A handbook of materials and art technology used in early Islamic manuscripts, for artists and art lovers alike.
Published in 2020, Inks & Paints is a concise and approachable, but thoroughly practical manual examining the main materials used in manuscripts during the Abbasid period, also known as the Golden Age of the Islamic world. It is based on Arabic inkmaking treatises of the time, most of them never translated nor even knowledgeably transcribed, backed by my own experience as a working artist focused on historical materials.
The book’s 126 pages are abundantly illustrated and tightly packed with practical information on materials ranging from colours to binders and solvents use, preparation and preservation methods, and much more, plus a large number of historical recipes. I personally prepared and tested all but a small handful of the recipes before including them. The format is designed for practicality: A5-sized and wirebound, it can open flat on any page and be propped up so you can follow instructions without hassle.
Whether you have a general interest in art history or want to prepare and use these materials, this book will transport you. It is available to order in the shop.
Like malachite, azurite has been in use since at least the third millenium BC. It reigned supreme as the most beautiful, celestial blue for a long time before lapis lazuli became widespread in Europe in the 14th century. It then remained an indispensable pigment, either in its own right, or to build up layers of blue to be finished with a glaze of lapis, the latter being both transparent and incredibly expensive.
Other names for the pigment: Copper blue, blue malachite, chessylite, mineral blue, mountain blue, blue bice, citramarine, azure of Almayne (“German azure”); Germany: bergblau (“mountain blue”); France: Bleu de la Magne, bleu d’Allemagne, azur d’Allemagne, bleu allemand (all meaning “German blue”), ocre bleue (“blue ochre”), cendre bleue (“blue ashes”); classically: lapis armenia; China: k’sing (“kingfisher blue”).
What it is: A basic copper carbonate, chemical formula Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2. Found in copper deposits.
Granulation: Yes. The pigment can be further mulled for a smoother paint film but the colour will get paler.
Compatible with: Egg tempera, egg glair, gum arabic, casein. Oil is too yellow and will make it greenish. Hygroscopic binders such as rabbit skin glue can be used but will offer no protection against humidity (see notes).
How to use it:
Place the needed amount in a cup and add a few drops of water, just enough to wet the pigment into a stiff paste.
Add equal amount of gum arabic solution, or egg tempera, or glair, or casein, and mix well. (Note that gum arabic can be left to dry and then re-wet later. The other mediums are no longer usable once dry.)
If using it coarse, ensure the binder is strong so that the relatively large particles adhere strongly to the support.
Azurite has the peculiarity of turning back into malachite when exposed to humidity, meaning that in a damp environment, it will turn green over time. This happens because weathering replaces some of its CO2 units with water. This will take some decades in open air, but this is one pigment best not stored wet.
To the trained eye, azurite always tends to green and lapis lazuli has no such shade. In this way they can be told apart in old manuscripts, even when the scribe didn’t differentiate them. This was the norm in pre-modern Arabic, which only had one word for both minerals (Persian لازورد), thus giving the misleading impression that lapis lazuli was always used.
An azurite-painted surface will glitter with the mineral’s natural crystals, as shown in this video:
Several grades of my hand-ground azurite are available in the shop, while stocks last. See the sampler below for exact hues and granulation.
First the rock is ground into fine sand.
It is then transferred to a ceramic mortar for washing.
The first couple of washes yield large amounts of dirt.
The pourings then get increasingly blue.
The finest grade of all emerges at the very end.
I’m very fastidious when washing azurite, which results in a number of different grades. Some of the lower grades (such as Ashes in my sampler) still contain dirt as well as some malachite, making for incredibly interesting, moody, layered pigments in olive greens and desaturated teals.
Malachite is our oldest mineral green pigment, lightfast and reliable, used at least since the third millenium BC. Its name derive from Greek molochitis lithos, “mallow-green stone”. Its coppery nature associates it with the planet Venus.
Other names for the pigment: Mountain green, mineral green.
What it is: A basic copper carbonate hydroxide, chemical formula Cu₂CO₃(OH)₂. Found in copper deposits.
Granulation: Yes. The pigment can be further mulled for a smoother paint film but the colour will get paler.
Place a small amount in a palette well or eggcup and add a few drops of water, just enough to wet the pigment into a stiff paste.
Add equal amount of gum arabic solution, or egg tempera, or glair, or casein, and mix well. (Note that gum arabic can be left to dry and then re-wet later. The other mediums are no longer usable once dry.)
Notes: Malachite is remarkably lightfast, but less stable in the presence of some other pigments, so it is good practice to not admix it. To modify the hue, use thin layers of colour instead.
My hand-ground malachite is available in the shop, while stocks last!
The stone, which can be quite hard, is first broken up in a brass mortar, into sand as fine as possible.
Once it’s fine enough, it’s transferred to a ceramic mortar.
The rest of the process consists in washing the powdered malachite to separate it from any impurities in the stone. I add water and grind the powder about, pouring out the pigment as I go and repeating until it’s all been processed.
The containers are left to dry completely.
Finally the dry pigment is collected and ready for use.
My hand-ground malachite is available in the shop, while stocks last.
August saw the return of a natural source of colour for which I waited an entire year, having narrowly missed them last year: berries! I spent several days over the past few weeks, following my foraging routes in the hopes of finding ripe elderberry (خمان) within my reach. I just managed to scrounge enough together to make a decent amount of ink – until, for a change, I took the bus to the studio last week.
I walked off the bus and right into the arms of an elder bent under the weight of more inky-black umbels I could possibly carry. Well played, cosmos. I got more than enough to make a large supply of ink and still freeze several cups of berries to make a flu-preventing syrup.
Elderberries are toxic when raw (so don’t try to eat them off the tree!) and I notice that their ink is more durable than any edible berry: I suspect there is a correlation that would be best explained by someone knowledgeable in chemistry. The first ink sample I made was very pale as I had a small amount of berries and added too much water. I added iron mordant to make it darker, and at first was underwhelmed by the result (left): it seemed to make no difference at all with the ink remaining a stubborn pale pink. But 10 minutes later, when it was fully dry (right), it was a whole other story!
A more concentrated ink doesn’t even require mordant, and darkens nicely to a purple-black. My samples are up on a sunlit wall and it will take a few months of such exposure before I can be sure that this ink is reasonably lightfast. I do notice that it changes in the inkpot, however, darkening on its own, so that you can never really predict what you’re going to get – and that to me is one of the attractions of working with nature, all is constant change and surprise.
Blackberries (توت برّي) are also in season, so I made blackberry ink as well. I already know their colour fades quickly, so I used iron mordant to make it more lasting. This turned it a nice royal blue colour that threw me back to high school days, when it was regulation to use fountain pens with this exact shade of blue. The photo below is from my art foraging course, where we made and tested blackberry ink in the field (literally). The fresh juice at the top of the paper is quite pink, while the addition of iron mordant resulted in this lovely blue below. As the hue faded over a few days, the grey remained, so that this sample is today a desaturated version of itself – still dark, but without that hint of purple.
I got quite excited about these two inks and have been writing various compositions with them, using various natural tools. In this work in progress, the elderberry ink is pink when still wet:
I then used blackberry ink for the reverse motifs, which looks greyer and plays off the two hues nicely. Here’s a close-up, and the inks will naturally keep changing with time.
And here’s the finished piece, a pattern study.
As I finish this post, I just chanced upon another berry…
Mahonia or Oregon-grape is not native at all but it pops up in ornamental borders and it yields a wonderful red-purple colour that dries purple. The ink is barely dry so I can’t tell you yet what it looks like after some time. But I did spot a few more bushes that are going to get a visit from me while they’re still fruiting 😉
The script we will be learning is Manuscript Kufic, the original Qur’anic script which developed under the Umeyyads and reached its apogee under the Abbasids, but fell into disuse nearly a millenium ago. In particular, we’ll be working with the variant illustrated by the page above, which I consider to be the most accomplished. The style and script grammar will based on this manuscript. The course allows each student their own pace, and covers the following:
Learning and practicing isolated lettershapes;
Learning how letters connect and practicing with words and short texts;
Technical skills: Working with colour, constructing the traditionally proportioned text boxes, drafting a page;
Putting it all together in one finished page, including diacritics and punctuation;
Learning alternative letter forms to create a variant on this style, and if time allows, finishing one more page in this variant.
Zahra Kazani’s testimonial: “Joumana’s course was very enjoyable. She is patient, kind, and accommodating in her teaching style. She is also knowledgeable about the script and its constructions. In addition to demonstrating the letter forms, Joumana also provides handouts that you can take with you to practice after the course. Highly recommend if you’re looking to try it out!”
£200 for a class of 3-4 people over 3 days (including all class materials, and a pair of pens + a jar of historical ink to take home). A private course is possible for £300 over 2 days only.
My studio on Wallis Road, behind Hackney Wick Overground station. (Detailed directions will be emailed upon signing up.) Parking is also available in the area.
WHAT TO BRING
Nothing — all is provided. But you’re welcome to bring your own texts if you wish (short sentences and paragraphs).
I’m ready, sign me up!
Please fill and send me the short form below to register your interest.
Given the interest raised by my art foraging, I am setting up a course! I say “course” but it’s really a day out, finding and trying out natural materials we might use to make marks on paper. For instance, can a carved twig be as good as a reed pen, and if so which wood works best? Can we find durable sources of ink or paint in our local environment? (Spoiler: yes.) What else can we use with a bit of ingenuity and much experimenting?
The day will be only loosely structured, starting around 12 but open-ended. We will forage respectfully and with no expectations, as nature is in constant change and I really can’t predict what we will find. But during breaks I will share some useful theory (for instance the difference between ink, dye and paint), practical advice and easy recipes for you to try at home. I will bring a small mortar as well as knives and whatever else could be useful to test materials in the field (some will have to be taken home for that as we can’t boil things on the spot).
It’s possible a bit of food foraging will slip in there. Nature decides.
The (first?) outing will take place on saturday August 4, in Epping Forest. We will meet at 12 noon just outside Theydon Bois station and go from there. (More details on what to bring etc in the signup email). Be prepared for a day out that will involve a picnic lunch and may include such things as mud, nettles, and having to go behind a tree.
Still excited? Great, so am I! Sign up below (the cost is a modest £15) and/or email me if you have any questions:
To sign up for my next Square Kufic course on 12,14,15 September 2019 please click here.
This is a in-depth look at the design process and reasoning behind a recent project involving Square Kufic, that I hope will be interesting and even helpful to some.
This was a collaboration with Thibaut Degenne, a talented furniture designer and maker based in London, who also learned traditional mosaics in Jordan. Thibaut was bringing the two traditions together into a design concept, starting with a prototype side table. He asked me to have a look at his Square Kufic inscription before he rendered it as a mosaic.
The text is an Arab proverb: ربّ صدفة خير من الف ميعاد (“A chance encounter may benefit more than a thousand trysts.”) This was the original composition:
I should specify that this was composed by his Jordanian partner, a native Arabic speaker but with no background in Kufic. It is a classic example of thinking in round script and imposing a square style over it, rather than thinking in the style of Square Kufic proper. (To be fair, this is what any Arabic speaker not schooled in the script would do.)
As a result, the composition was unsuitable in nearly every respect, as shown below. The crosses show faulty spacing (in this style, spacing and line must be absolutely even), the dashes distortions, and the yellow pattern used as filler must be discounted, so that all of that space above and below is also problematic.
The use of a third colour, in addition to black and white, is not in itself unacceptable, but it would be an additional layer: it cannot be a filler to make up for bad spacing. The black and white must be able to stand alone without it, which is not the case here. Moreover, there is no rationale behind this pattern: in places it is pseudo script, in others it mirrors the text, and in others it’s just filling blank spaces, and even that not systematically.
We agreed I had better redesign the script, taking into account the following restrictions:
The third colour needed to be integrated. In this case, this meant it would have to be a border.
I had to stick as close as possible to the existing measurements of the table. Because the composition corresponds to the elevation, and is a square, any increase or decrease in the length of the line would affect not only the width of the table but also its height, which is a serious alteration.
The size of the mosaic tiles was also set. I had the option of using smaller tiles, but that might be more of a complication than a help.
The depth of the script needed to be as small as possible (including a blank row above and below), because it would determine the thickness of the wood, and the danger here was to make it too bulky and heavy.
With length, depth and unit size relatively set, the grid I had to work with was pretty much defined, with only a little wiggle room. Such restrictions, however, are an intrinsic part of the art of Square Kufic, which was never designed with the freedom of a blank canvas but had to fill a certain area of wall, with tiles or bricks of a certain size. It was therefore an enjoyable challenge to see what could be done in these conditions.
Several possibilities came up, depending on what to prioritize: legibility, narrowness, or good design?
1a. Prioritizing legibility
This is usually completely irrelevant, as SK is not about conveying information, and most of the best historical examples are patently impossible to read, with the text laid out in a spiral so that absurd contortions would be required in order to decipher it. However, people who commission this style today always request a certain degree of legibility, so I try for that as well. This first option, then, was a better rendering of the original design:
Legibility: high, thanks to preserving the pointing and not forcing the letters into a band.
Depth: 9 units (narrower than original)
Design: poor. This is low-grade Kufic, and the border is still a barely disguised filler .
1b. Same, with concessions to design
Legibility: medium, as the letters are still unconstrained, but pointing is eliminated.
Depth: 9 units
Design: slightly better, as the removal of pointing allows ascenders and descenders to create a more pleasing rhythm with the border.
2a. Prioritizing design
Legibility: low, as the letters are constrained to form a perfect band, and pointing is eliminated.
Depth: 11 units (equal to original)
Design: Very good, proper Kufic practice.
2b. Same, with concessions to legibility
Legibility: medium, as pointing is restored to the constrained letters. The dotted border was an idea to integrate the pointing seamlessly.
Design: Good, only a slight compromise to traditional practice.
3. Prioritizing narrowness
Legibility: very poor, as letters are seriously constrained and there’s no pointing.
Depth: 9 units but could be as narrow as 5 if the border was removed.
Design: Correct but not much visual interest; the only real point of this option would be how narrow it is.
We discussed it and the end result was a variation of 2b, with a continuous rather than dotted border. This made it less distracting, and having the occasional dot break the line, in a regular pattern around the frame, adds life to the rigidity of pure Kufic. The dots also make it reasonably legible to most Arabic speakers.
I assembled the text in a composition that preserved the original arrangement (with blank corners) but interlacing the border:
Thibaut modified it to create a continuous band. This required a small modification at the corners, so he came back to me to double-check that detail.
His modification looked great but it amputated the final dâl of the sentence in order to place the dot, which wasn’t acceptable. Happily, it required very little to be corrected: leave the dâl alone and instead move the dot, either to the corner of the inner border or under the bâ, as shown in my redlined sketch below. I recommended the former solution, to preserve our system of keeping all the dots outside the text band.
This finalized the design. A few months later, I had the pleasure to watch Thibaut putting the mosaic in place, and not long after to “meet” the fully finished table! I hope it gets the attention it deserves and that we can work on more such projects in the future.
The small patch of woodland where I usually gather oak galls is known as Hollow Pond, and as the name indicates, there be a pond with a large population of water birds including large geese and swans. In the springtime the banks are strewn with molted feathers, including large remiges, used to make quill pens. I started picking up the biggest and cleanest that I would come upon, without any particular plan, as I didn’t think they could have anything to do with Arabic calligraphy.
But it so happens my friend Allison, a fellow artist, is primarily a Hebrew scribe, and we periodically meet up to exchange on art and nature. I found out that even though Hebrew requires strokes very similar to Kufic (and other Arabic styles), she uses quill pens. While in the Middle-East, the Jewish scribal tradition uses reed pens just like Islamic calligraphy (indeed Islamic scribes adopted the reed from the earlier scribes), the European tradition requires quills for the simple reason that the right reeds don’t grow here. This interesting fact got my attention. Quills can’t achieve the same breadth as reed pens, but they are much sharper, much better for delicate work, and of course they are local and completely eco-friendly.
Long story short, we had a work session where she showed me how to cut quills, after soaking the feathers overnight to soften them.
It took a couple of feathers for me to get the hang of it (happily there’s plenty of room for multiple attempts on any given quill), and mine don’t have the beautiful curves that a practiced hand can cut, but they write just fine!
Here’s my practice sheet (the first Ayin, top left, is Allison’s, the rest are my attempts to emulate it). The ink is actually black but very shiny, so this photo is not showing it well. I am pleased though, and now have a purpose for picking up feathers. It really tickles me to be able to make both ink and writing implement from “waste” picked up in the same place, a short walk from home.
The proper name is “oak galls ” or “gall nuts”, but tree pearls describes very well what they are: a tiny (harmless) wasp lays its eggs inside the bark of oak trees, and the tree in reaction generates a ball of solid, tannin-rich wood around the intruder. These start showing up in summer and for thousands of years have been one of the best-known sources of making ink. This was still the case up to WW2, so it’s remarkable that they’ve been so completely forgotten.
All of the galls above came from a single, unhappy oak no taller than I am (unhappy because it grew beside a busy road and was never going to be healthy, which probably made it more vulnerable. Also, it was too small to put out acorns, and I think that’s a factor because a large oak busy growing acorns has little energy to spare to make gall nuts). I spotted them while they were still green, and returned to harvest them weeks later, when they would have browned and a hole appeared, signaling that the wasp had hatched safely! In case I pick up an unhatched one, I leave the lot in a bowl by the window for a few weeks, so any hatchlings can escape. They are very cute and well-mannered, so their brief presence in my kitchen doesn’t bother me at all.
When I was ready to make some ink, I pounded all my galls roughly, just to break them up a bit, and then placed them in water to soak for at least a week. A faster way of working is to grind them to dust and then boil them, but why consume energy if there’s no rush? This is an exercise in sustainability. After only two hours the water already looked like this:
A week or so of daily stirring later, I strained out the solids and ended up with a pure tannin solution. This has uses of its own, so I set some aside, and prepared to turn the rest into calligraphy ink.
One might ask, since this is about the tannin, can’t the same result be attained with acorns? Apparently, acorns can achieve a good result, but the tannin is more concentrated in the galls. Also and more importantly, acorns are the oak’s progeny as well as food for a multitude of forest creatures. It’s not right to seize that for our own purposes when the galls are sitting there useless to beast or tree once the wasp has hatched. If left alone, they don’t fall off but slowly decompose on the branch. Even a handful of galls will yield enough ink to last any calligrapher until the next season.
The next step in making the ink is adding an iron mordant, which instantly turns the solution a deep black. Then, for it to be a usable ink, I added gum arabic (pounded from the crystals below and dissolved in warm water).
Now I’m experimenting with different amounts of it, and also with adding a little honey to make it even thicker. Too much gum arabic can make the ink flaky when it dries, but this hasn’t happened so far, probably because I’m working on paper, which absorbs the ink. The real test would be vellum, which was the original surface for this ink, and I have a scrap somewhere so now’s a good time to unearth it.
I don’t usually bring up my nature-oriented lifestyle on this website (plastic-free etc) but my hiking and foraging for wild foods are now converging with my art practice: I have started drifting towards foraging for colours. Just as I was formulating this intention for myself, I made a serendipitous first find: chunks of red rock disturbed by a construction site, on the way to my favourite woodland walk.
I brought them home, ground them into sand, and proceeded to wash and extract the pigment… So much pigment I am still working at it, the earth hasn’t released it all!
This lovely earthy orange, below, is the hue I can expect from painting with this pigment (I named it Theydon Red). I can use it with any painting medium I like, which will be natural mediums: watercolour, gouache, egg tempera… Oil too of course, but it’s not one I use.
There is such a strong sense of place in making art with the very soil of a place you love, processed with care, it makes store-bought pigment rather boring and impersonal…
Before and after the process: rocks vs. pure pigment.
Earth colors such as these, which are iron-based, are easy to extract, and they are reliable and permanent. More tricky and much less predictable are plant colours, which I am now busy with. More soon…
Welcoming in the month of May means the return of the wedding season, as a few recent requests brought to my attention! For those of you looking for a special gift with a personal touch, I have two offers for smaller budgets:
For £250: An original painting of the names of the newlyweds, in watercolour with gold leaf, in a circular arrangement or square kufic composition (see example of each below; the design will naturally look different every time). Send me the names, colour options and your preference (round or square), and I’ll do the rest.
Size: 30 to 40 cm square.
Ready in: 2 weeks.
For £150: A signed art print (archival giclée) of an existing piece, with gold added by hand to capture some of the jewel quality of the original. Far more precious than a simple reproduction!
Size: 40 cm square or smaller.
Ready in: 1-2 weeks.
(Please note that not all my works lend themselves to this, so give me a few options and I’ll advise.)
These offers and prices will run till the end of August. Both options can be shipped. Please drop me a line with your request 🙂
March 22, 29, April 5, 12, 19, 26 (Wednesdays 18:00 – 20:00)
Final Project Sunday 30 April, 14:00 – 18:00
6 Weeks + 4 hours final project = 16 Hours
Course Fee: £210
In this non-traditional calligraphy course, we will not use reed pens and repetitive copying. Instead, we will return to the original source of Arabic calligraphy, the Kufi family of styles, and study it with a modern design approach. Kufi was the first Arabic script to be consciously made beautiful, an unlike the later round scripts with their strict rules, it can be constantly reinvented and is not tied to any given tool or medium. Students, then, can benefit from the same creative freedom that the earliest calligraphers enjoyed, and find their own approach to the art of Arabic calligraphy.
We will learn the essence of the letters and how it expresses itself in different styles; spacing, proportions and the uniquely Arabic concept of kashida; compositional approaches including the highly specialized Square Kufic. Each of these design notions will be accompanied by a practical exercise to anchor the theory and allow students to learn from each other. The course will culminate in a final project where the student chooses a word or phrase and creates their own composition for it. Examples of final projects are shown above.
This is a one-day taster workshop where we will return to the very earliest, and long abandoned, style of manuscript Kufi. I will talk in some depth about the origins of the script, its particular qualities and its spiritual purpose. We will then learn to write key letters with the reed pen, also going over their deeper meaning. The session is meant to be immersive and meditative rather than results-oriented, with participants encouraged to work at their own pace. From there a full course may take shape for anyone who wishes to complete a technical training in this style.
You are invited to join us at an interesting time of the year. The Winter Solstice marks the darkest point of the year, but it is also the moment when Day is reborn and Night begins to recede again. For this exhibition timed to end on the Solstice itself, three artists have come together to explore the relationship of Light and Darkness in their respective practices.
Dates: The show will run from 8 to 21 December, open daily from 12 to 7 pm. Private View: Tuesday 8th December, 6 – 9pm Solstice Event: Monday 21st December, 6 – 9pm Location: The Crypt Gallery, St Pancras Parish Church, Euston Road, London NW1 2BA (across Euston Station, entrance on Duke’s Road) Entrance is free to all, no booking required! About the artists:
Joumana Medlej left her native Beirut in 2013 to settle in London. She works with the nearly forgotten Kufic script, acquired through many years of working with a master. Leaving old forms behind, she pushes the geometry of the script and makes novel use of materials to reinvent Arabic calligraphy in every piece. Joumana’s work is in private and public collections in the UK and Middle-East. www.majnouna.com
Alan Craxford has lived in London since 1967. He is best known for his signature hand-engraved jewelry which is widely exhibited in the UK and internationally. Four years ago, during the long recovery following an operation, he began to experiment with scalpel and paper. This enabled a whole new direction where light and shadow, colour and pattern can be worked together in a unique way, both meaningful and beautiful.
Lynette Howells-Moore is originally from Melbourne, Australia, and now lives near Chester. Her training in Fine Art Painting is wide ranging, and her paintings encompass a wide variety of mediums: the ancient technique of egg tempera painting and gilding, oil painting as practiced by the Renaissance Masters, and the more modern mediums of watercolour, pastel and pencil. She has works in private collections worldwide.
I have had a very exciting month. Life has given me a large and luminous new space to work in, the largest I’ve ever had at my disposal, and as a result my work has exploded. I have 3-4 large pieces in the making at any given time, and small studies all over the place. Up on the wall, above, are planning sketches for pieces in progress… Lots in the works!
I also look forward to hosting some courses and open studio events here. There is no internet access, which is a highly recommended state of affairs. On the other hand, Borough Market is nearby (heaven on earth for a foodie), which is a whole other level of distraction.
To go with this new era, I made some changes to my website. I had been puzzling over what to do for some time, wanting to give the calligraphy its own space without removing everything else, and also wanting to make the contents directly accessible, as opposed to having to click through a splash page first. In the end, I resuscitated Cedarseed.com to host all my more personal or past endeavours, while Majnouna.com is now solely devoted to khatt. A simple click from the main menu flips you from one to the other, so they are still connected, literally two sides of one coin, but it makes it much easier to direct press and clients to the calligraphy.
We are 4 women creatives, 4 winds blowing between the Levant and London, 4 directions of Arabic calligraphy which we invite you to discover in:
The Secret Garden of Alif
An open house and open heart event offering affordable art*, mutual encounters, scarves, live creation, pillows, homemade Mideastern treats – all amidst the whispers of Alif.
*For this event only, we are all discounting our work.
Sunday 27 July, 11:00-19:00
Joumana Medlej was trained in graphic design but always craved more meaningful expressions of creativity. She learned the essence of Kufi, the first Arabic script to be consciously made beautiful, through years of close collaboration with master calligrapher Samir Sayegh. He impressed upon her how to breathe new life into a traditional art, not merely copying or reviving its old forms but finding a contemporary language for it. Joumana is specially interested in the unique relationship between Kufi and geometry, both sacred arts. Her work seeks to uncover hidden order, how the words choose to reveal themselves, and evoke the magic that comes through when form and meaning are one.
Greta Khoury developed a fascination for Islamic calligraphy and the poetry of forms while designing graphic identities and typefaces.
She embarked on a journey to discover the history of the art and explore ways to bring its spirit into contemporary design practice. She encountered along the way many inspiring masters who each in their own way have taught her that forms are carriers of very ancient messages where sounds become words, words become forms and forms become constant reminders of the wonders of life.
Dia Batal‘s art/design work is a result of her interest in creating pieces that respond to her identity in content and aesthetics. It is the outcome of an admiration of Arabic calligraphy, language and the traditional art of working with text. She borrows from that, and finds ways of creating limited edition pieces in a contemporary language. The work she does is often context specific and enables audience and user to physically engage with it. Dia uses a free style Arabic ‘type’ that she’s developed to create an object, and tell its story, while looking at the possible transformations of the text, in relation to its meaning, the space it occupies, and function of that object itself. …
Noor Saab was fascinated by abstract orderly geometric patterns from a young age, and found herself naturally drawn into the world of Kufic script and arabesque patterns. Growing up in Beirut and then moving to London, her work is an expression of a strong oriental identity engaging with a plethora of western influences, constantly embracing the coexistence of opposites… the old and the new, the conservative and the rebel, the traditional and the modern. Come discover her debut collection of scarves – Salam, in a bold and vibrant tribute to peace.
Please pass the word on. We look forward to welcoming you!
I have had the most transformative week, a true revelation, learning to make colors from natural raw materials under the guidance of David Cranswick. Here’s a flying tour of the genesis of true artist pigments.
The alchemist’s lab
This cozy space was home for 5 full days to 1 teacher, 4 students, 1 gecko and a bunch of large snakes (really).
The three copper stones we’re starting with: malachite, chrysocolla
and azurite, alongside lapis lazuli (lower right).
Grinding the stone to a powder.
Wash and repeat.
Much later, the dried powder is ground with a medium to make watercolor, egg tempera or oil paint.
Homemade malachite watercolor
The product of sulphur meeting mercury, exploding with such strength it generates these rocks. What’s not to love?
Grinding this is going to be a little more difficult…
Adding lye to extract the color…
Time to strain the dye.
This is ready to dye cloth with. But to use it in paint we have to turn this into a solid…
Here comes the alum!
12 hours later… Time to strain again, butthis time we want to keep the solid.
So we proceed as if making strained cheese..
Many more hours later, this is what it will look like.
Much grinding later, we finally have paint.
The legendary red of carpets, now ready to be painted with.
This one will surprise you.
Now clearly violet…
Almost black tomorrow (left).
A whole other process, this is an ink and always in solution.
Testing with different proportions of gum arabic. This ink is nearly clear when brushed, then darkens dramatically on the paper.
The resin is ready, and so is… the sugar.
Add hot water to make the oldest binding agent in the world.
Ochre yellow, an earth color.
Add gum arabic…
… and start grinding.
Repeating with burnt sienna…
Passing the yolk from hand to hand till it’s ready.
The delicate part…
Testing with egg tempera.
Grinding yellow ochre again, this time with linseed oil, produces this beautiful consistency, like soft butter.
Now to tube it.
Lead white is quite a bit tougher to grind…
This spectacular color, minium, is obtained by heating lead white. That’s all. Just magical.
Final result of 5 days of intense work: This beautiful natural palette and so much inspiration.
I’ve been talking about it for ages, and it’s finally happening. Please share this link far and wide, the exhibit is up for a month and a half in a really lovely venue (with a bar!) and that’s plenty of time to catch it. I’d also like to add that during the month of July, we’re coinciding with a spectacular exhibit by my calligraphy mentor Samir Sayegh, just next door in the Beiteddine palace. Arabic calligraphy is the theme for this summer, don’t miss it!
Yesterday my fellow calligraphy artists, Ziad Talhouk, Everitte Barbee, and myself drove up to Beiteddine to take a look at the venue where we are holding our exhibit this summer. The invitation and all details will be posted as soon as I have them, but I can already say the opening will be on the 14th of July, so book yourselves! The exhibit will go on till the end of August, plenty of time to enjoy it and this truly unique location: the Beiteddine branch of the Art Lounge is a late 19th-century silk plant.You can see it from a mile away while approaching form the other side of the valley, and recognize it at once from the chimney and tall windows that characterize structures dedicated to raising silkworms and harvesting the silk.
I could give you an entire course on silk production right here, given we made a book on the subject, but I won’t digress – let me just say that one floor would be filled with white mulberry branches being devoured by silkworms, the chimney is for the furnace used to boil the cocoons, and the other floor would be busy with women unraveling the silk threads.
The inside, cleaned and whitewashed afresh by the Art Lounge. A bit messy for the moment, but soon to be rearranged for a purely calligraphic exhibit.
A bar puts the “lounge” in Art Lounge, and makes exhibits an opportunity to hang around and chill, not just look and leave. Plus the inside is cool no matter the temperature outside!
We won’t be using the second floor, but I had to take photos – look at that roof!
Not only is the space gorgeous, we’re incredibly happy that this beautiful remnant of Lebanon’s once famous silk production has been saved and revived by art. Many like it still dot the landscape, but they weren’t so lucky, most are dilapidated or doomed to be demolished.