The only thing I know about the art of Arabic lettering and calligraphy is what I was taught in school - that when writing in cursive, for example, each letter adapts to the letters around it, and that, in a sense, every word, down to its different uses and constellations, can be unique from every other word in the Arabic dictionary in the way that it’s written, like a snowflake.
Egyptian designer Mahmoud El Hossieny, a master in both design and its digitsed forms, recently contributed to the flourishing world of digitised Arabic lettering and calligraphy with a series of uniquely crafted designs of Arabic words, phrases and idioms rooted in Egyptian culture - each creation a snowflake in its own right.
Lyrics from Henedy's song, 'The thief came in.'
One such design is of actor and comedian Mohamed Henedy’s famous lyrics in one of his now-classic films, Fool El Seeni el ‘Azeem, ‘Dakhal el Haramy Wana Nayma’ [The thief came in as I was sleeping]. With a fun, animated design, Hossieny revives and almost visually reenacts the classic lyrics. Inspired by “how freeing and playful the use of lettering was by graphic artists and calligraphers in 60’s-80’s movie titles, as well as the title of the movie in the posters, and also signages from the same era,” Hossieny explains, he draws on this this history of creative, contextual lettering rooted in Egyptian culture - specifically towards the end of what is now known as the 'golden age of cinema' in Egyptian history - to build on that repertoire and, in a sense, revive it.
Poster using Hossieny's lettering for Henedy's song made in collaboration with Amman-based @HeyPorterPoster.
“They didn't rely on pre-designed letterforms, they treated every poster or movie title as a one time unique piece, and they let the content inspire the way they imagined the lettering,” Hossieny adds. He clarifies the difference between what he does - digitised lettering - and “type design which is the design of the typeface (font) itself… and typography, which is the arrangement of type on a page or other medium.” Lettering, rather, is in a way like the aforementioned snowflakes of Arabic calligraphy - but creatively re-imagined and stretched to its absolute limits in eccentricity. What he does is craft letter combinations for single, one-off use, directly reflecting the nature of the project at hand - whether through its organic feeling or the emotions it inspires in him at the moment he creates it, its context, or the culture it’s rooted in.
Classic Egyptian film posters. Collage courtesy of El Konafa.
Throughout January, he created daily designs as part of his own ‘Type Play Challenge’. “Each day, I would choose a name of a song that I liked, and then listen to that song for however long, and after that write the song title in a way that is somewhat inspired from the feelings I got from the song,” he explains. Hossieny would then draw on a creative exercise credited to French novelist Raymond Queneau, which is using one specific word to guide your creative direction on a project.
A one-off lettering design for a colloquial Arabic proverb roughly meaning 'it's not easy to get out of a tricky situation.'
Referring to himself as less a type designer or lettering expert than an “obsessed observer, a typographer, and a letterer,” the 32-year-old designer expresses his fascination with the world of digital Arabic lettering and typography, yet insists, humbly, that his own contributions to that world consists of his occasional, sentiment-driven “lettering expeditions” like those he made for his challenge. Scroll below to see more of his works, and follow him on Instagram for more.
Inspired by Lebanese composer Zaki Nassif's Ya Ashikat El Ward.
Inspired by Abdelhalim Hafez's Ana Lak 'Ala Toul.
Inspired by Marwan Moussa's song, Compass Is Lost.