Sunday, December 13, 2020


I left work early on Friday night at the behest of my boss, who still hasn't signed his new contract yet.  (He's been wrestling with the wording, much of which he deemed "bullshit."  He's lucky to be able to specify his own terms and conditions, though; in the end, the contract will be rewritten to his satisfaction.)  Leaving the office and grabbing a cab, I headed uptown to the Jongno district to look, once again, for an award-plaque maker.  And this time, I found one, tucked away in an alley not far from the main street.  The older lady who greeted me seemed to be of sour and dour temperament at first, but she eventually proved to be friendly enough.  I had apparently arrived after the place's purported closing time (7 p.m.; I arrived around 7:30), but she allowed me to stay and pepper her with questions about my plaque's design and what sort of plaque I was looking for.

Ultimately, I was looking for a plaque that was simple in shape and able to stand on its own without the need for an extra stand.  The lady showed me everything she had on display, and she told me that choosing something not on display was also possible.  She asked me what my "budget" was, i.e., how much I was ultimately willing to pay.  I told her I could go as high as W200,000, which made her a lot more friendly.  "Oh, for that amount, we can give you something really high in quality," she said.  I saw plaques in all different shapes and sizes, including some bizarre ones, like a Bible-shaped plaque to be awarded in a churchy context.  Ultimately, I showed the greatest preference for a simple, unimaginative crystal rectangle that was thick enough to stand on its own on a shelf without the need for a stand.

When the lady asked me whether I had a design on file with me, I said yes and pulled out my thumb drive.  My design's image was uploaded to the office's computer, and we began discussing how best to render the design on a plaque—especially a crystal plaque.  There are several possible approaches when it comes to adding text and images to a plaque's surface:  you can simply print the contents flat onto the surface; you can engrave the contents; you can also engrave the contents and fill in the engravings with paint.  We tossed around several ideas and came to no firm conclusions.  I could feel myself moving toward the idea of removing most of the color from my design (thereby sacrificing the Korean-flag color scheme that I'd talked about previously) and simply engraving everything into clear crystal; the only thing with color would be the dojang, which would be engraved and also painted red and white.  In every single photo of a Korean award plaque with a dojang on it, the dojang is always red (or red-and-white) and always in the lower-right corner.

The lady made a remark about my design that I interpreted as a complaint:  "That's a Chinese dragon," she said.  It was indeed a Chinese dragon (I'm the one who put it in the design, so I should know), and I hadn't thought about how a Korean might react to seeing something non-Korean on a plaque designed with a Korean recipient in mind.  I doubt JW would be so picky about his plaque, but as I gauged the lady's reaction to the Chinese dragon, I decided that a redesign would mean ditching the Chinese lung and finding a Korean yong to put in its place.  In the end, I said nothing about my redesign plans to the lady, and she told me to email her shop a copy of my design file—preferably as a Photoshop document (.psd format) and not as a PNG.  As of a few minutes ago, I have done just that.  The lady promised to get working on the files come Monday.  She was also happy to know that this plaque was to be a Christmas gift, which meant her office would have plenty of time to work on the plaque.

We also discussed how the plaque would be contained.  Did the plaque's price include some kind of fancy box?  "Yes," the lady said, and she showed me several styles of boxes that could hold the plaque.  You've probably seen such boxes before:  they're usually made of polished, lacquered wood, with soft, molded interiors to hold the award—velvet-lined, of course.  "We box the plaque up for you," the lady reassured me.

Although we hadn't truly settled on a specific plaque (I knew it'd probably be rectangular and able to stand on its own), and we hadn't talked price, the lady and I (and the resident designer, a quiet, nerdy-looking young lady) had an idea of where my thoughts were trending.  I promised to send my design via email, then I went home and began working on a redesign.

The Chinese dragon is now gone; it's been replaced by a Korean dragon.  I tried to find a Korean dragon that was positioned in the same kind-of-horizontal way as the Chinese dragon was, but the best Korean dragon I could find was more vertical than horizontal, clawing its way up an imaginary sky.  I decided to stick with the vertical dragon, but that meant a major reconfiguring of the plaque's text.  I also moved the dojang to the lower-right position based on what I'd discovered during my research.  While Korean brush artists stamp their dojang images all over their works of art, in the world of award plaques, the dojang can appear only in the lower-right part of the piece.

I made two versions of the image.  One version is meant to be etched onto a white surface, like a block of acrylic or resin; the other can be placed on (and etched onto) either a black-surfaced plaque or a clear-crystal (or clear-acrylic) plaque.  The black/crystal version of the image is done up with a black background, but that background would obviously have to be digitally removed:  there's no reason to paint black onto a black surface, and for crystal, the only thing to be painted would be the red dojang:  everything else would simply be laser-etched into the material.  I trust the in-house designer to have the common sense to remove the black background when designing my plaque (if she goes for either black or crystal, that is; if she goes for a white surface, then I hope she preserves the Korean-flag color scheme).

Anyway, here are the two designs:

Epilogue:  before I left the Jongno area, I visited two establishments that billed themselves as dealing with acrylic (i.e., the heavy plastic, not the paint).  The proprietor of the first place simply shooed me back out, telling me I couldn't come in.  The proprietor of the second place, who looked disturbed that I had interrupted his dinner, told me that I needed to go across the street if I was looking to have an award plaque made.  Neither establishment was particularly helpful, and I'm beginning to think that places that do artistic laser-etching of acrylics don't exist.  I'd probably have to visit an arts-oriented university like Hongik and ask some art students whether they'd be up to the task of etching out an award plaque on bone-white acrylic.  The very thought of expanding my search to universities tired me out, and in the end, I decided I'd just stick with the award-plaque shop I'd found.  So the image files have been emailed, and if the plaque-shop folks have questions for me, they know to text or email me.


  1. It's interesting that there's a difference between a Chinese dragon and a Korean dragon and that a Korean might be offended to receive an award with the Chinese version. Anyway, your redesign looks good to me for whatever that's worth.

  2. I should have factored in the cultural pride that comes with Korean dragons. Often depicted with five claws on their feet, and with antlers on their heads, Korean dragons do indeed stand apart from other Asian dragons.

    Thanks for the kind words!



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