Islamic geometric artwork
Creative Life,  Pattern Love

Don’t Mess with my Compass

Lately, you can hear me saying this to our cats almost daily. Because I am taking a lot of Islamic geometry courses and my dear cat boys love messing with my tools, especially the compass. In my blog post on the #100dayproject, I have written briefly about doing Islamic geometry. Today I want to tell you a bit more about how I discovered this art and what fascinates me about it.

A long interest in Islamic Geometry

Islamic geometric artworkIt is several years ago I started to discover Islamic geometry. I studied Arabic language, culture, and history as a minor and have been interested in it ever since. After visiting Egypt, Syria, and Andalusia you automatically become intrigued by these geometric patterns, I believe.

But at the time I did not know how to start learning to draw these patterns. I did not know that there was a school where you can actually study it. Had I known about the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts then, my life might have taken a different road.

Opening up the door to Islamic Geometry

The door to Islamic geometry was opened up for me thanks to Bayt Al Qindeel in Abu Dhabi. I believe it was in 2014 or 2015 when the wonderful lady behind this initiative – whom I am proud to call a friend today – started organizing courses on the topic.

I believe I must have missed the first workshop and it was only the second one that I joined. She had invited Art of Islamic Pattern to teach Islamic geometry and biomorphic motifs in a week-long course. I remember it like yesterday when I found the ad on Facebook and decided to sign up for it. It was my first course and until I left Abu Dhabi, I joined her courses regularly.

But you cannot imagine my bewilderment when I first read the list of materials that were required…

Geometric pattern in spandrel

What do I need a compass for?

A compass? What would I do with a compass when doing geometry? I was totally confused. At the time I had no idea that this is also the English word for the tool needed for drawing circles. For me, a compass would tell me where north or south was. But that I needed it for drawing circles was totally new to me. πŸ™‚

Thanks to Google this misunderstanding was quickly clarified and today I own several compass sets, but still giggle about this first compass encounter of mine.

I have learned a lot since then not only about using the compass but about geometry in general. I have taken several courses not only in Abu Dhabi but also here in Doha. In April 2015 or 2016, I gave myself a very special birthday gift and went on a study trip to Granada with the Art of Islamic Pattern. My personal library on Islamic geometry has been growing since then as well.

Passion for Islamic Geometry

What is it that I love about Islamic Geometry? Well, of course, I love the beautiful patterns and the meanings behind them. Their history and the traditions of different parts of the Islamic world. But it is also a meditative practice for me. It requires a lot of precision and thus concentration. I think drawing these patterns challenges and relaxes me at the same time. A bit like yoga for the mind! πŸ™‚

Various Islamic geometric art worksBut with many passions and hobbies, it is just nicer to do them with people and exchange your ideas and experiences with others.

When Covid-19 started forcing us to stay at home, Islamic geometry was one of the hobbies that I took up again. Also because of the wonderful ladies of the Islamic Art Club WhatsApp group around Bayt Al Qindeel.

I had done a few drawings on my own, and had organized all my old drawings and materials, but was not intrigued to try new things. I guess it was the atmosphere at the beginning of Covid-19. Watching the news was just depressing and we were also struggling with working from home and finding a new routine.

Taking online Islamic geometry courses

Art of Islamic Pattern started taking their classes online and an international virtual community of geometry lovers started to emerge. Since April 2020 we have been taking classes on a weekly basis. At the end of each Zoom class, participants can open their screens and show their work or ask questions.

I actually never open my screen and maybe I should! πŸ™‚ But I truly have the feeling I know all these people I keep seeing showing off their work. I feel like being part of a virtual geometry community thanks to these classes.

Not only did my geometry and coloring skills improve, but I also have other people to share my passion with. It is beautiful how people of such different backgrounds meet each other regularly via Zoom to draw geometric patterns or biomorphic motifs.

By now I have so much material that it is difficult to decide what to focus on in a single blog post. I believe there will be other posts coming on the topic in the coming months! πŸ™‚

Discovering new Islamic pattern traditions

Lately, I also discovered Lulu Atelier’s online classes. Having been to Istanbul several times and having bought a lot of Iznik-inspired tiles and souvenirs every single time, I wanted to learn more about Iznik motifs.

I have several books on the topic, but usually what you get are coffee table books with nice pictures and not those explaining how to recreate the patterns. So her online course on Iznik patterns that I do at the moment gives me the opportunity to explore the topic from a practical perspective. I love this and will for sure write about it soon.

And you? What are your creative passions and hobbies? What did you take up during Covid-19 as a new endeavor?


  • Jo Baked

    Hi Maya, I too missed the first class in Abu Dhabi as I read about the Art of Islamic Pattern classes in Abu Dhabi Week Magazine while it was happening. Very thankful that their classes (and others) went online during the pandemic and of course, meeting a lovely group of ladies who share the same passion for Islamic geometry!
    Next on my list is a study trip – but that will have to wait for now πŸ˜‰

    • Maya

      Exactly, Jo! We need to plan a proper study trip. Good that Adam taught freehand geometry last week so we can start sketching when visiting sites now ;-)!

  • Monique Thijsens

    Dear Maya… so many coincidences…. me too I missed that first workshop organized by our dear friend from Bayt al Qindeel… but from the moment I attended the first workshop I was hooked to it and kept going until we moved back to Belgium 2 years ago…. this and our group of like minded people in AD were definitely missed the most….so I am very grateful too Adam and consequently Richard decided on starting these online classes….. It’s not the same as the live classes but close especially thanks to our WhatsApp group… those classes are definitely good for the soul!!
    How come we never met while living in AD??!!
    Anyways love reading your posts and eventually we will meet somewhere .. sometime….

    • Maya

      Hi Monique,
      Yes, it is really funny that we never met in person in Abu Dhabi! πŸ™‚ But all the great online classes and our little whatsapp group of Islamic geometry and art lovers were really a great support during the last months. I totally agree with this! Maybe one day when we can all travel again we can attend one of their Islamic geometry trips! πŸ™‚

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