Arabic calligraphy can be amazing, and an incredible challenge. Starting out is easy enough. Getting good just takes practice, and years of dedication. I’m still not at a point where I’m satisfied and I’ve been doing it for a year and a half now. This is what you need to get started:
-India ink, a jar with a cork, a piece of silk or nylon stocking material (like 3 inches square balled up and stuck in the jar). The stocking acts as a sponge, and you want to fill the jar just so the stocking is soaked, not swimming in ink. Traditionally the ink would be made by mixing soot with gum arabic and water. India became a major exporter of inks, which were exported dried as cakes and were then wetted and mixed with gum.
-Pens. I’ll deal more with this later. You can’t use pens from the art store because they’re cut for English calligraphy and don’t work for Arabic. Next post I’ll show how to cut a proper calligraphy pen from a reed or bamboo.
-Proper paper – Glossy paper is the only way to go. In the past calligraphers prepared their paper by sizing their papers with egg gesso and then burnishing it with agate. I personally just get a ream of glossy paper. Matte paper doesn’t work because it just sucks up the ink.
-A knife and a chisel. These are used to cut the pen and keep it sharp.
-Instruction book, and examples to work from. Ideally, traditional Arabic calligraphy should be done in such a way that the identity of the calligrapher is only known from his signature, and not by his style, because individual styles are an idea that came about in the 20th century, and in the past calligraphers were known by the skill of the work and how much work they produced, not by how their style set itself apart. Every letter should conform perfectly and exactly to the proportions set by calligraphers through the ages. To start out I recommend Venetia Porter and Mustapha Ja’afar’s book Arabic Callgraphy: Naskh Style for Beginners, also known as the Big Blue Retard Book:
Back in the day calligraphers took their craft seriously, and made badass implements to go with it. This is a inkwell and pen box from Turkey, c. 1850.
This is an inlaid pen box, also Turkey, 1850s.
Knives used for trimming pens, Turkey, 1700s and 1800s.
A page for instruction, showing the proper proportions for Thulth style:
A full calligraphers set, including pen boxes, gold burnisher, paper burnisher set in wood, knives, muqaata3, or places of cutting (traditionally ivory slabs on which to rest the pen while cutting it), and scissors:
All images from Traces of the Calligrapher: Islamic Calligraphy in Practice by Mary McWilliams and David J. Roxburgh.