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I’m an artist, self-taught designer, and educator who is hell-bent on teaching everyone how to get started with Islamic geometry.

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Beside writing super useful blog posts I also teach how to create Islamic geometric patterns

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Today, I want to tell you the story of the most expensive lesson I’ve learnt as an Islamic geometry artist.
If you read my blog regularly, you already know I am a huge advocate for high-quality tools.
I can’t say if that applies to other types of art, but Islamic geometry is all about accuracy, and you abso-freakin-lutely need high-quality tools for that.

But in which way high-quality tools are connected to the most expensive lesson I’ve learnt? That is my dear friends, the reason I am writing this post.


In 2018, I was commissioned six prayer mat designs by a company in Saudi Arabia. It was my first big collaboration, and you can imagine how excited I was.
I wanted to do my best work ever. I researched the patterns thoroughly, tested the colour combinations, and, for the first time, used digital applications to get a sense of what the final product would look like. Well, I was not a Photoshop guru, so don’t you expect it to be a professional rendering, but it was enough for me to visualize it and tweak it if needed.

Each piece was the size of a real prayer mat, which made it very challenging.
Could I make it smaller? Of course, I could. What mattered was the digital file I had to send to the manufacturer, which could be scaled to any size, but I was young and naive, so I made it real-life size.
And no, drawing and painting on a big scale is not easier than doing miniatures.

So, as I said, after the research period, I started the painting process.
They gave me absolute freedom. I could even use gold colour, which sometimes can be tricky to render on products.

So picture me, sitting on my desk (which was the living room table back then), scrolling through Instagram, searching for a ruling pen I accidentally saw someone using weeks before. Hmmm, that pen could make my outlining easier and neater than using a brush.
A second later, you would see me ordering a 7£ ruling pen from Amazon.


At that moment, I wish someone had come and slapped me in the face.
If you don’t know it already, a high-quality ruling pen is created in such a way that whatever ink you put between the two sides will never bleed on the paper. The two sides need to be sharp and have a specific shape because even the shape can affect how the ruling pen works.

Unfortunately, that is not one of the features of a poor-quality ruling pen.
Of course, I decided to use the ruling pen at the end, when the design was completed, because I wanted “to add some golden touch to it”.

The outlining started somehow well. I think I managed to have nice-looking lines for 5-10 minutes. Enough for me to not be able to undo it anymore. Then, the “gold touch” became a huge blob of gold gouache right in the centre of the painting.
I somehow managed to fix it (btw you can learn how to fix a watercolour mistake here), but as I kept going, the lines weren’t as neat anymore, blobs became more recurrent and at some point, I didn’t know if I wanted to move on and feel overwhelmed at every mistake I had to fix or start from scratch.
I looked at the painting, and you could really tell that it was not one of my best pieces.

Thinking about it now, why didn’t I stop at the first mistake and purchase a new ruling pen? Why did I keep being stubborn and overwhelmed myself? I don’t know, but it’s incredible how many things you learn along the way.

So I opted to start all over again. And in the meantime, I ordered another ruling pen.
Do you think I learnt the lesson? Of course, I didn’t. I ordered another cheap ruling pen.

The deadline was approaching, and I had to be as quick as possible, which meant working 16 hours a day. Basically, I was just sleeping and painting for a whole week. You can only imagine the pain in the neck and back. Then, the new ruling pen arrived, and I got the same.exact.problem.

At least this time, I first tested the ruling pen on a separate sheet of paper, and when I saw that I would have had the same problem, I decided not to add the “gold touch” to the painting.

I then ordered a high-quality ruling pen, which cost me not only the price of the ruling pen but also the money I wasted on the 2 poor-quality ruling pens I bought before that one.


I know what you are thinking. Is this your most “expensive” lesson, Sandy?
Well, I know that spending 100£ is not the end of the world, I agree. But I value my mental and physical health a lot. And that is the “expensive” part of my story.
I had to go to the chiropractor several times after that because the pain in my neck was awful. In general, I find it really hard to manage my stress (even nowadays), and those overwhelming days were not easy to manage at all.
So yeah, if a high-quality tool can spare me all of this, that’s a win-win for me.

Another lesson that I learnt is to not try new things when you have a close deadline.
You want to experiment with new stuff? That is great. Just make sure you have enough time for it, and you do it on a draft, not on the final piece. It reminds me of one of my mother’s advice, which is “Never wear a new pair of shoes on special occasions. You need to test them first, or you’ll ruin your experience with blisters and pain”.

I hope this story about the most expensive lesson I’ve learnt as an Islamic geometry artist has made you smile and that you have learnt something from my mistakes, too.

If you want to know more about ruling pens watch this video from Jeea Mirza A quick guide to using Ruling Pens – YouTube.


The most expensive lesson I’ve learnt as an Islamic geometry artist

October 30, 2023

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  1. munira says:

    I know that mistake!!!

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I’m an artist, self-taught designer, and educator who is hell-bent on teaching everyone how to get started with Islamic geometry.
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