“Learn it properly, you will need it in your life later.”

I’m pretty sure all of us have heard our Mathematics teacher monologuing this[AK1]  in class. We all rolled our eyes before pulling out our sheets and equipment, because who uses arithmetic or geometry in their daily life? Who is going to be asked to measure the area of a triangle in a job interview unless you are planning to be a Mathematics teacher?

Little did I know that geometry and measuring the area of a triangle, square and circle would be necessary to learn Islamic art, especially for biomorphic and geometric patterns. Hah!

Apart from the obvious of Islamic art being the roadway to connect to the Divine, the fascinating order of creating Islamic art is one of its most intriguing parts – one that can stump those interested in it and can also scare most too! On the one hand, you have the charm of its constructed symmetry and the experience created from it, in order, step by step. While on the other hand, there is the challenge of replicating the design by precisely following the same order and steps, knowing that making even the smallest of mistakes or missteps can ruin the entire design.

Islamic art seems to demand perfection and that can be daunting to a novice.

To be honest, it can sound tiring and troublesome.

Why would you invite a difficult guest into your home knowing they will not be friendly?

Maybe there’s a way around this difficult guest?

Maybe I can make the guest a friend first before I invite it in.

To be honest, for the longest time, I shied away from Islamic arts like anyone who was uninterested in maths, because it was difficult to conjure a pattern that wasn’t messed up. Blame Pythagoras or my maths teacher. I hated maths with a passion.

It took me some time to construct the simplest of patterns with only two mistakes using the shoddiest of supplies (there’s no way was I getting the money to buy more art supplies if I wasn’t going to pursue it further).  Initially, my brother gave me his old school tools with the advice that I needed to start small and simple, then repeat the pattern until I could draw it without messing it up.

I learned first-hand that I didn’t have to be a Mathematics prodigy to start Islamic art. However, it required a good-quality compass, a ruler that was crisp and the willingness to strain my eyes!

What was of great help to me, was the availability of so many masters on the internet to help newbies like me with their free tutorials and readiness to provide advice and suggestions. There were plenty of teachers and artists [K9] who guided me through online classes and personalised sessions.

Some patterns were simple enough to construct by following the tutorials, while some needed more care and precision. But it all came down to one particular requirement – sitting down with intent and pushing yourself to construct something each day, even if it was in small steps.

I realised that in life, one has to summon the resolve for anything new that one wants to start. Even more so when it comes to dipping your toes into something that fills you with both apprehension and interest in equal measures.

Islamic art encompasses a number of fields, ranging from calligraphy to ceramics and from geometric patterns to biomorphic patterns. One can always explore any of these in order to find which one they are comfortable with, to start their journey.

Although I first started with calligraphy, I believe that geometric patterns are far easier to explore than any other form of Islamic art. Once you learn a few basic constructs, it becomes very easy to create them without mistakes. You might be tempted to start with calligraphy or biomorphic patterns because they seem less daunting, but in all reality, geometry is the easiest one and I’m saying that based on my personal experience of trying all three. I’ve found that with biomorphic patterns it helps to have a good grasp of geometry. For calligraphy, you have to learn the basics of pen holding and correct seating positions before starting on the letterforms. Learning to write your first letter accurately takes time and dedicated practice. It took three months for my class to write a single letter!

Forget about learning ceramics or wood carving on your own, because you will need special training centres equipped with specialised tools and masters.

From my experience, geometric patterns are the ones which are the easiest and most economical to learn, and you can easily go back and correct any errors. You just have to invest in a good compass, pencil and ruler.

What I find to be one of the best qualities of geometric patterns, is that once you’ve learnt how to section a circle into its required parts, it becomes straightforward enough that you don’t have to relearn the basics again for every construction. I’m not saying that it becomes a piece of cake, because you definitely need to give your full attention and due diligence while you are drawing a pattern.  However, it does become fun and engaging, uplifting and fulfilling, so much so, that you forget your initial inhibitions and reservations about it.

As you become a bit more familiar with the art, you can work towards finding your own style using different colour combinations, drawing techniques, different surfaces, and finding shortcuts by using tracing paper. This gives you the chance to study the pattern and learn by yourself without having to construct them again and again.

It’s worth remembering that at the end of the day, you are the one who has to steal some time away from your daily grind, sit down and explore this new art form. It will not come to you in a day or two, but persistence breeds excellence and/or new knowledge.

It won’t be perfect from the get-go but gives you a chance to dive into an art genre that’s gaining traction these days.  It will allow you to immerse yourself in an art form that has rules and orders which, once followed, always yield the promised result of beautifully crafted pattern.

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Aiman Khalid

Aiman, an educator based in Uttar Pradesh, India, finds solace in artistic activities, particularly Arabic Calligraphy. She started exploring Islamic geometry during the pandemic and continues to do so alongside various other art forms like sketching, painting, and paper crafting.