Old Kufi calligraphy with Karim Jabbari

Published Categorized as Calligraphy, Workshops

I love being able to dabble with different techniques and styles. Venturing out of my comfort zone usually leaves me feeling inspired and reinvigorated to improve my usual work with new energy and ideas. Having zero familiarity with Arabic calligraphy, I was really excited to attend Karim Jabbari‘s workshop at the Goods Shed in Claremont the other week.

The Goods Shed
The Goods Shed

Coming from Tunisia, Karim’s work includes old Arabic scripts from the region with a modern twist, in calligraffiti, light painting and studio work. In the workshop we learned the basics of Old Kufi, one of the oldest Arabic alphabets dating back to the 7th Century. The style is no longer taught, which is one of the reasons Karim is teaching it in modern contexts to keep this piece of history alive.

Sample of old Kufic
Sample of old Kufic

Since I’m mainly used to pointed pen and brush, using a broad nib marker and reed pen was a challenge! Same for writing right to left (the way that Arabic languages are written and read), although as we learned early on that there isn’t a particular stroke order or set of rules for Kufic. It was interesting to see that many characters required creating an outline and then colouring in or tidying up with the pen after, which doesn’t seem like the most efficient way of writing but does give a beautiful result. Many characters are often exaggerated or stylised with lengthy lines and luxurious spaces.

We then used the letters to create some (very basic) words, and then words and letters to create abstract, pattern-like artwork. The long lines and intricate details make for an interesting tessellating effect when the letters are rotated and densely packed into the page.

Old Kufi artwork
My Old Kufi artwork!

I’ve always found creating abstract patterns relaxing and engrossing (I was always doodling mandalas during classes), and being a language I’m not at all familiar with it didn’t feel odd writing letters without much thought for their exact meaning.

Karim was generous enough to let me keep the reed pen I was working with, so I had a go at a circular design using the same techniques. The tool just wasn’t playing nice with my ink, so I ended up switching to a more familiar (and smaller) broad tipped brush for a tighter composition.


I had so much fun at this workshop and left with so many thoughts and ideas! If you’ve hit a wall with your own practice, I definitely recommend stepping out of that comfort zone and challenging yourself with a completely new approach to get your groove back.

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