Become your tools

Nabil in “The Witch of Portobello”

‘There are two kinds of letter,’ I explained. ‘The first is precise, but lacks soul. In this case, although the calligrapher may have mastered the technique, he has focused solely on the craft, which is why it hasn’t evolved, but become repetitive; he hasn’t grown at all, and one day he’ll give up the practice of writing, because he feels it is mere routine.

‘The second kind is done with great technique, but with soul as well. For that to happen, the intention of the writer must be in harmony with the word. In this case, the saddest verses cease to be clothed in tragedy and are transformed into simple facts encountered along the way.’

‘You know the effort it took to sit in the correct position, to quieten your soul, keep your intentions clear and respect each letter of each word.

‘Meanwhile, keep practising. After a great deal of practice, we no longer think about all the necessary movements we must make; they become part of our existence. Before reaching that stage, however, you must practise and repeat. And if that’s not enough, you must practise and repeat some more.

‘Look at a skilled blacksmith working steel. To the untrained eye, he’s merely repeating the same hammer blows, but anyone trained in the art of calligraphy knows that each time the blacksmith lifts the hammer and brings it down, the intensity of the blow is different.

‘The hand repeats the same gesture, but as it approaches the metal, it understands that it must touch it with more or less force. It’s the same thing, but it’s always different. The moment will come when you no longer need to think about what you’re doing. You become the letter, the ink, the paper, the word.’