Alif is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. When I started putting pen to paper, on my journey through Arabic Calligraphy, the natural place to start was at the beginning of the Arabic alphabet: with “Alif”.
Below, I relay to you the experience and challenge in writing the “Alif”. If you’d like to watch a video explaining how to draw alif in thuluth script, scroll down to the bottom of the post.
Visually, it looks like straight line, with nothing to it. However, it set the scene for the rest of my journey through Arabic Calligraphy.
The form of the “Alif” (as opposed to the actual letter “Alif”) is reproduced in many letters, and forms of the Arabic Alphabet. It is used in th “ṭā’ – ط”, “kāf – ك” and “lām – ل” form, amongst others. It is also used in a variety of other situations across the Arabic language. This is why it is really important to establish good practice from the start.
Although a simple and straightforward looking letter, had I dived right into writing it out without preparation or forethought, then I would have certainly developed bad habits, and crystallised bad form for the future.
Firstly, the nib of the pen must be placed at a 60 to 70 degree angle.
The stem of the “Alif” is between 7 to 8 noktahs long. It is possible to write a shorter “Alif” that is only 6 noktahs long, but generally this isn’t recommended.
The bottom section of the stem ends with the last two noktahs. The top tip of the “Alif” is one to one and half noktahs.
The Alif can, but does not need to have, a moderate forward slant. The slant can be between a small circle and up to a noktah in size.
The angle of the nib
I spent a long time just practising the same Alif repeatedly. The first challenge I found was in maintaining a consistent angle throughout the motion of drawing the stem. I tended to set my pen at an angle that was nearer to 45 degrees, than the correct 60-70 degrees. Although this was quickly and easily remedied by taking care at the moment of setting the pen on paper.
The length of the stem
The next challenge involved the length of the stem. I tended to make the stem too short. It took a significant amount of continuous and repetitive practice, all whilst measuring out the length to get accustomed to making it 7 noktahs long. I eventually decided to draw the noktahs at the beginning of the page (ie. far right), and practice after that, thereby giving a consistent basis to draw the stems.
The direction of the slant
The slant, being optional, meant that I gave it little consideration. But I found that I naturally developed a slight slant, which I think improved the aesthetic of the Alif. I would not g
ive much thought to the slant. The only considerations I would give is that A) it is not slanted forwards too much, and B) it is not slanted backwards.
The flow of ink
It took a considerable amount of time for me to learn to regulate the ink on the pen. How much to dip, how much to dab off, and how long a single dip of ink would last. I think this depends on the type of ink, your set up, and in particular, the actual build and cut of the pen. I began to make my own pens, and something I’m learning is that no two pens are made equally. In general though, if you would like a consistent experience across your pens, I find that either Arabic Calligraphy Supplies, or MaryamOvais make bamboo pens that are very much consistent in their quality.
The segment of the “Alif” I found the hardest, and still now find very difficult is the top section. I have tried many different methods to draw it, including flipping the pen upside down, turning the page and changing the angle of the pen. However, what I have found works best is to maintain the 60-70 angle of the pen, re-trace the original contact with the page, but slowly rotate the pen to 90 degrees, while gently flicking the pen at the end. I then use the back side of the pen to clean up any out of place lines that there might be.
In conclusion, “Alif” is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, it is also where good form of Arabic calligraphy begins. Good Arabic calligraphy habits and skills should be crystillized from the beginning. For this I needed a proper understanding of the several elements that make up a well drawn “Alif” and a bit of experimentation in order to find what worked best. The “Alif” should be 7 noktah long, slightly slanted forward, and with a properly made tip at the top.
Here’s a video summarising all of the above:
If you’d like to share your experiences with me, or ask for some help drawing the “Alif”, please feel free to reach out! You can ask for feedback, tips, or just share your own progress and experience. I’d be more than happy to give you my input!