‘Hayy!’ Calligraphy Demonstration

The word 'Hayy' literally translates as an exhortation to 'Live!' or 'Be alive!', it also has spiritual connotations.


Every aspect of traditional Islamic calligraphy is detailed and demanding. From selecting the right type of reed pen and preparing the paper, to the microscopic details in the letterforms.

Having the right tools and knowing how to prepare them, is essential. A calligrapher’s basic kit usually consists of: pens, ink, paper, penknife, makta (instrument on which to place and cut the pen) and a hand rest (piece of cloth on which to rest the hand to stop the transfer of grease to the paper as you write). A writing desk, paper burnisher and light table also form part of the calligrapher's apparatus.


The working process can vary depending on the commission but if it is a traditional pen and ink piece, the method follows a certain progression.

Firstly, the composition needs to be worked out and this can be a lengthy process depending on the complexity of the text and the style of script chosen.

Once this is finalised, the paper, inks and pens for the job are selected. A single reed pen may last for many years and just have its nib re-cut now and again depending on its usage.

Calligraphy Paper and Preparation

Calligraphy paper is coated and sized using a primer base of wheat starch, alum and fish glue followed by 3 coats of an egg white and alum solution. The paper is then burnished and aged for about a year before being used. For further information, see the FAQ page.

The last stage is to create a layered card by a process of wet laminating papers together. The top layer is the sheet of paper on which the calligraphy composition is written. Then gold borders (using real gold leaf crushed into a paint), can be applied to conceal the joins between the inner and outer papers. The piece once dry is ready to be framed.