5-Session Series: Intro to Islamic Calligraphy

Live from Istanbul, Turkey

This is a specially curated 5 week series as an introduction to Islamic calligraphy. For five Sundays, between November 15 - December 13, join special VAWAA guest artist Deniz Oktem-Bektaş, an internationally recognized and classically trained Islamic calligraphy artist based in the world center for Islamic arts.

Each session will last 90 minutes. We'll cut pens ourselves and practice how to use them in the script Naskh. There'll be homework between each session, which Deniz will print out and correct with red ink, so we get a sense of how an in-person lesson is given by a master to a student. The process of seeing each other's lessons corrected will be a chance to learn about our own mistakes as well.

We will have a private Facebook group with Deniz to connect between sessions, share, ask questions, and get feedback. We'll end the series with an online exhibition free and open to the VAWAA community to celebrate our hard work, creativity and works. 

Please note that VAWAA Online Pass cannot be used for this series.

Joining us from a different time zone? Be sure to convert the time.

Session 1: November 15 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM EDT

We will start off with a quick look into the Arabic alphabet and the curriculum for learning Islamic calligraphy. Then we will learn how to cut pens to use in writing the script Naskh. Once our pens are ready, we'll write the alphabet and study measurements and tiny details of each letter.

Session 2: November 22 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM EDT

We will start by seeing a live correction of few homework assignments practiced by participants which will give a sense of a real lesson, seeing corrections in red ink. We'll then learn how to connect letters, resulting in new homework for the upcoming week.

Session 3: November 29 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM EDT

We'll start by seeing a live correction of homework of some participants. Then we'll learn how to connect new letters, resulting in new homework for the upcoming week.

Session 4: December 6 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM EDT

Once we correct some homework, we'll write words connecting several letters to each other. We'll learn about the different shapes a letter gets depending on its position in a word.

Session 5: December 13 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM EDT

Deniz will demonstrate how she prepares one of her pieces that has two styles of calligraphy. From sketch to final version, we'll learn the details of each step in preparing a final piece. We will write a full sentence learning about the flow in each word itself and in the line as a whole.

What you'll need

- A reed, bamboo, java, or metal calligraphy pen with a slanted cut to the left (a brush won't work)
- Knife to cut the reed pens
- Paper (ink should be able to flow on it)
- Ink
- A soft surface to write on (a piece of leather, magazine or a few pieces of paper)
- An inclination table or self-prepared surface with an inclination

How to join

We'll be hosting this VAWAA Online on Zoom. We'll send the link and details to join via email a few hours before each session begins.

About Deniz

VAWAA guest artist Deniz Oktem-Bektaş originally trained in riq’a and naskh scripts with American master of Islamic calligraphy Mohamed Zakariya. In 2002, she returned to Turkey and continued learning riq’a, naskh, and thuluth scripts from Turkish masters, Hasan Çelebi and Davut Bektaş. She holds a ijaza (the license authorizing her to teach) in the naskh and thuluth scripts and has received several international recognitions. Deniz has participated in exhibitions in Turkey and internationally, and continues her work alongside her husband, Davut Bektaş, in their studio in Istanbul.


"Really fascinating learning about the history of Islamic Calligraphy and the incredible intricacies of such meticulous work! Deniz delivered an excellent lecture - offering a great selection of slides and led the group though practice time. thank you!" - Lina

"a very interesting session. well organized and full of information about the topic. the artist shared a lot of the theoretical knowledge and also practical tips." - Ahmed Alley

"I appreciated hearing from a master calligrapher from the other side of the world, in more ways than one. Very rich in depth and inspiring." - Piper

"The History of Arabic calligraphy, the live interaction & live class was amazing & beneficial." - Zulfar

"I have lived in Istanbul for 5 years but never really learned about calligraphy. So interesting to hear Deniz talk about the history and her practise. It made me homesick for Turkey!" - Tessa

"A rare opportunity to study with an accomplished Islamic calligrapher." - Joyce