The Kamiş Pen

The Kamiş kalem is the backbone of Arabic calligraphy. Kamiş kalems, meaning reed pens in Farsi and Turkish, have been used by Arab, Turkish, and Iranian calligraphers as the pen of choice for more than 500 years. It is made from reeds that grow along rivers.  However, there is a lengthy process of “curing” the pen to make it ready for use by the calligrapher. Among other aspects of the process, the pen is buried in manure for more than a year.

There is a debate as to which riverbanks or waterways provide the best reeds. As David Roxburgh writes in Traces of the Calligrapher, ‘opinions varied, with most calligraphers preferring to use reeds cultivated in the coastal lands of the Persian Gulf, but other praising the qualities of reeds harvested from the banks of the Nile or the shores of the Caspian Sea.’  The pens I use have always been Iranian-made, as the pen-making trade in Egypt died out around the same time as the schools of Arabic calligraphy did, in the mid-20th century.

The ideal pen is one that is a full length between two knobs in the stalk, and the pen will be cut (or ‘opened’) at the very end, cutting off one of the knobs and creating a long, sweeping cut leading down to the writing edge of the pen. That cut, the most crucial cut in the pen cutting operation, must be completed with a single knife-stroke.

Roxburgh continues, “Because the act of cutting determined the quality of writing, a certain anxiety attended the operation, and calligraphers describe in detail the cutting of the nib on a diagonal, repeating the advice and admonitions of earlier masters. Cutting the tip of the pen to the perfect slant was an example of nasib, or an initiation into mystical orders. Techniques and materials aside, the ability to cut a pen straight and true required that the pen cutter be straight and true of character”


~ by Josh on September 10, 2010.

9 Responses to “The Kamiş Pen”

  1. A very interesting description of how the Reed Pens are cut and lovely photos to share. Thank you. Sue in South Africa

  2. Hello,
    I like your article, for several reasons, but I have a question.
    Living in France, it’s quite dificult to find this sorts of Qalam !
    I’m an algerian contemporary calligrapher and, for the moment I’using local reed or bamboo pens.
    Have you an adress or a link to find this kind of pens ?
    Thank’s a lot in advance !
    Salim, France.
    Best regards.

  3. Try Comptoir des Ecritures, Salim. They appear to be located in Paris and they sell true reed qalam:

  4. […] on calligraphy tools used in Arabic and Islamic calligraphy is the Kamish pen. I wrote a lengthy post on the Kamish pen a few months back. The pen is the industry standard in calligraphy. Hope you […]

  5. […]!/video/video.php?v=303620954270   Now may I […]

  6. Dear Josh,

    I am writing with regard to obtaining photographs related to Arabian reed pen photos. These are needed to accompany a text which will be appearing in a magazine called Passage, published by Friends of the Museums, a not-for-profit organisation run entirely by volunteers in Singapore (

    I am writing to you to ask if there is any possibility of us being allowed to use one of these images without having to pay a fee. As an non-profit organisation we do not have a budget for paying royalties or licensing fees. The magazine will of course give full credit to you. We require high-resolution digital images if such are available.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Best Regards,

    Ceyda O.Tezel

  7. With due respect,

    I am writing to you because I am interested to learn Arabic calligraphy and I live in USA. I want to know where I can get reed pen. Thanks. with best regards, Riffat Rizvi

  8. […]!/video/video.php?v=303620954270 This one […]

  9. I want to buy yhe different ypes of ARABIC CALLIGRAPHY pens in South Africa Where do I get them from.

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