Typography, calligraphy and lettering

Free Arabic Calligraphy Guide for Beginners

Learn the ancient art of Arabic calligraphy with a free beginner’s guide by Kufic expert Joumana Medlej

To understand this most ancient of arts, let us first travel back through history to a time when there was no great need for the written word in Arabic. Texts and poems were memorized, passed down, and shared by word of mouth.

When the Qur'an was revealed to Mohammed from 609 to 632 CE, there became an urgent need to preserve the sacred word of God, particularly after Mohammed’s death. For the first time, Muslim scholars needed to rely on the written word in order to record the Qur'an in a unified and regulated way.

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Arabic calligraphy dates back thousands of years

What is Kufic script?

When scholars began to devise a unified script based on the Arabic alphabet, it was not enough to be simply consistent. It had to be beautiful as well. After all, in Islam, beauty and majesty are the two faces of God.

And so emerged the Kufi or Kufic script, the earliest form of Arabic calligraphy and the first Arabic script to be made “consciously beautiful”. This family of scripts with their strongly geometric structure and precise grid, revolutionized Arabic writing and turned it into a form of art.

Joumana Medlej (@majnouna) is a Lebanese artist based in London. Her work includes graphic design, drawing, illustration, digital games, and children’s literature, but her real expertise lies in the origin of all Arabic calligraphy, Kufic scripts, after she studied as an apprentice under the master calligrapher Samir Sayegh.

He spent seven years teaching her the essence of Kufic script, and she has since spent over a decade studying and reviving this disused style. For her, art is all about nourishing the soul with beauty and meaning, and she loves to find inspiration for her work in the early Islamic Period.

Joumana Medlej work includes graphic design, drawing, illustration, digital games, and children’s literature.

In her course, Arabic Calligraphy: Learn Kufic Script, she shows you how to master the art of Kufic script, including learning the complete alphabet, rules of spacing, and stretching.

This course is ideal for anyone interested in early Arabic calligraphy or scripts, or for those who would like to explore a meditative activity rich in history and culture. You don’t have to be an expert in calligraphy to enjoy the course and no previous knowledge is required, just patience and practice.

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Kufic script is both a beautiful and meditative art

In the resources below, she shares with you some useful material for you to try including independent letters, letter combinations, structural and stylistic practice, short sentences, some common mistakes to avoid and useful tips for beginners.

But first, let’s look at some of the materials you’ll need before you get started.

Basic Kufic script materials

Below is a more detailed description of the three main materials you will need to get started, but you should also make sure you have the following:

- Pencil
- Ruler
- Eraser
- Red paint/pen/pencil
- Golden paint/pen
- Kitchen towels to wipe the pen and any accidents
- Scrap paper to test pen on

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Joumana Medlej is an expert in Kufic script.

Pen

Joumana uses a bamboo pen with a square cut for her calligraphy, which is ideal for achieving the kind of detail you will need. An important point to remember is that if you are left-handed, you will not be able to use a square cut and should instead look for an “oblique cut”. If you cannot find a bamboo pen, a metal one will do, but you should avoid calligraphy markers which are too thick.

Gallnut Ink

This is the best type of ink to use, if possible. It is made from gallnuts, a parasitic growth that is found on oak trees. They are full of a substance called “tannin”, which is ground down and mixed with salt to make the ink. It is completely waterproof when dry and ideal for writing on parchment, which was the medium used at the time. Due to its transparency, it is more difficult to hide your mistakes with this ink, but it helps you learn faster as you develop good habits from the very beginning. Alternatively, you can use any other black ink if you cannot find it.

Paper

The most important thing about your paper is that it needs to be very smooth. Joumana recommends either the Winston & Newton smooth cartridge pad or a Bristol pad in an A3 size with either a 100gr or 200gr weight if you want to use both sides.

Beginner Exercises for Kufic Script

Discover a beautiful and meditative art by learning how to write Kufic script.

After clicking on the button below, you will find a file in .pdf format in the Downloads folder on your computer containing the Beginner Exercises for Kufic Script, by Joumana Medlej.

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This download will only be available until September 9, 2021. If you want to access the material after that date, you can sign up to Joumana Medlej’s course, Introduction to Arabic Calligraphy: Learn Kufic Script and explore the ancient Arabic script style of Kufic by learning to write a short text using traditional artistic practices.

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