Islamic calligraphy

Islamic calligraphy has always fascinated me. I studied Persian, Arabic and Urdu as part of my degree and travelled widely in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1970s. I really like the flowing lines and geometric styles, and the way abstraction is used to create artwork from words. These techniques could also be applied to more figurative drawing styles like fashion illustration. This is an area where I have only just begun to explore the potential.

I am particularly interested in the techniques of some contemporary calligraphers who use watercolour and ink to create word paintings from poetry.

See Meriem Marsli’s calligraphy particularly use of different materials to create letterforms in the Alif Baa series

For other examples of contemporary calligraphy see Free Islamic Calligraphy

Al Talaq
Al Talaq

How to do it

Development and Styles

Edited and extended from the Wikipedia links below

Islamic calligraphy is the artistic practice of handwriting and calligraphy, based upon the alphabet in the lands sharing a common Islamic cultural heritage. It includes Arabic , Ottoman, and Persian calligraphy. It is known in Arabic as khatt Islami (خط اسلامي), derived from the word ‘line’, ‘design’, or ‘construction’.

The development of Islamic calligraphy is strongly tied to the Qur’an; chapters, and excerpts from the Qur’an is a common and almost universal text upon which Islamic calligraphy is based. Deep religious association with the Qur’an, as well as suspicion of figurative art as idolatrous has led calligraphy to become one of the major forms of artistic expression in Islamic cultures.

Instruments and media

The traditional instrument of the Islamic calligrapher is the qalam, a pen normally made of dried reed or bamboo; the ink is often in colour, and chosen so that its intensity can vary greatly, so that the greater strokes of the compositions can be very dynamic in their effect. Some styles are often written using a metallic-tip pen.

 Islamic calligraphy is applied on a wide range of decorative mediums other than paper, such as tiles, vessels, carpets, and inscriptions. Before the advent of paper, papyrus and parchment were used for writing. 

Beginning in 692, the Islamic caliphate reformed the coinage of the Near East by replacing visual depiction with words. This was especially true for dinars, or gold coins of high value. Generally the coins were inscribed with quotes from the Qur’an. By the tenth century, the Persians, who had converted to Islam, began weaving inscriptions onto elaborately patterned silks. So precious were calligraphic inscribed textiles that Crusaders brought them to Europe as prized possessions. A notable example is the Suaire de Saint-Josse, used to wrap the bones of St. Josse in the Abbey of St. Josse-sur-Mer near Caen in northwestern France.

Style typology

As Islamic calligraphy is highly venerated, most works follow examples set by well established calligraphers, with the exception of secular or contemporary works. In antiquity, a pupil would copy a master’s work repeatedly until their handwriting is similar. With the spread of Islam, the Arabic script was established in a vast geographic area with many regions developing their own unique style. From the 14th century onward, other cursive styles began to developed in Turkey, Persia, and China. The most common styles are divided into:

  1. Kufic: oldest angular style
  2. Naskh (نسخ nasḫ): cursive style . With variants Thuluth (ثلث ṯuluṯ)  Ruq‘ah (رقعة ruqʿah)
  3. Nasta‘liq (نستعلیق nastaʿlīq) developed in Persia
  4. Diwani (ديواني dīwānī) developed in Ottoman Empire
  5.  Sini is a style developed in China. 
Kufic

The oldest form of the Arabic script developed around the end of the 7th century in the areas of Kufa, Iraq, from which it takes its name. It was the main script used to copy Qur’ans from the 8th to 10th century and went out of general use in the 12th century when the flowing naskh style become more practical, although it continued to be used as a decorative element to contrast superseding styles. Contemporary calligraphy using this style is also popular in modern decorations.

The Archaic Kufi consisted of about 17 letters without diacritic dots or accents. Afterwards, dots and accents were added to help readers with pronunciation, and the set of Arabic letters rose to 29.

A  common feature is the rigid, angular, linear strokes and shapes of the characters – a modified form of the old Nabataean script. The style later developed into several varieties, including floral, foliated, plaited or interlaced, bordered, and squared kufi. Common varieties include square Kufic, a technique known as banna’i.

9th century Qur’an, an early kufic example from the Abbasid period
Bowl with Kufic Calligraphy, 10th century.Brooklyn Museum

Naskh

Muhaqqaq script in a 14th-century Qur’an from the Mamluk dynasty.

With the rapid expansion  of Islam,  a cursive called naskh first appeared in the 10th century and is the most ubiquitous style used in Qur’ans, official decrees, and private correspondence. It became the basis of modern Arabic print. It was standardised by Ibn Muqla (886-940 A.D.) who establish systematic rules and proportions for shaping the letters, which use ‘alif as the x-height. This was later expanded by Abu Hayan at-Tawhidi (died 1009 A.D.) and Muhammad Ibn Abd ar-Rahman (1492–1545 A.D.). Variations  include:

  1. Thuluth is developed as a display script to decorate particular scriptural objects. Letters have long vertical lines with broad spacing. The name reference to the x-height, which is one third of the ‘alif.
  2. Riq’ah is a handwriting style derived from naskh and thuluth, first appeared in the 9th century. The shape is simple with short strokes and little flourishes.
  3. Muhaqqaq is considered one of the most beautiful scripts, as well as one of the most difficult to execute. Muhaqqaq was commonly used during the Mameluke era, but the use become largely restricted to short phrases, such as the basmallah, from the 18th century onward.

Nasta’liq

Nasta’liq calligraphy by Mir Emad Hassani, perhaps the most celebrated Persian calligrapher.

A cursive style developed in the 14th century by Mir Ali Tabrizi to write the Persian language for literary and non-Qur’anic works. Nasta’liq is thought to be a later development of the naskh and the earlier ta’liq script used in Iran. The name ta’liq means ‘hanging’, and refers to the slightly steeped lines of which words run in, giving the script a hanging appearance. Letters have short vertical strokes with broad and sweeping horizontal strokes. The shapes are deep, hook-like, and have high contrast.

 

Diwani

is a cursive style of Arabic calligraphy developed during the reign of the early Ottoman Turks in the 16th and early 17th centuries. It was invented by Housam Roumi and reached its height of popularity under Süleyman I the Magnificent (1520–1566). Spaces between letters are often narrow, and lines ascend upwards from right to left. Larger variation called djali are filled with dense decorations of dots and diacritical marks in the space between, giving it a compact appearance. Diwani is difficult to read and write due to its heavy stylization, and became ideal script for writing court documents as it insured confidentiality and prevented forgery.

 Sini is a style greatly influenced by Chinese calligraphy, using a horsehair brush instead of the standard reed pen. A famous modern calligrapher in this tradition is Hajji Noor Deen Mi Guangjiang.

List of calligraphers

Some classical calligraphers:

Medieval

Ottoman era

 

 

Zen Brush

traditional Japanese calligraphy brushes. Gallery feature that enables you to save your work in progress, as well as an ink dispersion effect to give your drawings an added feeling of depth.  Uses black and red ink. 

Rembrandt

Rembrandt had a studio with fantastic quality daylight; the window light was soft and he used reflector sheets to bounce light back where he wanted it. In other words he used soft controlled light which is what the studio softboxes of today http://www.rembrandthuis.nl/cms_pages/index_main.html

Rembrandt creative commons website

Exercise: The Night Watch
The painted portrait had to show the viewer what was important either to the sitter or the creator. This was done in some cases by pose, in some by costume or uniform or significant items with inherent meaning, or simply by position – being higher up than others or at the optimum positional point of the image. Look carefully at Rembrandt’s famous painting The Night Watch, commissioned by Frans Banning Cocq, the figure in the centre foreground.

Before you follow the link below, make some notes in your learning log about how the artist uses the elements listed above (background, pose, clothes, props, light). What effect does
he create? What does the portrait say about Banning Cocq?
Look particularly at the use of light and dark in this huge portrait. How might you create similar effects photographically?
Now follow the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9jj74aOr_Q

Ibrahim El-Salahi

Ibrahim el-Salahi  (1930 – present) is a Sudanese artist painter and former politician and diplomat.He is considered a pioneer in Sudanese art. He developed his own style and was one of the first artists to elaborate the Arabic calligraphy in his paintings.

website: http://ibrahimsalahi.com

Google images

Ibrahim El Salahi Interview Tate Modern, July 2013

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African Art on Display at London’s Tate Modern

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Starts with in-depth interview with El-Salahi on his experiences in 1970s.

Tate Shots exhibition overview
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Ibrahim El Salahi Focus on Africa BBC World

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Development of his art

El-Salahi was born on September 5, 1930, in Omdurman, Sudan. He studied Art at the School of Design of the Gordon Memorial College, currently the University of Khartoum. On the basis of a scholarship, he subsequently went to the Slade School of Fine Art in London from 1954 to 1957. He also stayed in Perugia in Italy for some time, to enlarge his knowledge of renaissance art. Back in Sudan, he taught at the School for Applied Arts in Khartoum.

In 1950s, 1960s and 1970s his work is dominated by elementary forms and lines. When El-Salahi returned to Khartoum to teach at the Technical Institute in 1957, he became one of the lead artists in a movement known as the ‘Khartoum School.’ Having gained its freedom from British colonial rule only one year previously, Sudanese artists were trying to define a new artistic voice and means of expression for the country. Yet when he held an exhibition of his work from the Slade at the Grand Hotel in Khartoum, Salahi’s academic style was uniformly rejected. Salahi took some time out from painting to travel around the country to seek inspiration. Here, the influence of Arabic calligraphy, which he had learned as a young child, became more pronounced in his painting, as he began to integrate Islamic signs and scripts into his compositions. Speaking of this era, the artist himself said:

‘The years 1958-1961 were a period of feverish activity on my part in search of individual and cultural identities […] Those years, as it turned out, were the years of transformation and transformation that I went through as far as my work was concerned.’

In 1962 he received a UNESCO scholarship to the United States, from where he visited South America. From 1964 to 1965 he returned to the US with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, and in 1966 he led the Sudanese delegation during the first World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar, Senegal.

Self-Portrait of Suffering (1961) is one of his best-known works from this time. The distended face that becomes almost equine, the dry brush marks and muted palette, show influence of Picasso, who himself appropriated distorted facial features from West African masks. The inability to trace the visual language to a root source is an articulate allegory for the artists’ sense of creative displacement at this time. Other works, such as Reborn Sound of Childhood Dreams (1961-5), integrated the crescent, a motif of Islamic art that recurred frequently throughout his work. El-Salahi also explored the formal properties of paint. Some canvases are incredibly heavy, with a thick impasto crust of paint (Victory of Truth (1962); Dry Months of the Fast (1962)); others with such thin layers of paint the image barely sits above the canvas, such as Vision of the Tomb (1965), crisp detail echoes traditional Arabic miniature painting.

After working for the Sudanese Embassy in Britain for a time in the early 1970s, El-Salahi was offered the position of Deputy Under Secretary of Culture at the Ministry of Information in Sudan under the military dictatorship of General Gaafar Nimeiry. After a failed military coup in which a relative was implicated, he was arrested in 1975, accused of anti-government activities and incarcerated for just over six months. El-Salahi is a Muslim of a Sufi sect, and during this trying time he discovered that the harrowing conditions he was subjected to could be escaped only through his deep spirituality. This was, according to the artist, a time of great personal change. The quiet pen and ink drawings and prose that make up Prison Notebook show a period of introspection and self-examination, with linear and fluid gestures that skirt tentatively across the page.

Upon his release, the artist relocated to Qatar. His work becomes rather meditative, abstract and organic. Subsequently his work is characterized by lines, while he mainly uses white and black paint.

In the late 1980s, El-Salahi began to absorb more of the forms of futurist figures. Still using a pen, his figures become machine-like, solid and heavy, composed of lines, tangents, and geometric shapes. The interlocking ellipses of Boccioni can be found in compositions such as The Inevitable (1984-85), and Female Tree (1994), and dense cross-hatched lines cement the image to its support.

TateShots: Ibrahim El-Salahi’s ‘The Inevitable’

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Often considered El-Salahi’s masterpiece, The Inevitable was first conceived by the artist during his wrongful imprisonment. Deprived of paper, El-Salahi would sketch out plans for future paintings on the back of small cement casings, before burying them in the sand whenever a guard would come near. Working in this manner led to the artist developing a new style, one seen in The Inevitable, where a painting spreads out from what he refers to as the ‘nucleus’, or the germ of an idea, with a meaning hidden even from the artist himself until the work is finished. Only when he saw The Inevitable completed did El-Salahi realise how clear the message was; that people must rise up and fight tyranny and those that suppress them. This was something he felt was relevant not just to his own life when he created the work in the mid-eighties, but to all of Sudan.

When in 1998 El-Salahi moved to Oxford, this new interest in bold geometric lines was pushed further. Using the english countryside as his subject, he began using vertical parallel lines to describe the form of a tree across a series of paintings and drawings. The use of geometric shapes to evoke natural forms perhaps harks back to the Islamic tradition of using geometric pattern to describe the order of the world. Yet through the prism of El-Salahi’s oeuvre, works such as Tree (2008) become Mondrian-esque divisions of canvas, panels of colour against white, that are nonetheless representational.

Many of his compositions suggest painting as meditation or a means of transcendance. Often praying before beginning to work, he says he has little control over the final image on the canvas; the creation of his works becomes almost an autodidactic gesture. Unlike so many established painters, who in later life fall into a distinct, comfortable style, El-Salahi continues to experiment and test himself and his art, integrating Western and Sudanese influences, exploring the boundaries of visual language and transcending a fixed cultural identity.

Rebecca Jagoe: Ibrahim El-Salahi: Painting in Pursuit of a Cultural Identity

Toko Shinoda

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Spanish slideshow of her work

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Toko Shinoda Exhibit by The Tolman Collection, Tokyo at Musee Kikuchi

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Google images

Toko Shinoda (篠田 桃紅 Shinoda Tōkō?, born March 28, 1913) is a Japanese artist working with sumi ink paintings and lithograph prints. Her art merges traditional calligraphy with modern abstract expression. She says she prefers her paintings and original drawings, because sumi ink presents unlimited colour spectrum. In printmaking, Shinoda uses lithograph as her medium. Unlike woodcut that requires chisel, or etching that requires acid, lithograph allows Shinoda to work directly and spontaneously on the plate with her fluid brushstroke. Shinoda’s strokes are meant to suggest images and vitality of nature. She says, “Certain forms float up in my mind’s eye. Aromas, a blowing breeze, a rain-drenched gust of wind…the air in motion, my heart in motion. I try to capture these vague, evanescent images of the instant and put them into vivid form.” Shinoda’s print editions are small, usually ranging from twelve to fifty-five, and after each edition has been pulled, she often adds a stroke or two of sumi color by hand to each print.

Life

Shinoda was born in Manchuria where her father managed a tobacco factory. Two years later, her family returned to Japan. Influenced by her father’s love of sumi ink painting, calligraphy and Chinese poetry, Shinoda practiced calligraphy since she was six.

Shinoda traveled the United States from 1956 to 1958. During this time her works were bought by Charles Laughton and John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Shinoda also became involved in the abstract expressionist movement of the time.

A 1983 interview in Timemagazine noted that “her trail-blazing accomplishments are analogous to Picasso’s”. Shinoda’s works had been exhibited in the Hague National Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, Cincinnati Art Museum and other leading museums in the world.

She turned 100 in March 2013.

Books on her work

  • Takashina, Shuji. Okada, Shinoda, and Tsukata: Three Pioneers of Abstract Painting in 20th Century Japan. Washington: Phillips Collection, c1979.
  • Tolman, Mary and Tolman, Norman. Toko Shinoda: A New Appreciation. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E Tuttle Company, 1993.

Zen Aesthetics and Art

Importance of Zen Aesthetics and Art for my Printmaking practice

I have been interested in Zen meditation – its focus on awareness of the here and now and the possibilities of choice – since being a teenager. In relation to art this awareness of the moment develops an ability to observe, then capture in a few flowing strokes the essence of one’s perception of something. That ability is based on years of practice and development of a sense of composition – focusing on tensions and imbalance rather than symmetry. Zen painting explores the tension between the accidental and imperfect and that flash of control.

In relation to printmaking it has particular relevance in monoprinting – markmaking on the plate as in the large monochrome monoprints of Yamamoto. But also the possible uses of watercolour inks and capturing the way they mix both on the plate and the paper.

Japanese Aesthetics (1 of 1)

Principles of Zen Aesthetics

Zen means “meditation.” Zen teaches that enlightenment is achieved through the profound realization that one is already an enlightened being. This awakening can happen gradually or in a flash of insight (as emphasized by the Soto and Rinzai schools, respectively). But in either case, it is the result of one’s own efforts. Deities and scriptures can offer only limited assistance.

Zen Buddhism’s emphasis on simplicity and the importance of the natural world generated a distinctive aesthetic, which is expressed by the terms wabi and sabi. influenced by Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, particularly acceptance and contemplation of the imperfection, constant flux and impermanence of all things. These two amorphous concepts are used to express a sense of rusticity, melancholy, loneliness, naturalness, and age, so that a misshapen, worn peasant’s jar is considered more beautiful than a pristine, carefully crafted dish. While the latter pleases the senses, the former stimulates the mind and emotions to contemplate the essence of reality. In today’s Japan, the meaning of wabi-sabi is often condensed to “wisdom in natural simplicity.” In art books, it is typically defined as “flawed beauty.”

In Search of Wabi Sabi with Marcel Theroux

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 Zen traces its origins to India, but it was formalized in China. Chan, as it is known in China, was transmitted to Japan and took root there in the thirteenth century. Chan was enthusiastically received in Japan, especially by the samurai class that wielded political power at this time, and it became the most prominent form of Buddhism between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. The immigrant Chinese prelates were educated men, who introduced not only religious practices but also Chinese literature, calligraphy, philosophy, and ink painting to their Japanese disciples, who often in turn traveled to China for further study.

Many Japanese arts over the past thousand years have been  Such arts can exemplify a wabi-sabi aesthetic. Examples include:

A contemporary Japanese appraisal of this concept is found in the influential essay In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki.

Sumi-e or Zen Ink Painting

You Tube videos on history of Chinese and Japanese ink painting

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Other Sources

Met Museum

Zen Buddhism and Art  Lieberman

Zen Painting Google images

Sumi-e or Japanese ink wash painting uses tonality and shading achieved by varying the ink density, both by differential grinding of the ink stick in water and by varying the ink load and pressure within a single brushstroke. Ink wash painting artists spend years practicing basic brush strokes to refine their brush movement and ink flow. In the hand of a master, a single stroke can produce astonishing variations in tonality, from deep black to silvery gray. Thus, in its original context, shading means more than just dark-light arrangement: It is the basis for the beautiful nuance in tonality found in East Asian ink wash painting and brush-and-ink calligraphy.In his classic book Composition, American artist and educator Arthur Wesley Dow (1857–1922) wrote this about ink wash painting: “The painter …put upon the paper the fewest possible lines and tones; just enough to cause form, texture and effect to be felt. Every brush-touch must be full-charged with meaning, and useless detail eliminated. Put together all the good points in such a method, and you have the qualities of the highest art”.

See Wikipedia article. See articles from British Museum collection.

A key practise is ensō ( , “circle”?) – a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. The ensō symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and mu (the void). Drawing ensō is a disciplined practice of Japanese ink painting—sumi-e (墨絵 “ink painting”?). The tools and mechanics of drawing the ensō are the same as those used in traditional Japanese calligraphy: One uses a brush ( fudé?) to apply ink to washi (a thin Japanese paper). Usually a person draws the ensō in one fluid, expressive stroke. When drawn according to the sōsho (草書?) style of Japanese calligraphy, the brushstroke is especially swift. Once the ensō is drawn, one does not change it. It evidences the character of its creator and the context of its creation in a brief, contiguous period of time. Drawing ensō is a spiritual practice that one might perform as often as once per day.

This spiritual practice of drawing ensō or writing Japanese calligraphy for self-realization is called hitsuzendō (筆禅道 “way of the brush”?). Ensō exemplifies the various dimensions of the Japanese wabi-sabi perspective and aesthetic: Fukinsei (asymmetry, irregularity), kanso (simplicity), koko (basic; weathered), shizen (without pretense; natural), yugen (subtly profound grace), datsuzoku (freedom), and seijaku (tranquility).

Today, ink monochrome painting is the art form most closely associated with Zen Buddhism. In general, the first Japanese artists to work in this medium were Zen monks who painted in a quick and evocative manner to express their religious views and personal convictions. Their preferred subjects were Zen patriarchs, teachers, and enlightened individuals. In time, however, artists moved on to secular themes such as bamboo, flowering plums, orchids, and birds, which in China were endowed with scholarly symbolism. The range of subject matter eventually broadened to include literary figures and landscapes, and the painting styles often became more important than personal expression.

It has also inspired many modern Japanese Abstract artists like Toko Shinoda and Western abstract artists like John Cage.

Series of interesting videos on a contemporary Western Zen ink painter: Nikolai Jelneronov

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