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“The best way to learn about Islamic geometric design is to try it out for yourself,” writes Eric Broug in the Islamic Design Workbook, recently released by Thames & Hudson. Broug is behind the School of Islamic Geometric Design, and believes that learning to draw the striking patterns of mosques, kasbahs, mausoleums, and madrasas encourages a better appreciation of Islamic visual culture.
Islamic Design Workbook could be written off as another example of the plague of adult coloring books. Although coloring is involved in the included worksheets, it’s more about engaging with the same problem solving as a 15th-century craftsperson, who would have employed just a compass and ruler to form these infinitely repeatable patterns. The 48 featured designs represent real places, often centuries-old, from India, Iran, Spain, Morocco, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, and other countries with Islamic heritage.
“Every single geometric composition in Islamic art and architecture is created the same way, using a grid of construction lines,” Broug explains in an introduction. “Islamic geometric compositions also share another characteristic: they all have the same starting point — a circle.” That circle is then divided into parts, which are then used to create intersections that determine the rest of the pattern, which can continue limitlessly over a surface.
The fusion of mathematics with visual expression in these designs has had its influence on work outside Islamic art, such as M. C. Escher’s tessellations. And a tactile understanding of their careful planning and workmanship also reinforces the connection between the spiritual and the scientific in many of these structures. As Broug writes of experimenting with the designs, they will “reward you, every now and then, by revealing the harmony of geometry and symmetry.”