Archive for January 2009

Hidden Geometry

January 28, 2009

I attended my second class of Arabic Calligraphy using Naskh Script yesterday. I signed up for these evening classes many months ago and have been looking forward to this opportunity for well over a year. The class is run by Mustafa Jafar, author of Arabic Calligraphy: Naskh style for beginners (Paperback):

Image taken from

Mustafa is himself an artist and examples of his work can be seen at

'Light upon Light' by Mustafa Jafar

'Light upon Light' by Mustafa Jafar

Anyway so in yesterday’s class we learnt to draw the first half of the Arabic letters using a traditional reed pen (looks a bit like bamboo but cut to a sharp nib on one end) and ink.

This interest in Arabic calligraphy was a personal one as well as a relevant one in terms of my project.

I will post a more detailed entry when I have gathered more informative details about the history and development of Arabic calligraphy. However in brief  I have these notes:

From its simple and primitive early examples of the 5th and 6th century A.D., the Arabic alphabet developed rapidly after the rise of Islam in the 7th century into a beautiful form of art.

– Arabic as a written language was used by few.

– Those who did use it were professional scribes and usually worked to produce important documents for legal and state offices.

– When the Qur’an was revealed and after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him ) to whom it was revealed, it became necessary to record the revelations. These were written and illuminated (decorated with intricate borders etc) to emphasise the beauty of the word of God.

– It is also important to note that the Qur’an never was and never is illustrated with imagery portraying humans or animals. This is because there are strict rules about the idea of recreating/reproducing the creation of God who is the only One who can create such things. It is also in order to prevent idolatry – which people can easily fall into if they are not careful. The biggest sin in Islam is Shirk which is to obey/worship/sacrifice for anyone or instead of God.

– Arabic as a written form became  standardised some time after the early centuries of Islam’s expansion and dominance.  One form was used for secular writings (the cursive script) and the other for sacred documents such as the Qur’an.

– The style of calligraphy used for the Qur’an also developed but always to a very high standard. It was imperative that the person copying the words got them 100% right and therefore they would train for many yrs under the masters of the pen before starting their own copies. There was no room for error. The Qur’an has remained unchanged since the day it was first recorded.

The significance of calligraphy? As it is used in so many forms of Islamic art and decoration and truly does look beautiful. It plays a large part in my project research. It is significant not only because of the words within the writing (usually excerpts or verses from the Qur’an) but also because of the visual effect they produce. So even if you didn’t know the words or know that it was a verse to be read and understood you could still appreciate the aesthetics of the calligraphy.

The words themselves being the words from God mean that not only do they carry an important message for mankind but they deserve to be elevated.


In the class today with Mustafa Jafar, we learnt about the proportions of the letters. These proportions govern the size of the letters in accordance to each other and although not apparent to the viewer they produce the accuracy that leads to the perfection of the overall piece of writing. Whilst demonstrating the use of the dots within the alphabet as measurements for the letters, Mustafa used the phrase ‘hidden geometry’. A light bulb turned on in my head. I already knew about the proportions and accuracy required to make the calligraphy what it is, but I never connected it with geometry before. I wonder why? I guess I wasn’t thinking outside the box. It’s not just about lines and shapes the way I know them.

You will see in the image below that the height, width and empty space produced within and around the letters are all in proportion according to the dots. So no matter what size dots you start with you should have a certain number of dots making up the length and a certain number making up the breadth for each one:

This image is taken from: where you can also find much better explanations about the history and development of Arabic in its written form.

Therefore the use of geometry comes about using this dot as a unit for measurement and it producing a proportionally accurate letter, leading to a proportionally accurate piece of writing.

Mustafa insists that Calligraphy is a form of art, not writing. I very much agree, except where it comes to the Qur’an. In the Qur’an it is both and more.

To infinity and beyond

January 25, 2009

In response to my previous post I would like to quote a section from page 6 of Daud Sutton’s book ‘Islamic Design – A Genius for Geometry’ (yes, I found the book!!) which addresses the subject of infinity as represented in Islamic patterns:

“Conceptually a repeating pattern can continue forever, but in practical applications Islamic patterns are generally cropped to form rectangular sections with corners in the centre of key pieces, often stars. Framing a pattern this way maintains a geometric elegance at the same time is clearly implying that it could repeat indefinitely, as it were, under it’s borders – the perfect visual solution to calling to mind the idea of infinity, and hence the Infinite, without any pretence of being able to truly capture such an enigmatic concept visually.

This framing also usually gives a single central piece which ensures that the total number in the rectangle is odd – a numerical quality traditionally said to invoke, and find favour with, Divine Unity.”

Well I have to say that makes sense to me. But I have a feeling there may be differing views on this so will have to look into it further.

Non-stop yapping

January 25, 2009

I had my second tutorial on Wednesday (21st Jan). It was with the Online students’ tutor, Jonathan, who I have met only once before.

I usually find it had to give an overview of my project whilst conveying every aspect of my research and ideas for the outcome, and all the influences that come into play, and my background, and why I chose the subject in the first place. But Jonathan seemed to ask all the right questions and even though I felt like I was chattering on the whole time I also realised that he actually understood what I was saying and what I meant! It was great because it allowed me to answer some of my own questions that I had kinda left at the back of my mind to linger I guess.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember everything from the 45 mins tutorial so I wrote it out in my note book a few mins later – I treat that notebook as more of a journal because I can jot down ideas and thoughts as they come to me on public transport. There is also the knowledge that no one will see the silly things I write in there either – and believe me I come up with some crazy ideas sometimes which I know I could never do in a million yrs!

Anyway, here is the content of that entry word for word (minus the silly bits) and I warn you now it jumps about a bit and can be totally random at times:

“covered many things – was useful to discuss an overview of the project.
The questions asked by J enabled me to see the project from a high level view.

Interestingly J raised the question of Infinity after seeing on my blog that I head read up and seen documentaries by Marcus du Sautoy.

J asked how I would use the idea of Infinity in my work and if it had a place in Islamic Art. The answer was yes it does in a symbolic form – the idea of an ever-existent God can be said to be represented through the everlasting forms and shapes that can be created from geometric and symmetrical patterns. How I would use the concept of Infinity – well I’m not sure. It becomes quite philosophical and would certainly not be a clear and easy idea to convey to an audience. I guess I have not looked into it as much as I could and this is what J suggests I do – add some depth to the background of the subject area. Add that extra bit of meaning behind the work. I agree and will definitely look into it soon.

J also suggested I set myself short term goals and a timetable so that I have targets to work towards. He said my current level of work is fine but the use of the timetables could prove to be handy especially when things don’t work to plan and you can look back at how to organise and allocate time to certain things. I had actually thought about doing this before but wasn’t sure how to break down my time. Being part-time is like being in this other dimension sometimes (can’t imagine what it’s like for the online students!). I mentioned that with my attendance being only once a week and not having many deadlines meant that my project goals weren’t really concrete.

J says that doing a fort-nightly structure could work better for me and then even if things change I can change the week ahead’s targets because I can use the one day of attendance as a marker for seeing what progress is made before the next week commences.

I will be going away on holiday (God willing) in a few weeks for a few days in mid Feb (Muscat and Dubai 🙂 ) I want to have something significant done by then in terms of practical work.

J liked my project idea and the way in which I wrote my posts. The positive feedback is good motivation to keep going. The interest he showed in my prototype idea was another motivation to start practical work sooner rather than later. He mentioned active research and how useful this can be for artists.

We discussed the issue of time – using the two years of my course to my advantage by learning from failures and successes.

I ended up explaining the historical, religious and artistic relevance of my research and approach to this project. It felt a bit unusual going into this much detail about things which I usually am careful to address. I find that the average (non-religious?) person doesn’t understand why someone would be driven to certain extents by their religious beliefs. I have experienced this on many occasions and even with peers I feel I have to explain what my religious motivations are so that they have a better understanding of it – but it’s just not something they are familiar with. Ok it’s hard to explain what I mean.

It was refreshing that J was very open to what I was expressing and asked me questions that gave me the impression that he was very interested in hearing more and gaining a better understanding of where I was coming from. it also made it easier for me to discuss ideas and the things that influenced these ideas and then the way they would be implemented.

I will be creating a page on which will sit my mini timetables. They will be broken down by months and should ideally be updated every two weeks. It would be cool to have a dynamic calendar of some sort – similar to the one used on the MA Digital Arts wiki site. Should look in the current list of widgets and plug-ins available on WordPress to see if they have anything that will fit the bill.
Equipment needed for prototype:

– soldering iron?
– white super bright 5mm LEDs (100pcs) aprox. £7.50
– equipment wire at least 2m of each black and red
– two boards (mark grids out in pencil and allocate spaces beforehand)”

I hope the above conveys how useful that tutorial turned out to be. I hope I am able to fulfil my short term goals as a means to fulfilling the long term ones.

Another idea

January 16, 2009

I’ve been thinking about how I can take my experimentation and pattern-making to the next level. I have my mid-point review coming up in March and need to start making some significant progress otherwise I won’t be making the most of it. Plus the way I see it, the more work I do now the more I can develop my ideas and learn from my mistakes and early prototyping which should then lead to something much stronger at the end.

In the next few weeks I’m planning to make a small interactive installation which basically consists of a circuit of lights (LEDs) on a grid where the user can switch them on and off to then produce a pattern. The control of the lights would be through another grid of buttons that correspond with the lights on the other board. Each button would control the corresponding lights – turning them on or off.

I was trying to imagine how the user would react to this piece. Would they know what to do with the buttons/lights? Or would they need to be told. Then I realised that the user is not going to have a clue what this grid of lights is and will just start playing with it. What if they create any type of image out of the lights, random doodles, shapes, anything? Why would they assume it had anything to do with patterns? And how would I restrict their use of the device and therefore make it related to my actual subject of Islamic patterns?

Well, whilst discussing the practicalities of making the piece with Kenji (full time student) who knows a bit about electronics, I realised there was a way to not only restrict the user from doing something completely of their own accord, but also make them aware of some characteristics that make up an Islamic pattern. I don’t want to give the game away just yet though as I want my fellow students to figure it out for themselves when it comes to the mid-point review. I’m hoping to have this ready by then.

I’m really looking forward to this! Let’s just hope that it actually works when the time comes!

Group Crit

January 16, 2009

We had to participate in a group crit yesterday where each of the 6 full-time students were required to read out a 500 word review of their projects and show some examples of their work so far. They were then told to listen with no participation from themselves (which some found more difficult than others!) while the rest of us discussed their work.

This was funny for obvious reasons but highly interesting and useful for the individual whose work was being discussed.

Being a part-time student I don’t have to do the same for a few more weeks, but even in this session I could gain some ideas and tips on what to be aware of in my own work.

The biggest issue that came to light for me was that people will always perceive your work differently and they may see a similar or completely different communication to someone else through the work. The aim for me in creating my work would be to try and make the message or topic as universally understood as possible. There will still be some who see something else to the rest but if the majority get it somewhat right then you must be on the right track. Right?

Eye of the Tiger

January 11, 2009

I hope my titles are not misleading people to view my posts for the wrong reasons lol – I just like to make them a little interesting.

Ok so Mission started and partly accomplished. I said I wouldn’t post anything until I had created some patterns and well I can’t say I finished a whole pattern but I spent at least a couple hours just doing the base work for one.

I’m quite surprised that it took as long as it did actually – just to create the grid. I took photos using my mobile (my proper camera is somewhere in a box, somewhere in my dishevelled house) so they’re not that great but the aim was to document the process.

The bare necessities

The bare necessities

Ok so I was using large (A3) squared paper so that I would be able to keep my straight lines accurate.
I used 5cm as my radius and started drawing circles from the centre of the page outwards. This method has been demonstrated in Islamic Design: A Genius for Geometry by Daud Sutton, and is supposed to be the traditional approach to creating Islamic geometric patterns. If you’ve read my Project justification then you’ll know why this is important to me. As it isn’t my usual method I thought I’d give it a go and see where it takes me.

Ok so the circles start overlapping as seen below:

circles overlapping but spreading too

circles overlapping but spreading too

I then carried on until I had filled the whole page with the circles:


As you can see this has created a tessellated effect simply with the construction of circles. After this I wasn’t quite sure what I needed to do next. I misplaced my book 😦 and so I played it by ear – well tried to remember what I had read in the book anyway. As I’ve said before I havn’t got access to my stuff.

So then I started connecting the mid points of each circle – creating horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines – a sub grid.

This produced another set of shapes on the sub grid of lines not just the circles. I’m not sure that the vertical lines were correct but it looked ok so I carried on:

Adding lines

Adding lines

I looked closely at the page (which was a bit mesmerising) and picked out shapes that I liked the look of. I usually do this in the creation of my pattern work. Breaking down shapes using lines and particular measurements and then seeing what new shapes are created. In the close up below you can see some of these smaller shapes within shapes which were created simply by the addition of the straight lines. I would now need to consider which shapes I would choose to highlight and use in the pattern and which ones would perhaps form a subtle background to the main pattern.

The shapes!

The shapes

Ok so I think this process was useful. The main thing that I found difficult was the accuracy! Even though I made sure the compass stayed at the same radius throughout, and that the connecting lines and dots and movement from one circle to another was the right place, there were still wider spaces between shapes than there should have been. The most annoying thing I found was the compass kept slipping!!! this was highly irritating and meant I had to rub out bits here and there.

But it’s been a learning process and I need to do this a lot more so I know how to neaten up my grids and start doing different kinds of patterns. I am really looking forward to the next stages of these experiments.

Now I really need to find that book!!


January 4, 2009

I’ve had 3 weeks off from uni and most of my fellow students (from what I hear) have been using this time well – it’s had the opposite affect on me. I said to myself I would do loads of research and practical work in those three weeks. But no, I have done nothing!

I do actually have a good excuse – we’ve had builders in the house for the last two months and yes they are still here and all my stuff is in boxes or bags and nothing is easily accessible except for my laptop and food of course. That excuse aside I could have done loads of online research instead. So I’m not going to let myself off.

I started 3 new posts and they are still in draft mode. One was about Arabic Calligraphy – but a brief explanation of this is not enough and so I started doing deeper research and now I’m not sure where to cut it off.

Another post was supposed to be a general overview of what Islamic Art is – a sort of definition and redefinition. Personally I don’t think Islamic Art is perceived as it should be. This post wasn’t finished due to the fact that I once again couldn’t make it a brief or even remotely healthy sized and decided that before I could start on such a heavy topic I’d have to explain the general perception first and then my own in probably two separate posts.

The third post was just a random rant about how one of my ideas for creating a lampshade (with laser cut patterns) isn’t original at all (visit to B&Q very much confirmed this). I decided not to post this even though it was quite finished – because I later felt it sounded lame. I’m still in two minds about it. Is any idea ever original? (Giant debate opens up with the post flooded with opposing views) – Hence better to leave it be?

I think I need to set short term goals for myself. My next step is to do some more experimental patterns using the traditional compass and straight edge (circles around circles grid) approach. I won’t let myself do another post until that is done and that post has to show what I’ve done so far. If I break this pledge to myself someone better tell me off.