Losing his right hand in an accident at work more than three decades ago has not stopped Liu Ching-yi (劉慶儀) becoming a seal-engraving master.
Liu, 65, frequently takes part in seal-engraving exhibits and is affectionately called “Lefty Knife” (左刀) by famed calligraphy master Chen Ming-hsien (陳銘顯).
“Before losing my right hand, I was just muddling through life without a purpose,” Liu said. “After [the accident] left me with only one hand to work with, I started to think more about my life and make plans for the future.”
“The accident also opened up the beautiful world of painting and engraving to me,” he added.
Liu was 30 and working as a section head on an assembly line for a printing equipment manufacturer when the accident happened.
His right arm was pulled into a machine and had to be amputated from the elbow down. He also broke his lower jaw.
“At first, I couldn’t accept what life had dealt me,” he said.
Married with a child, Liu had to earn a living and after six months of recuperation, he knew he had to pick himself up.
He returned to the factory and worked for another 28 years before retiring.
While he was working at the factory, Liu rediscovered his childhood passion: painting.
“Painting was good therapy after losing my right hand,” he said. “I found a new direction in life and it opened up new opportunities.”
Liu was right-handed, but trained himself to hold a pen and paint brush with his left hand after the accident.
“In the beginning, I could not hold a pen steadily. It took me half a year just to learn how to draw a plum blossom,” Liu said.
He also took up calligraphy to be able to sign his paintings in the traditional manner.
Being able to draw with “one continuous brush stroke” shows your skill as a calligrapher, he said.
After mastering calligraphy, he moved on to seal engraving.
Working with an engraving knife instead of a paint brush was physically challenging. To help him with his work, Liu made his own light-weight engraving knife for left-handers.
However, with the loss of his right arm, his body is out of balance, Liu said.
“When working, I had to exert more strength to keep my balance,” he said. “It sometimes causes back pain, so it takes me longer to finish a product compared with other people.”
As he became more dexterous, Liu was able to express his style of calligraphy on a square seal chop.
Chen said that Liu’s engravings are beautiful, praising the characters, balance of strokes and lines, and spacing.
Liu also teaches his craft to students and often gives them words of encouragement, telling them: “I can do it with only one hand, so you can do it [with two].”