How difficult is the ancient craft of Arabic calligraphy?

Abu Dhabi World online editor Colin Armstrong tries his hand at a local pastime in this immersive art class

What is it?

Arabic calligraphy has been practiced in the Gulf region as far back as the eighth century, where oral traditions were first recorded in writing.

In the modern day things have advanced but the essence of the skill, to create written works with style and an attractive appearance, has carried on.

These days, the craft involves using a wooden stylus made from bamboo that can be cut so that the tip used to write can produce a variety of different styles of writing, with more precise thin tips and broader tips on offer for different works.

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Dipping the stylus into a pot of thread, soaked in locally-made ink and ground nuts, allows the calligrapher to create marks on paper to create incredible works of art when executed with precision.

There are a number of different styles of calligraphy. At the classes at Abu Dhabi Art Hub, they teach the basics including learning to write the Arabic alphabet and quotes before being taught more advanced styles.

How does it work?

Ok, confession time, I can’t write any Arabic at all, none, not a single letter, but I’m not going to let that stop me having a go.

Our instructor and master calligrapher Moayad Al Fukaha spends time with each of my classmates who were at different levels of skill.

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Some, who are just beginning, spend the hour writing the first few letters of the Arabic alphabet over and over again, line after line, until they can execute the characters  with precision.

More advanced calligraphers are already writing words and sentences, designs and patterns with ease, but it’s not quite as easy as they make it look.

When Moayad gets around to speaking with me he shows me how to hold the stylus, and the method required to create shapes and lines. He also shows me a few simple Arabic characters which he tells me to write and repeat.

After doodling some Arabic characters for 20 minutes I revert to type, getting flashbacks to my days in primary school, learning to write my own name in English – causing a few giggles from my classmates.

Stepping it up a gear, I decide to start writing in a language I know – Teeline shorthand, a sort of journalistic code that allows us to take notes quickly. It seems all those university lessons are paying off.

The more you practice the easier it becomes to write neatly but it’s clear even at this early stage, to reach a respectable level in calligraphy takes hours of dedication.

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While I’m content to give myself a pat on the back for my efforts, calligraphy is certainly an art form that requires dedication and my appreciation of the skill has increased immeasurably during my short time taking part.

That being said, it’s a lot of fun and I would happily undertake another lesson sometime in the future, but perhaps only once I’ve learned some basic Arabic so that I can fit in a little better with my classmates.

How can I get involved?

Single classes cost AED 150, a full course of eight classes costs AED 1,050. All materials are included. Classes are held every Saturday, Monday and Wednesday from 7pm-8pm. Contact: 055 550 9640, 02 551 5005, adah.ae

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