How a Calligrapher Turns Baha’i Writings into Art

Pharmacist and craft enthusiast Mona Jamali utilizes the joyous, unifying and uplifting words of the Baha’i writings in her project Willow & Pearl.

Seeking symmetry and harmony, Mona found that the art of hand lettering and calligraphy perfectly highlighted the potency, power and beauty of the Baha’i writings. Her wood, chalk and metallic foil pieces not only serve as uplifting and beautiful ornaments for the home, but also as resourceful educational tools for children and youth who take part in the community-building efforts in her hometown of Perth, Australia. Forever curious to hone her craft and develop new creative skills, Mona wants to design works of art that serve a dual purpose—both beautiful and constructive.

In her interview with BahaiTeachings.org, Mona shares what motivated her to start her calligraphy project Willow & Pearl, why the Baha’i writings continue to center her work, and how she’s learned to share her growing talent with others.

Q: How were you introduced to the art of hand lettering?

A: I watched many artists who would beautifully hand letter inspirational quotes and share their work across various social media platforms. I thought to myself, how wonderful it would be to creatively share Baha’i quotes, which we know have the power to inspire and unite, to promote peace and prosperity. I have always been intrigued by typography and hand lettering; words can be sculpted into beautiful shapes and forms, harmony can exist between contrasting thick and thin lines, elegance can be found through the spacing of the letters, and different fonts and sizes can pair well together to achieve balance. Abdu’l-Baha said:

It is natural for the heart and spirit to take pleasure and enjoyment in all things that show forth symmetry, harmony, and perfection. For instance: a beautiful house, a well designed garden, a symmetrical line, a graceful motion, a well written book, pleasing garments—in fact, all things that have in themselves grace or beauty are pleasing to the heart and spirit…- Abdu’l-Baha, A Brief Account of My Visit to Acca, pp. 11-14.

Seeking this symmetry and harmony, I took a course to learn the basics of calligraphy. I was instantly humbled by how difficult it was to learn calligraphy—it is an art that has many rules and takes many years to master. Learning the fundamentals of calligraphy did, however, help me to understand the basics of hand lettering, which I found to be a bit more relaxed because it encourages each individual to develop their own unique style.

Q: What inspired you to start Willow & Pearl?

A: During the preparations for the Bicentenary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah in October 2017, there was a huge surge of creative energy around the world. Many artists were sharing the peaceful and unifying teachings of the Baha’i Faith in a multitude of creative endeavours. It was around this time that I felt inspired to start my craft account on Instagram to share some Baha’i quotes with friends. It was also during this time that I had started maternity leave with my second child, and I felt this surge of creative energy born within me as well!

One of my first pieces aimed to explore the idea of unity between the East and the West, using this quote from Baha’u’llah: “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” – Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 14.

I wrote the first part of the quote in English, and the second part in Farsi. The fusion of the languages formed into the shape of a rose. The rose reminded me of how the diversity of the human race can be likened to beautiful flowers growing together in the garden of humanity, as explained by Abdu’l-Baha:

Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity. – Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 291.

Q: What is the story behind the name Willow & Pearl?

A: At the heart of Willow & Pearl is the desire to share joyous, uplifting and inspiring Baha’i quotes through the use of arts and crafts. The “willow” refers to working with wooden pieces that are either laser cut or engraved with a quote or image. The “pearl” refers to finishing quotes on paper with a metallic foil (usually gold). I was inspired to do this as many quotes and prayers in the Baha’i writings feature words with luminous references, such as “illumine,” “light,” “shine,” and “radiant.” For example:

O peoples of the world! The Sun of Truth hath risen to illumine the whole earth, and to spiritualize the community of man. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 1.

Love is light in whatsoever house it may shine … – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 217.

I loved the reflective properties of the gold foil and how it literally brings these words to life. Hand lettering on chalkboards has also been another interesting medium for me, and a modern way to display the Baha’i writings using chalkboard markers.

Q: What inspired you to use Baha’i quotes in your work?

A: The Baha’i writings are filled with a potency, power and beauty that provides an endless source of inspiration and creativity. While I sometimes make use of quotations that are not necessarily from the writings, I find that the Baha’i quotes are the ones that really move me and empower me. After all, Baha’u’llah says:

The Word of God is the king of words and its pervasive influence is incalculable. It hath ever dominated and will continue to dominate the realm of being. The Great Being saith: The Word is the master key for the whole world, inasmuch as through its potency the doors of the hearts of men, which in reality are the doors of heaven, are unlocked…. It is an ocean inexhaustible in riches, comprehending all things. Every thing which can be perceived is but an emanation therefrom. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 173.

I love to choose quotes that have a positive message, and are joyful and uplifting—quotes that relate to family, love, friendship and unity and that serve as positive, daily reminders. It is always refreshing to reflect on a quote that has been crafted into a piece of art and start the day with that in mind.

Q: How has Willow & Pearl evolved since you started?

A: It started off (and still is) just a humble craft project. My goal is to share Baha’i quotes in a creative way through the crafts, and hopefully help empower others to share the teachings of the Faith in a creative manner. I have very little expertise but a good dose of enthusiasm and have tried to share quotes through different mediums including hand lettering, gold foiling, heat embossing, chalkboard writing and watercolour painting. I am currently enjoying the medium of wood and using it to display Baha’i quotes, or to create educational tools such as puzzles for memorization, and virtues chalkboards, which can also hopefully be of use for various community-building activities and children’s classes, as well as within the home.

Q: How have you been able to serve the young people in your community with Willow & Pearl?

A: Arts and crafts can be a fun and interactive way to enhance any learning environment. Recently in one of our local neighborhoods, a group of youth between the ages of 15-19 were learning about how they can be of service to their communities. After studying and reflecting on various passages on kindness, peace and love from the Baha’i teachings, they hand lettered quotes that were meaningful to them. I shared with them some techniques on how to embellish their art with foil or heat embossing and they created some beautiful works of art!

Q: It seems that you love to experiment with new mediums, so what’s next for Willow & Pearl?

A: I am forever curious about different crafts and am keen to venture into making art that is both beautiful and serves a constructive purpose, such as educational tools and games for children to help them to learn prayers and the various facets of the Faith.

Q: Any word of advice for those reading this with a creative itch?

A: Just go for it! It’s good for the soul and mind to be creative. Enjoy the process of learning something new. Don’t be afraid to take a course to learn more about it. Have fun with it! Everyone can harness their creative side.

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