Zakariya Calligraphy

Tools & Techniques

A Note on Materials and Methods

The Desk

Like all Islamic calligraphers, I use a number of specialized materials and techniques. All of my works are written on paper that I first dyed and coated with aged starch and subsequently varnished with several coats of ahar, a liquid composed of egg whites mixed with alum. The coated papers are highly burnished, using an agate burnishing stone, and then aged for at least a year.

I make the black ink from soot produced by burning linseed oil and kerosene. The soot is mixed with gum Arabic and ground for 30 hours by hand, then mixed with distilled water.

I produce the marbled papers used for the borders following the Turkish style of marbling, called ebru. In ebru, pigments are finely ground with water and ox gall, then floated on a bath of water thickened with gum tragacanth. When a piece of paper is laid on the bath and then removed, it takes the pigments with it. An infinite number of patterns are possible — no two quite alike. This method differs from Western marbling in that the colors and boundaries of design elements are softer, and the edge between success and failure is more critical. Ebru is more suitable for use with Islamic calligraphy.

The works are wet-laminated with aged starch onto four- or five-ply Strathmore Bristol board to keep them flat and ensure their longevity. The ebru borders are applied while the work is wet. If background colors are used instead of ebru, they are applied after the work is dry. In both cases, the work is then thoroughly burnished. Finally, the gold pigments are applied and outlined.

Gold is the color that unites the various elements of the work. The gold pigments used in the illumination are produced by grinding gold leaf by hand. I use five different alloys — 23K deep gold, 18K green gold, 18K red gold, 18K rose gold, and 12K white gold — to provide different tonalities. The gold is applied by pen and brush and then burnished to varying degrees. One of the last stages in gilding is rolling the borders with special wheels to impart a texture to the golden surface.