Hand”:

  1. Diabetes
  2. Carpal tunnel syndrome
  3. Drawing
  4. Weight-lifting
  5. Dish-washing
  6. House-wifing
  7. Hand-shaking
  8. Fist-shaking
  9. Baseball
  10. Life

Do you see where this is going, yet?

I hinted a bit, in the introductory post for the July 2015 Smart Art box, that carving is not my forte. Boy, was that an understatement! Apparently even moreso when the carving is to be done backwards!

These are the tools I used to carve my soapstone chop:

My carving tools: the reamer/punch on a Victorinox Swiss Army knife, the miniature file from the fingernail clippers I keep at my desk, and a tiny screwdriver that came with my lens cleaning kit.
My carving tools: the reamer/punch on a Victorinox Swiss Army knife, the miniature file from the fingernail clippers I keep at my desk, and a tiny screwdriver that came with my lens cleaning kit.

I didn’t start with this assortment, though. I began the actual carving (scratching?) with only the itty-bitty screwdriver, then expanded my arsenal as the carving went on.

I’m going to emphatically not recommend this particular set of tools. The screwdriver caused some discomfort in my carving hand rather quickly, and the reamer scared the piss out of me when it slipped off the soapstone block and onto the second knuckle of my left index finger. There was no blood, but I took it as a minor indication that maybe carving a piece of stone was not the best use of my time.

But that’s almost the end of the story. Let’s start at the start.

This is from the “Project Pointers” section of the project insert included with the Smart Art box:

To carve your seal, start by tracing the base of the block on a piece of paper and draw your signature within the border. Flip the page over and go over the design in ink (creating a mirror image). While the ink is wet, press the soapstone on it to pick up the design. Carve out the inked image to create a white character on a red background.

I did part of that.

After doing a search to find a usable image of “Sam” – the name I generally answer to in meatspace – written in Chinese characters, I traced the perimeter of the block and started trying to make those characters fit within the confines of the space.

My chop design process…
My chop design process…

As illustrated by the photo above, I had some trouble making the two characters co-exist within the space. I thought that simplifying the characters, themselves, might help, and I eventually simplified them to the point – seen at the far right – that they were one big, combined character with all original meaning lost.

Then I remembered that I know “Samu” in katakana; that I was taught to write “Samu” in katakana by a real live, human being; that I actually answered to “Samu” for a small portion of my life; and that katakana, really, is way easier for me to write (and maybe carve?) than Chinese characters are.

I did a few sketches to make sure “Samu” would be an easier fit. It obviously was. I was both relieved and excited. So, with nary a thought back to the included instructions, I picked up the screwdriver.

Samu Katakana sketches
“Samu” in katakana was going to work very well for me!

I started carving.

I even Instagrammed this photo of the beginning lines:

Seeing how scratchy the carving looked in that photo prompted me start using the fingernail file. I didn’t think, and no one said a word, about what I was doing wrong.

Seeing how scratchy the carving looked in that photo prompted me start using the fingernail file. I didn’t think, and no one said a word, about what I was doing wrong.

While the wife and I were sitting on the sofa, last night, watching the New Hampshire debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, I added the reamer to the mix.

At some point, I looked down, and I saw this:

Badly carved chop is carved backwards.
This chop is chopped.

Really saw it.

Which means I finally saw that I’d carved the whole damned thing backwards.

Linda and I briefly discussed sanding it all down, so I could start over; but again, I’m not a carver of things. I decided to play with the design I’d already scratched into the block, extend some lines, and make it abstract and unique, rather than an actual representation of my name.

I worked at it for a bit.

Then the reamer slipped.

Then I noticed a hot spot on my mount of Jupiter, a warning pre-blister on the fleshly bit just below the index finger.

And then I decided that this blog post would not be worth more time and effort sunk into playing to my weaknesses.

I’ll use the default chop on my completed project, or no chop, at all. Or I’ll just paint the Chinese characters on. Or the katakana.

The point is that I’m done carving. I heartily suggest you look elsewhere for any carving advice you may be seeking.