Muhammad Shaikh only started learning calligraphy in 2015 but within a couple of years his work was being noticed on social media.
“I used to see other art pieces and wished I could do it so I started practicing calligraphy at home,” the 21-year-old, who is from Dewsbury, told The Yorkshire Post.
His work also caught the eye of Liverpool FC striker Sadio Mane. Mr Shaikh gifted Mane a personalised canvas bearing the footballer’s name in Arabic typography.
It was a dream come true for the young Liverpool fan as he got to meet one of his footballing idols.
“He’s a really humble guy,” Mr Shaikh says. “He is the best player in the world and I got to meet him. Everyone wants to meet him. It was really humbling to do some artwork for him.”
Mr Shaikh is currently finishing off his religious studies at the country’s oldest Islamic seminary, Darul Uloom, in Bury.
He has launched a website for his business called Creative Arabic Calligraphy and hopes to carry the momentum that he has already got to turn it into a full-time business.
“The website is to sell to clients all over the world,” Mr Shaikh says. “Whoever comes across my website and likes my work can order it.”
As well as painting canvases, Mr Shaikh also paints directly on to walls. He even runs workshops and online classes teaching others the art of calligraphy.
His artwork has led to Mr Shaikh travelling across the world. The 21-year-old has been to Turkey, Dubai and India.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, he was due to fly out to Los Angeles for a range of calligraphy projects and to lead special prayers for Ramadan.
Mr Shaikh is still hoping to travel next year to what he calls “a hotbed for artists”.
Wall bookings are on hold as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the flipside of the lockdown is that demand for his online calligraphy classes is sky high.
He said: “Since the lockdown there has been a high demand for online classes. Right now, I’m more or less fully booked for those classes. People still want art pieces as well so I’m still getting orders for canvases. My wall bookings are on hold at the moment because I can’t travel.”
His classes and workshops are for people of all abilities and in order to learn calligraphy people don’t need to know Arabic, says Mr Shaikh, but have plenty of perseverance.
He added: “A lot of people give up after a few weeks or maybe a few months. It doesn’t come overnight. It takes years of practice.”
Mr Shaikh does have the advantage of having memorised the whole Quran. A lot of work he is commissioned to do is Islamic scripture.
He said: “It makes it much easier if you’ve memorised the Quran. A lot of the art pieces that I do are scripts from the Quran.
“That really helps. I don’t have to look back at the script. I know it off by heart so I can just write it on the canvas or wall.”
Writing on walls comes with added pressure as there is no margin for error and while there are many doing Arabic calligraphy on canvases, there’s only a handful who work on walls, says the 21-year-old. Mr Shaikh said: “You have to take more precautions. You have to double check everything because once it’s on the wall there’s no going back. Each stroke, each word I do I have to be really careful.
“There’s a lot of measuring to do to get a piece in the centre of a wall and to make sure that the design and writing start and finish at the right point.”
Doing calligraphy by the rulebook
The hardest part of learning Arabic calligraphy for Muhammad Shaikh was learning the rules of different scripts.
He said: “Each script has its own rules on the way it’s meant to look.
“It’s like in English you have different fonts. For example, you’ll have an Impact font or a Times New Roman font. It’s about making sure the design doesn’t change up in the script.”
However, it only took him a couple of years of practice before he’d mastered the art of calligraphy and was showing and selling his wares on social media.
He has now launched a website: www.cacalligraphy.com