Arabic Calligraphy With Hatem Arafa

Arabic Calligraphy With Hatem Arafa

Our calligraphy journey brings us to Turkey, where the young Egyptian artist, Hatem Arafa lives and works, conveying a very interesting artistic view and experience of Arabic Calligraphy.

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Our calligraphy journey brings us to Turkey, where the young Egyptian artist, Hatem Arafa lives and works, conveying a very interesting artistic view and experience of Arabic Calligraphy.

In his project “Drawing with Words”, launched last year, he mixes Arabic calligraphy with drawings and modern graphic designs with the aim of attracting the youngest audience and make them discover the beauty and the deep meaning of this ancient art form.

 Manuscript by Hatem HarafaHatem, how did your calligraphy journey begin?

 I have been passionate about calligraphy since my childhood, watching my father while practising, or seeing calligraphy plates in magazines and newspapers. After that I started to notice this art everywhere, on   road billboards, book covers, and the intros to tv shows and programs. The big step was starting my job as a graphic designer, I needed to add written words to my designs, which required me to know more about   calligraphy in a professional way. I started learning it on my own reading many books and watching a lot of videos and tutorials. Later I felt the need to deepen my knowledge of calligraphy, therefore I joined some   training workshops and I attended some lessons in some of the Arabic calligraphy schools in Cairo and Alexandria. In Turkey I have been studying in the Research Center for Islamic History, Art and Culture   (IRCICA). Right in the mixture of Arabic calligraphy and modern designs I found the distinctive factor which makes my art unique.

What is your speciality?

I’m a graphic Designer and Calligrapher. In Arabic Calligraphy I specialise in Diwani and Diwani Jali fonts, which is a calligraphic variety of Arabic script, a cursive style developed during the reign of the early  Ottoman Turks.

Tell us something about you art

The main theme of my art is building shapes and drawings using Arabic calligraphy which in fact is an old theme, but blending this with graphics and other unexpected shapes and characters is what really characterises my art. I drew inspiration from many artists and painters who also use letters, drawings and other details into their works. The messages behind words can be supported and conveyed in an innovative way through drawings.

What is calligraphy for you?

It’s a way to express deep ideas using  beautiful shapes, which lead the audience to think about the meaning and enjoy the shapes at the same time. Also it’s a method for everyone to deliver their own thoughts.

Why is Arabic Calligraphy so interesting to you?

Arabic calligraphy expands the possibilities of calligraphy with its complicated and different shapes. Every Arabic font has endless possibilities, connected or separated letters, an the beginning/middle/end of the words. To me, learning Arabic calligraphy is a kind of addiction and practising letters and shapes just gives me immense pleasure. I always try to go behind the shape and font in order to discover the history behind it, the differences of the eras and the places in which it was used. Islamic Art has different details in Turkey, Egypt and Iraq. You will also find differences in the Arab Maghreb countries. I found out that studying Arabic calligraphy is like opening the door to a bigger world. It’s something that makes me feel alive and never bored. I get bored very easily and I need richness in details when I approach new things. I learnt graphic design and paid special attention to photography, drawing and writing, as well as designing book covers. However, I’ve never found that kind of depth that Arabic calligraphy gave me in any other art! It includes so many different fonts such as the Kufi, Thuluth, Naskh, Req’a, Diwany and Farsi and under each type you’ll find other different sub-types which constitute a long list that will keep you busy for ages…

Arabic calligraphy Hatem Arafa with Manuscript pens (2)

What messages do you want to convey with the project “Drawing with Words”?

A lot of messages with the aim of reviving Arabic calligraphy in an innovative way. The idea of building shapes and drawings using Arabic calligraphy is in fact very old, but blending this with graphics and other unexpected shapes and characters is what really characterizes my art. I drew inspiration from many foreign artists and painters who also use letters, drawings and other details into their works. The messages behind words can be supported and conveyed in an innovative way through drawings. For example the lyrics of a famous song by Mohammed Mounir, “Yehemeny El Ensan w law Maloosh 3enwan” which means (I care about the human even if he has no address), can build up faces of Egyptian people from different backgrounds and social classes. Or the romantic poems of Nizar Qabany can become a butterfly, dancing freely with its wings.

What is the deep meaning of your art?

My art aims to fight the loss of Arabic identity and confusion using Arabic calligraphy that was always one of the most remarkable and effective art forms. I try to convey the message to people that we, as Arabs, have what can make us feel proud and we can revive our glory when we believe in the civilization and history our predecessors achieved and try to protect it. Mixing Arabic calligraphy with the simple modern drawings attracts huge numbers of young people and it sometimes leads them to read some verses of a poem which eventually allows them to know more about their mother language with its verbal and formal beauty. Arabic calligraphy is visually beautiful but it can also contain a profound meaning, whether words are taken from a song, poem, proverb or Qur’an verses.

Tell us a bit about the artistic process, how is it triggered?

To begin with I am attracted by the meaning of words, poems or songs and I feel that I want to present them in a way that can portray the feelings and emotions they convey to me. Then I start thinking about the overall shape of the drawing. It’s like writing the lyrics of a song: you start from the words and then you think about the melody, in my case about the shape of the words. Sometimes the opposite happens. I draw the format of the words first with a pencil and keep repeating them many times until I get the perfect shape. Sometimes, I retouch my drawings using Photoshop or Illustrator.

I like reading and listening to different songs and genres of music as a source of inspiration.

What have you recently worked on? 

Designing book covers is a part of my work as a graphic designer, as I try to be more comprehensive and create valuable artistic achievements in different fields. Actually, the book field is the closest one to my heart, because I love reading and writing. Until now, I have designed about 200 book covers, but I pay greater attention to the Arabic calligraphy drawings nowadays, I’m planning to create a book about Arabic Calligraphy soon to create a mix between both of them. I’m working on many projects, one of them is a book about Arabic songs, to teach foreigners who want to learn Arabic language and I’m responsible for designing the inner illustrations for singers using some verses of their songs as my favourite theme, and also the cover for it. 

Arabic calligraphy Hatem Arafa with Manuscript pens

Your favourite tool?

It depends on what I’m working on, I like the classic pens made of bamboo for writing big pieces and I like metal pens for practising and letters, also  normal markers for teaching my students, or for speed design, and I like to examine new tools all the time.

What is your artwork you’re most proud of?

I’m always thinking about the artwork I haven’t finished yet. Once I finish something I forget it and focus on the next one, but the thing I am most proud of is the number of students I teach in my workshops around the world.

Future projects?

I’m planning to hold more calligraphy workshops in other countries, especially where they don’t speak Arabic, so that I can attract them to this magical world. That’s why I hope to make a tour around Europe soon!

What piece of advice would you give to people willing to learn Arabic calligraphy?

You need to have a lot of patience in this field because it takes a long time to get on the right track and make good shapes, and to keep practising all the time without any special aim, because it is always ongoing.

Arabic Calligraphy Hatem Arafa (2)

A final message to the readers of this post?

God made everything around us in this world out of beauty and he also described himself as such. Man deserves to see beauty everywhere that can nourish his soul and mind and that’s why I see Arabic lettering as so important, as it combines the beauty of the outer shape, inner content and deeper meaning. Spreading such art and expressing it in the small details of our daily lives such as the names of the stores or streets, the drawings and writing on clothes, the artistic work hanging on the walls of houses and shops and even the names of newspapers and magazines. This will make everything our eyes see more beautiful, enjoyable and stimulating for the mind and soul.


Check the gallery below to see some of his inspiring work. To see all our Fountain Pen sets suitable for Arabic calligraphy click here.

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Sources: Hatem Arafa and Daily News Egypt 



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