Calligraphy is Love: Profile of Master Calligrapher Elinor Aishah Holland

Art brings people together, and calligraphy is no different. I recently spoke to my teacher, Elinor Aishah Holland who feels that the most important thing she learned from her teacher, Mohamed Zakariya is that calligraphy is about love. It’s not only about the love of the art itself, but also the people that it brings into your life. I couldn’t agree more. I have had the opportunity to meet some incredible people during my time with calligraphy. Some of you I’ve met maybe reading right now. One of those people that came into my life is my teacher Elinor Aishah Holland.

Elinor Aishah Holland

Elinor Aishah Holland

I recently had the opportunity to ask her a few questions so you can get to know her a little better.

(Some of the answers are abbreviated for space)

On her time studying calligraphy in Turkey

What is great about it, it’s a very inspiring place to practice. First of all because there is calligraphy all around , and also because there’s calligraphers all around, there’s lot of calligraphers, and then for me when I am there I didn’t have any interruption.

In Istanbul, she studied with her teacher’s teacher master calligrapher Hasan Celebi and Celebi’s student Efdaluddin Kilic. She said she would spend a week or more at a time in Turkey and all she would do is eat, sleep, work and go to class, and most days would stay up until 4 am in the morning practicing the art.

On her first composition

Elinor’s first composition was a logo that she did for an exhibition in Arizona. She said she worked on it for a couple weeks while getting feedback from her teacher until she produced the final piece. Another one of her first pieces she did was a composition for the State Department that President George W. Bush gifted to the King of Saudia Arabia at that time. It was an ayah from Surah Hujurat.

Elinor also said that to come up with a final calligraphy piece is a painstaking process. There are so many options to make a composition in order to fit the letters in a harmonious fashion. In fact, you have to try different options of arranging and rearranging the letters until you have the most balanced composition. For example, she said for one of works, she had 7 completely different compositions before she produced her final piece and she could come up several more different arrangements now. 

Aishah Holland art.jpg

She added by saying that letters, words and sentences each have its own center and integrity that when they come together it brings balance.

On the most important thing she learned from her teacher, Mohamed Zakariya

That calligraphy is about love. Most people when they do calligraphy, all these different relationships develop. You develop bonds of love with people through studying with them and under them. Love is in the letters, things that hold the letters together, things that hold everything together is love. This is really about love.

Her advice for students who are interested in learning calligraphy

Come with an open mind, open heart, and an open hand. Don’t set expectations in advance other than the expectation of learning slowly, and learning deeply. You will have to find patience and it’s a rewarding and enriching experience if you can exercise patience. And if you love it you will find the patience that you would need to practice the art.