Square Kufic Calligraphy: Introduction

Square Kufic calligraphy is a decorative art that simultaneously has rigid rules and a lot of room for creativity.

The strictness of Square Kufic is in its geometry: all shapes are built from squares, and the thickness of all shapes and spaces between them needs to be equal.

Here, we have the letters ا and ب. Notice that the space between the letters has the same thickness as the letters themselves—they are all one square wide.

However, there is a lot of space above the ب created by the difference in height between the letters, and also a lot of space below the letters created by the dot of the ب. This is where the room for creativity comes in. We need to find a way to eliminate these spaces.

To do this, we can manipulate the letters in different ways, even to a point where they’re no longer legible. The purpose of Square Kufic calligraphy is not legibility but orderly beauty. You can twist and turn the letters any way you’d like to make them fit. You can also change their placement.

Here, the ب is turned inwards unto itself, to fill the space between its vertical lines. The ا is placed horizontally above the ب. The dot of the ب is placed on the side rather than the bottom, and the ا is bent to fill the gap above the dot.

Note, however, that even though you can make a lot of creative decisions, you need to connect the letters the way they normally do. This is because the way they connect is fundamental to their shape.

For example, this is the shape of the letter ح when it’s connected:

This is the shape of د when it’s connected:

You can move the connector of the د to the top, effectively making it look like the letter is turned upside down:

However, if you move it to the other side of the shape, it looks like a ح:

Because Square Kufic calligraphy is comprised of only squares, the letters are stripped down to their barest shapes. This makes Square Kufic a great place to start learning Arabic typography. The geometry of the Square Kufic letters can be used as a template to develop new typefaces.

In the next post, we’re going to look at the letter shapes in Square Kufic.

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