She pauses for a few seconds, gazing at the yawning white, before dipping her pen into the inkbottle. Her pen squeaks against the paper with her deft, decisive strokes, as she elongates the letters to intertwine within the composition. She dabs in some color, and voila! We have a stunning Asrae original.
Growing up, Asrae loved the written word and would draw letters from the Farsi alphabet. “I enjoyed changing the shape of the letters and playing with them,” she says. She owes her sustained interest in calligraphy to her father, who used to buy calligraphic posters and have them framed in their home.
She was introduced to calligraphy through a class in school, but didn’t pursue it as a passion until she graduated from college five years later. Perhaps it was her fascination with letters, coupled with a desire to explore her natural affinity for it that revived her interest after such a long span of time.
She spent two years experimenting with different materials, her calligraphy inspired by different styles such as Kufic, Diwani, and Nastaleeq, as well as artists like eL Seed. As a result, her work became a combination of different styles, incorporating varying elements from each. While her art may have been visually appealing to a layman, she realized it required a professional touch and decided to undergo formal training to focus on one particular style. She consequently signed up to learn Kereshmeh, a calligraphy variant born in Iran in 1992, crafted by a calligrapher named Ahmed Ariamanesh.
Unable to relate to the stringent rules of other types of calligraphy, Asrae leaned more towards the modernity of Kereshmeh than any other style. While Kereshmeh does have rules of its own like every other calligraphic form, it offers a lot more flexibility, allowing more creative freedom. For example, most letters can be written in different ways, and the length of some letters can be changed based on the composition of the words or sentences. Asrae has since completed two levels in the study of Kereshmeh.
“Art is a tool for self-expression. Sometimes, even when I’m tired, I really feel the need to write,” she mulls. Calligraphy is Asrae’s means of disconnecting from work, especially after a long day. It allows her to express her love for poetry, and she often turns to poetic greats such Rumi, Hafiz, Sadi, Mahmoud Darwish, Nizar Qabbani and Gibran Kahlil Gibran for inspiration. Her work is expansive however; she also weaves in Quranic verses and proverbs into her work. Sometimes even a thought-provoking word, such as sabr (patience) or ishq (love), can be the sole focus of an art piece.
Through her art, Asrae would like people to understand that calligraphy can’t be perfected overnight. It can take an artist some time to master the art form. “But at the same time, don’t be afraid [to take it up] because of the rules or the time it might take. You can express your writing in your own way.” There are several varieties with overlaps that are often confused to be calligraphy, she adds: typography, calligraphic painting, zoomorphic calligraphy, to name a few.
For Asrae, the most challenging aspect of calligraphy can be adhering to the rules. She does respect them though. When asked if she’s ever broken them, she says, “Freestyle allows you to express yourself more, but the problem with breaking the rules is that you might not come up with something that is perfect or professionally accepted.” Like any other artist, Asrae occasionally faces a block in her creative process, wherein she’s unable to complete an artwork, use colors, or come up with a good composition. When this happens, she distances herself from the artwork for a few days, until she feels a natural urge to go back to it.
Asrae’s dream is to one day find and develop her own calligraphic style. She has sound advice for aspiring calligraphers: “Practice. It makes magic. Try to have your touch in your work; find your own signature style. And that comes with experience. Do what you love, not because of what is successful in the market. Doing what you love will help you find your own style.”
You can find Asrae’s work by following @khat_by_asrae on Instagram.