Tools for Arabic CalligraphyArabic calligraphy requires basic tools such as paper, ink, and a pen.PAPER:Calligraphy paper needs to have a smooth glossy surface in order for the pen to glide. Forpractice purposes, use old News magazines with glossy pages. You can use the columnsof the magazine as guidelines, or you can sketch pencil lines to guide your work. Whenyou begin to acquire some skills, you can move to glossy or glazed calligraphy paperavailable in any art store. Glossy paper for laser and inkjet copiers and printers work verywell. Test the paper before you buy it. If the paper is high-gloss, the pen will be skipping.CALLIGRAPHY PENS:There are a number of calligraphy pens and writing tools that you can use. Calligraphysets, felt tip pens, markers, fountain pens, and calligraphy dip pens come normally with aflat tip (not with an oblique angle). This will not work very well with Arabic calligraphy.The tip needs to be cut or shaped at an oblique angle of about 35-40 degrees. With anytools, you want to be able to do the following shapes to make sure that the pen can workwell for Arabic calligraphy:Following is a brief description of the most common tools that calligraphers use:1- Pencils:The most economic and accessible tools are ordinary pencils. You can use a single pencilwith a tip shaped correctly, or use a combination of two pencils at a certain arrangement,or you can get a carpenter pencil.- Single Pencil:For practice purposes, an ordinary 2H pencil can be used as long as its tip is cut (shaped)at an oblique angle of about 35-40 degrees. You need to cut the tip using a utility knifeinstead of a sharpener. Follow the same instructions as those for carpenter pencils below.- Two Pencil Combination:Put together two ordinary graphite (2H) pencils using elastic bands or masking tape. ForArabic calligraphy, the points of the pencils need to be arranged at about 35-40 degrees,or the right point is about ¼ in. higher that the left point. When using the two pencil
combination, you may need to close the opening using one of the points. This tool issimple and it is useful in the learning stage specially for writing large letters.- Carpenter Pencil: Carpenter’s pencils are available from construction supplies stores such as Home Depot.These pencils have broad and rectangular center. Harder pencils (H) are better than softones. To prepare the pencil, use a utility knife to sharpen the tip rather than using asharpener. The tip needs to be shaped (cut) at an oblique angle of about 35-40 degrees tobe suitable for Arabic calligraphy.2 - Felt Tip Pens:These pens are available from stationary or art supplies stores. You need to select a chiseltip pen such as the one manufactured by ZIG. In the Arab World, you will find pensspecially made for Arabic calligraphy by PILOT and ZIG. These pens come in 3different nib widths: 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 mils.
3- Permanent Markers:Chisel Tip markers such as SharpieCOPIC Wide Extra Broad 100 (Black)4 - Calligraphy Sets and Fountain Pens:Calligraphy Pens such as ozmiled, Shaeffer, and Rotring calligraphy sets and pens can beused for Arabic calligraphy. The nibs of these pens need to be shaped at an oblique angleof about 35-40 degrees using sandpaper. Rotring pens come in 1.5, 1.9, 2.7 mil. Seeinstructions for preparing nib pens below.
5 - Bamboo/ Reed Pens:Preparing a Bamboo Calligraphy Pen:The following guidelines were taken from Iqra’ Arabic Calligraphy SetIQRA’ Book Center - 2701 W. Devon Ave. - Chicago, Il. 60659 - www.iqra.orgFrom a traditional perspective, the reed pen carved from a dry bamboo stalk is certainly theessential beginner’s tool. The harder or more mature the bamboo, the less trouble it will give youonce carved. Soft bamboo tends to absorb the water in the ink and the nib swells out of shape.Carving the pen is an art best learned in the traditional way at the hands of a master calligrapher.Most of us ruin many pens before perfecting the art, but one can always cut away the old nib andbegin further down the stalk. For the enterprising among you who have no access to a teacher, thefollowing is a brief guide to carving your pen:1. Drop the bamboo pen on a table or flat surface, allowing it to roll till it stops. The side which isnow facing the ceiling is the side you will carve.2. In the side of the pen which fell face up, carve a hollow that is the length of the first digit ofyour thumb. As you carve, shave away some of the thickness at the tip of the nib, but make surethat you do not shave away so much that the nib becomes weak or paper-thin.3. Gently and evenly peel the two sides of the hollow from the opening to the tip of the nib sothey are smooth and the tip is the approximate width you desire.4. Make a vertical slit in the nib. Locate the slit slightly right of center, that is, closer to what willbe the point of the pen. This way the right-half-nib (the nib containing the point) is thinner thanthe left-half-nib. This allows a free flow of ink when you use only the point of the to writedelicate strokes such as the point of the jiim, the tail of the waaw, or the vowel markings fatHa,Damma, and kasra.5. Make a small round hole at the base of the vertical slit. The hole stores ink, allowing it to flowevenly through the slit of the tip as you write.6. Cut the tip of the nib at the desired angle (usually 35-40 degrees) as follows: - Place the hollowed nib of the pen upon the edge of a flat table or wooden box. The back or uncarved side should be facing the ceiling.
- Position the knife on top of the nib at an angle such that the right side of the nib will be pointed. - Press down the knife, while holding the pen steady.7. Peel a shallow .5 cm long indentation into the smooth back of the nib all the way to the tip.8. With gentle vertical and horizontal strokes, sand the back and front of the nib, on finesandpaper, so the tip is smooth. Now write the letters alif, baa, waaw, nuun, and a big yaa onsandpaper as if it were paper. Don’t write roughly or press down to hard! If you sense roughnessor resistance when writing any of the letters, write them two or three times on the sandpaper untilthey can be written smoothly. When sanding a pen always hold it at the angle at which you wouldwrite the same letter.9. Dip your pen in ink until the vertical slit and hole are covered, but no further. Wipe the nib onthe cloth blotter and write. If any of the letters can’t be written smoothly, gently write them twoor three times on the sandpaper and text again. Repeat this process until satisfied.The following guidelines were taken from “Calligraphy & Illumination” by Patricia Lovett.Bamboo and reed pensIn historical times all scribes had to cut their own pens, or had an apprentice cut them. Theadvantage was that the exact shape of nib and feel of the pen could be devised, rather than havingto put up with a manufactured standard. Nowadays cutting your own pen may seem like too muchtrouble to some, yet bamboo or reed pens and quills are the best pens of all to use. Quills are light— feather weight— and flexible enough for all sorts of letter-forms. A well-cut bamboo pen has aspring to it which even a finely sharpened nib cannot achieve.Cutting these pens often has an air of hidden mystique about it which is a pity as they are such adelight to use. If you find metal nibs a problem, then make your own pens.Cutting bamboo and reed pensBamboo is probably easier to get hold of than reed, although any hollow or tubular stem which isreasonably firm but flexible can be used. Bamboo canes from a garden or a garden centre areequally suitable. Some stems are too thin, but any stem which is more than about a centimeter (04in) in diameter could be used when dried.You need a short length for one pen, about 20 cm (8 in) long. Pick up the reed and bamboo andchoose the canes which are the heaviest. These have more moisture and so are easier to cut. Cutor saw the bamboo into 20 cm (8 in) lengths so that the intended writing end is away from thenotch in the stem.Using a heavy-duty craft knife, as bamboo is quite tough to cut, make a long scoop cut to abouthalf way through the stem along one side of the cane at the end. This is the under side of your nib.With the point of the knife scrape out the pith.Now shape the sides of the nib. Make a cut from the side towards the centre, shallow andupwards. Place the knife where you started that cut and rotate the cane slightly clock wise so thatit is on the other side of the first cut. Repeat that shallow and upwards cut so that the shape issymmetrical. You can now see the nib shape forming as you cut.Place the cane on a cutting mat or similar surface so that the underneath of the nib is showing.The nib must have a central slit so that the ink can flow through the pen on to the paper. Position
the knife so that it can make this central slit and press down firmly. The slit needs to be about l—15 cm (05—07 in).Now finish the writing end of the pen. Do this by cutting a bevel at the end of the nib you havejust cut. Hold the pen firmly and with the knife at an angle of about 30°, and pull the bamboo penback towards you; this will make a bevel cut. The tip may be a little ragged and uneven at thispoint. To give a good, sharp writing edge, cut straight down, trimming off about 1 mm (005 in),or at the most 2 mm (01 in). You do not want to lose the spring of the nib by making it too thickat this point. This is the last ‘nib’ cut.Bamboo and reed pens may take a little while to write because they soak up so much ink or paintinitially. Use a watery medium to start and make a few letters before you write a best piece. Eachtime you use the pen it may take more ink than you think to start writing.Summary of instructions:Saw the bamboo into pen lengths of about 20 cm (8 in). Select the end away from thenotch. 1. With a sturdy and sharp craft knife make a long scoop cut which starts about 3 cm (1.2 in) from the end and goes about halfway through the bamboo cane. Scoop out the inner pith. 2. On the right side of this scoop make another cut about l cm (0.5 in) from the tip. Rest the knife at the point where this cut started, rotate the pen clockwise and make a similar cut on the left hand side. This shapes the shoulders of the nib. 3. With the top of the pen on a cutting mat, place the blade of the knife in the center of the pen tip and press down to make a slit about 1—1.5 cm (0.5 in) long. 4. Trim the end so it is cut at a left-oblique angle of about 35-40 degrees. The left point is higher than the right one (when you turn the pen over and start writing, the right point will be higher). 5. Turn the pen over and hold it at an angle of about 30°, place the knife blade on top and pull the pen upwards so making a bevel cut 6. The last “nib” cut is made by rocking the knife to take the very tip from the nib.
6- Nib Pens: Left: Standard Nibs with flat heads. Right: After shaping the nib to 35-40 degreesContemporary Arabic calligraphers most commonly use nib pens for their work. Thesepens consist of a steel nib inserted in a wood holder. Like the bamboo pens, they must bedipped in an inkpot. The nibs are available in many sizes, and you can get a much finerline than with a bamboo pen. When you buy a nib, the tip is completely flat. You mustprepare it for writing by sanding a comfortable angle onto it. Once a nib has beenprepared it can last for months if cleaned after every use and kept free of dried ink whichstretches the nib-halves out of shape.Following are instructions for preparing the nib:1. Insert the nib in its holder and hold the pen as if you were going to write, but press onefinger or your thumb against the nib between the hole and tip, so that the two teeth do notseparate and are sanded unevenly, the pen will not write properly.2. Holding the pen at the angle at which you could write and protecting the teeth with onefinger, sand the pen from right to left and left to right several times. Since the nib is flatand you wish to put an angle on it, you will initially be sanding only the left or bottomhalf of the nib. As you continue, the nib will acquire an angle and both top (right) andbottom (left) teeth will be sanded. Examine the sandpaper as you proceed. You will knowyou are done when the sound of sanding changes and the horizontal mark from sanding is
the width of the full nib. If you look at the nib now, it should be angled instead ofstraight. When held in writing position, the right tooth should contain the point of thepen.3. Examine the pen with its back facing you and the hollowed concave side facing away.There is a slit down the nib which separates the two teeth. The slit should be slightly offcenter to the right, so the right tooth (with the point) is thinner than the left tooth. If theslit is directly down the center of the nib you must turn the nib on its right side and sandthe right tooth several times from right to left and left to right on the edge of your sandingblock. Sand until the right tooth (with the point) is slightly thinner than the left tooth.This allows ink to flow freely to the point of the pen when it is used alone for delicatestrokes that do not require the entire nib width.4. Gently write alif, baa, waaw, nuun, and a big yaa two or three times on the sandpaper.If you sense any resistance write them again until they can be written smoothly.5. Test the pen with ink on paper. If any letters cannot be written smoothly write theagain on sandpaper. Repeat this process until you are satisfied.