There is a chapter in Chip Kidd’s The Cheese Monkeys where Professor Winter Sorbeck instructs a soggy-eyed, critique-stricken calligraphy student to replicate 20 times over a page of The Universal Penman by George Bickham. As consolation, Sorbeck tells the student, “Your real problem with calligraphy, my dear, is that you’ve never seen any.” Graphic designer Kristyan Sarkis is clearly at the other end of the spectrum.
Originally from Beirut and now based in the Netherlands, Sarkis is a graphic and type designer whose primary muse and motivation for the creation of type is the art and intricacy of Arabic calligraphy. It was out of this fascination that he chose to develop the typeface “Thuraya,” based on the Arabic calligraphic style known as Diwani. As one of the most complex and unconventional Arabic styles, the Diwani script arguably discouraged more extensive digital exploration until now. Sarkis details his search for the intersection between calligraphy and digital type during the creation of his Thuraya typeface in the article “Arabic Calligraphy and Type Design,” published by Typotheque and Kyoorius Magazine, Issue 8 (page 100).
Beginning with a brief history of Arabic calligraphy and the Diwani style, Sarkis takes the reader through an instructive analysis of his design process punctuated by graphic demonstrations of the steps carefully taken to authentically interpret the Diwani script as a typeface. The result is a set of appealing letterforms with rhythmic curves and a harmonious flow that evoke comparisons to a musical score. What is impressive about Sarkis’s work, besides his extensive mental and creative exertion to bring the project to fruition, is that an exceedingly difficult script historically limited to a few bright pupils of the art is now accessible to the masses in the form of a digital typeface. It is apparent that despite the obstacles presented by modern type design, there is a growing interest in Arabic type and in the resources that will allow designers to create contemporary yet faithful interpretations of traditional Arabic letterforms.
Sarkis’ pioneering efforts in this regard were recently recognized in May 2011 by the Type Directors Club, which awarded him a Certificate of Excellence in Type Design. Thuraya was released by Typotheque in June 2011.