The Calligrapher’s Tools and Materials

Beyond the years of training and practice required to master the varied Arabic scripts, calligraphers devoted long hours to producing the pens, inks, and colorants required for their art, and to modifying these materials for specific purposes and effects. The tools, supplies, and equipment that calligraphers did not produce themselves were made by artisans working in myriad crafts and industries, such as metalwork, paper making, tanning, ceramics, and inlay.

In its most basic form, the calligrapher’s tool kit contained a penknife; a makta, a small flat slab on which the reed pen would be positioned for cutting; and paper scissors.

The artistic elaboration and precious substances lavished on many of the tools clearly exceed functional requirements and testify to the prestige of calligraphy in Islamic lands. Yet, more than commercial interests linked the calligraphers to the many artisans who produced their supplies, tools, and furnishings. By participating in the culture of calligraphy, both calligraphers and artisans were consciously engaged in a moral universe—a universe, according to early Muslim scholars, that was brought into existence by God’s creation of the pen.

Next Section: Training and Practice