Pascal Zoghbi, born in Lebanon, and in 2002 he received his Bachelor Degree of Arts from Notre Dame University in Lebanon. In July 2006, he graduated with a Master of Design from the Type & Media course at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague. Prior to his postgraduate studies, he worked in Beirut for several years as a graphic designer in print and web design. He is an independent type and graphic designer since August 2006 and he is currently a part-time instructor teaching graphic design and typography courses at LAU (Lebanese American University) and NDU (Notre Dame University). His design work range from creating new Arabic fonts, corporate identities and print design applications & publications. He frequently gives lectures and workshops about Arabic type and typography.
LR: Hi Pascal.
PZ: Mar7aba Maroun
LR: Let me ask you this first. In January of 2007 you asked yourself a question about the future of the craftsmanship of Arabic calligraphy. What thoughts have you had on this question two years after?
PZ: The sad truth is that with each passing year, the number of professional Arabic calligraphers is decreasing, while advanced “smart” Arabic fonts and Arabic typesetting applications are getting more and more user-friendly and available for the common Arabic graphic designer and typographer. In the old days, each Arabic advertising and design company had a full-time Arabic calligrapher with daily tasks for writing Arabic titles or decorative calligraphy for advertising or design projects. Nowadays, advertising and design agency only contact free-lance Arabic calligraphers occasionally and most of the Arabic titling and typesetting are done on the computer using digital Arabic fonts. When it becomes easy for the graphic designer to use the Arabic fonts on the computer, they wont seek an Arabic calligrapher for his/her professional artistic touch unless the project asks for that. And this only happens in few projects and not most of them as previously. It is also a matter of time and budget. It is much more faster and economical to just typeset the Arabic titles on the computer then paying for a calligrapher to do the art piece and wait for it to be delivered.
On the other hand, the digitized Arabic fonts will never replace the artist’s hand drawn Arabic letters. And the calligraphic work will always be in demand. The awareness of the importance of the Arabic calligraphy nowadays and the advance of modern Arabic typefaces are all contributing to a better Arabic graphic design results. The collaboration of graphic designer with calligrapher is being revived again and the success of the Iranian typographic design was a strong example for all the Arabic designers. The Iranian designs took a great success because of the integration of the Persian calligraphy with the modern graphics. Hopefully this notion will grow more with the years to come, and the collaboration with the calligrapher and designer will be enhanced and redefined.
LR: Your main website is called 29 letters in reference to the number of Arabic letters. You are a graphic designer and a type designer, and designing type for Arabic exceeds the simple process of creating variations on 29 letters alone, but rather there are certain challenges and letter combinations in Arabic that have to be designed separately such as the combination of T and M or the LMG. Could you elaborate on the process?
PZ: As you have mentioned, the number of letters in the Arabic script is 29, but this number only covers the isolated forms. As we know, in the Arabic script the shape of the letter changes according to its position in the word as initial, medial, final or isolated. So the basic number of Arabic glyphs in a font mounts up from 29 to 130 glyphs. That is only for the basic set without any ligatures, accents, punctuations, symbols, figures… so the number of overall glyphs in an Arabic font can mount indefinitely depending how much the typeface is complex. And we do not need to forget that after the design phase is over, the technical phase takes over. There is spacing and kerning, adding Open-Type features and other technical work involved before the final version of the font can be generated.
LR: Does your type design ever address the accents for Arabic?
PZ: Of course. The Arabic accents are an essential part of the font and they will be addressed in the design and technical phases as much as the letters by themselves. The feel, look, contrast and weight of the accents should be proportionate to the design of the letters. The positioning of the accents above and below the letters is very crucial and needs a lot of advanced Open Type technical work.
LR: You often give workshops on type design and Arabic Kufi and other styles lettering. How often do you hold these workshops and who can attend and how can one participate in these workshops.
PZ: I am giving lectures and workshops within typography conferences or design schools. In a conference, the lecture will be open for public and the workshop will be open for people to register in (for instance, my workshop at ATypI 08 in St. Petersburg or the lecture I presented at the Royal Library in Stockholm). On the other hand, when I am giving a lecture and workshops at design schools, the lecture might be only addressed to the students or open to the public, but the workshop is always given to the students of the school and closed to registrations (like when I give lectures and workshops at AUB, LAU, NDU, AUS…)
How often I give lectures or workshops is hard to say. It depends on the demand of the schools and the amount of design and typography conferences addressing Arabic type.
LR: I found your article on adapting Latin logotypes to the Arabic type fascinating. Could you give us an input on this subject as to how things should be approached when it comes to adapting a Latin type.
PZ: There is also the article entitled “Arabic Glyph Proportions and Guidelines” that focuses on creating typefaces with Arabic and Latin script in them, or creating an Arabic typeface for an existing Latin one :
In brief, the idea is to respect both scripts and not to deform either script for the sake of the other. The Arabic letters should not be created from copied and pasted components of the Latin letters, and vice versa. We use the term Latinized Arabic fonts or Arabized Latin fonts for badly designed Arabic fonts and badly designed Latin fonts respectively. The term Frankenstein fonts is also used for fonts that are created from the process of “collaging” glyph components from here and there to build the letters without any consideration for the stroke flow of the pen, the contrast, the proportions and the proper posture of the letters.
If you are asked to create an Arabic type or logotype for an existing Latin one, the following steps should be considered:
- Analyze the letter shapes of the Latin and study the construction of the letters carefully.
- Analyze the proportions and contrast of the Latin letters.
- Decode the typographic guidelines of the Latin font. (Baseline, Ascender, Descender…)
- Choose the right Arabic calligraphic style that fits the Latin style. (Kufi, naskh, diwani, thultuth…).
- Create the Arabic typographic guidelines proportionally with the Latin ones.
- Draw the Arabic glyphs from scratch keeping in mind that they should have the same weight, contrast, proportions and feel as the Latin ones.
- Analyze and modify the Arabic letters until the “marriage” with the Latin letters is achieved.
LR: What types of software are considered industry standard and what are their strengths or drawbacks when it comes to designing an Arabic type.
PZ: Briefly, the software needed for creating professional Arabic fonts are Fontlab or Fontograher, and Volt. Fontlab or Fontograher are used to create the glyphs (the design phase), while Volt is used to add the Arabic Open Type features and the Arabic right to left Kerning which are not yet supported by Fontlab or Fontographer.
Both the current version of Fontlab and Fontographer are design initially for designing and generating Latin Fonts. All non-Latin type designers suffer from these software, and need to modify the software in order to make them non-Latin fonts user friendly, but it can never be as user friendly as it is for the creation of Latin fonts. We hope in the future versions of the software that these issues will be solved and all non-Latin fonts will be supported to the max. I will not go into the details of how to make Fontlab more Arabic user friendly since it is so technical and it might sound like Chinese to the readers, but for the people interested, they can refer to this article.
LR: What new projects are you currently working on?
PZ: I am always working on Arabic type projects, Arabic logotype and corporate identities and Arabic typographic projects and typesetting. I am also recently involved in Arabic fashion clothing and Arabic Graffiti. For more info, you can check my website and blog which are updated on a monthly basis.
LR: Where have you exhibited your work?
PZ: The Arabic type projects that I am working on with the “khatt Foundation” were exhibited in Amsterdam (Mediamatic), Beirut (Art Lounge) and Dubai (Bastakiya Art Fair). My work was also published in several new Arabic design or typography books like “Arabesque”, “Typographic Matchmaking” and “Arabic Font Specimen Book”. My work was also published in several Arabic design magazines like “ArabAd”, “BrownBook” and others.
LR: Any last words?
PZ: I hope that the love of Arabic type and calligraphy grows rapidly in the Arabic nations and especially in Lebanon. It is sad to see most of Lebanese people, not interested to read and write in Arabic, and they dislike the Arabic language and script. (Especially the new generation.) Arabic type and calligraphy are part of our culture and a strong aspect for Arabic designer in comparison with the western designers. This is what makes us different and unique in our designs.
Last, I have three announcements:
- I call out for the reintroducing of Arabic calligraphy classes in schools.
- I call out for teaching Arabic typography courses in design schools and give them importance as much as the Latin typography if not more.
- I call out for open attitude and collaboration between the Arabic designers, typographers and calligraphers for the well being of the whole Arabic design and typography community.
LR: Thanks Pascal, keep us posted on your newest.
PZ: 2ana bishikrak Maroun for the interview. All the best for LebRecord.
Pascal’s address on the web is: www.29letters.com
You can email Pascal at: pascal[[at]]29letters[[dot]]com
You can phone Pascal at: 00961 70 167 329