Arabesque: Harmonious Biomorphic Designs

Live from Amman, Jordan

VAWAA artist Ruba is back for another three-part voyage into the intricate and beautiful world of Mamluk decorative arts. 

Over 3 consecutive weeks, we will learn how to create unique, marvelous designs reflecting the harmony that is embodied in the natural order of things through biomorphic decorative arts (Mamluk style). We will learn step by step how to create different designs found in Mamluk manuscript motifs and apply them to ceilings, walls, doorways, or as framed paintings. We'll use the Tazhib (gilding) technique, which is an Arabic word that has been derived from “zahab” meaning “gold” and gilding typically applied to patterns of plants or geometrical shapes.

The Mamluk period emerged in Egypt and Syria in the 12th century. Within a short time, Cairo, the Mamluk capital, became an economic, cultural, and artistic center of the Arab Islamic world with its majestic architecture and marvelous decorative arts. The opulence of Mamluk decorative arts – enameled and gilded glass, inlaid metalwork, woodwork, and textiles—are still prized around the Mediterranean as well as in Europe. The influence of Mamluk glassware on the Venetian glass industry is only one such example.

If you are not in EST time zone, be sure to convert the time.

Session 1: Saturday June 12th 11AM - 1PM EST

We will first study the geometric pattern found in the center of an authentic Mamluk manuscript. Then Ruba will break it down and simplify the elements so we can use them to create our own biomorphic designs to fill the geometric pattern.

Session 2: Saturday June 19th 11AM - 1PM EST

We will continue developing our motifs in the Mamluk style. Perfecting our final designs and transfer from tracing paper to palette paper.

Session 3: Saturday June 26th 11AM - 1PM EST

Using gold and gouache, we will learn the Tahzib (gilding) technique to adorn the design and introduce other colors such as white, ultramarine, and black.

What you'll need

First and second sessions

  • A compass
  • A ruler
  • Paper size A3 or Tabloid size
  • Range of Pencils (6B-4H)
  • Tracing paper
  • Eraser
  • Optional – Colored pencils

Third session

  • High quality gouache paint - white, ultramarine, and black
  • Gold paint or pure gold
  • Natural brushes
  • Palette
  • Paper for final artwork

How to join

We'll be hosting this VAWAA Online on Zoom. We'll send the link and details to join via email 1 day and again 1 hour before it begins.

About Ruba

Ruba is a Jordanian visual artist focused on biomorphic design, traditional Islamic art, and architecture. Growing up in an artistic household with an artist mother and father who was a talented Islamic vocalist, she crystallized her interest in traditional Islamic arts at an early age. Ruba studied traditional Islamic art and teaches biomorphic design, freehand drawing, and geometry at the Islamic art and Architecture Institute in Jordan. She has honed her skills learning from masters from several countries, including Turkey, England, India, Morocco and Egypt. She also works on miniature paintings, mosaics, illumination and abstract paintings with watercolor. 


"An inspiring class! Ms. Ruba thoroughly explained the principles of designing motifs and how the geometry works to create them. She was generous and wonderful to workshop with." - Tania

"It was fascinating to learn the construction of the beautiful floral designs and then learn how to paint them." - Nicole

"Had a really great time learning about the process of creating an arabesque pattern. Ruba did a great job of breaking down the process into simple, easy steps without overwhelming us. I also really enjoyed all the historic and philosophical context she provided as we went along. It was great to get an insight into her process and her techniques both with constructing the patterns, and using gouache to bring it to life! Thank you Ruba and VAWAA!" - Srujana

"Ruba is immensely talented and is teaching a beautiful and intense art form. Even though I've spent hours learning geometry, starting to visualise it into Arabesque designs was a leap of faith. While I was in the midst of drawing, it did take me a while to work out the pattern and that was indeed challenging. I felt I needed more guidance and perhaps having a Facebook group as a place to post WIP and get feedback would have helped. I did reach out to Ruba on Instagram and sent her photos of my progress. She beautifully guided me and helped me understand and edit my design better. It was clear to me that Ruba could not only visualise different outcomes of the work I was creating but also articulate her feedback for my understanding." - Jyotika

"Ruba was an amazing teacher and in just two sessions she taught us a lot. I can’t wait to do a longer session with her and someday visit Jordan to learn in person." - Anuja

"Ruda is a terrific teacher, engaging and enthusiastic. She drew us into the world of Arabesque Biomorphic painting. No question was ignored as she explained the intricacies of this art form in great detail and gave us valuable tips on techniques." -  Jutta

"I was a beginner but felt welcome nevertheless" - Jutta

"I really enjoyed learning the techniques and influences behind the biomorphic forms. Ended up with a beautiful piece of art!" - Kevin

Sessions are ticketed to support artists, makers and our small team. If you’re experiencing financial hardship, please reach out. We may have a generous participant who has paid it forward. We would ask that you pay the love forward by sharing online sessions with friends.