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JEDDAH: Joel Alessandra, a renowned French comic artist, recently traveled to Saudi Arabia to depict its rich culture and heritage.

Known for her innovative use of coffee and watercolors in her drawings, Alessandra’s visit was made possible by the French Embassy and Alliance Francaise Saudi Arabia.

After visiting Riyadh, Alkhobar and AlUla, Alessandra found himself captivated by the charm of Al-Balad, the old city of Jeddah.

“This part of Jeddah is the one that inspired me the most. We feel the atmosphere of the time when pilgrims used to stop here, we sense this fervent activity, there is an atmosphere of centuries-old tradition that is still palpable,” Alessandra told Arab News.

Ancient architecture was a rich source of inspiration for his sketches, including patina-covered walls and intricate doors. Alessandra’s drawings during his days in Jeddah sought to capture the essence of Al-Balad’s vibrant past and present.

He also had a live performance in Jeddah where he recreated scenes from Al-Balad and offered viewers an insight into his artistic process.

“The theme was an impromptu walk in Al-Balad, which I reproduced in watercolor on canvas based on my afternoon sketches. Scenes of street life, buildings from past centuries, mosque minarets from the neighborhoods you drive through,” he said.

For Alessandro, travel is a constant source of inspiration. Based on his experiences in Africa, he said that “it is the atmosphere and the people of the country that shape my way of drawing, my real inspiration comes from the field.”

Reflecting on his recent visit to the Kingdom, Alessandra said he was struck by Saudi Arabia’s growing cultural scene and enthusiasm for artistic expression among its youth.

While Alessandra’s sketches express a deep respect for the cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia, she avoids expressing explicit messages.

“I just want to convey the emotions I feel in front of all the incredible and immeasurably rich cultural, architectural and historical heritage. I am lucky to be able to draw and show this emotion through my sketchbooks and books… I hope my readers will be sensitive to it too,” he said.

He said that AlUla left him in fear.

“It would be hard for me to forget AlUla’s fascination with me. The Nabatean tombs, just imagining the vibrant life there, in the middle of the desert, in that ancient time is simply amazing.

“It is also inconceivable to imagine that the Roman Empire pushed its armies so far from Italy.

“And also the old town center with shady and covered streets. It’s a haven for designer inspiration,” he said.

Joel Alessandra

Last year, he went sketching on the streets of AlUle with the students of the local art school.

“That moment stuck in my memory because these students were attentive and wanted to make and learn to draw their environment. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered such a desire among young people in other countries.”

His use of coffee as a medium adds depth and richness to his artwork, capturing the nuances of skin tones and desert landscapes.

During his stay in Jeddah, he led workshops that focused on Francophonie and brought together students from different schools to collaborate on fiction work with text and drawings.

By involving French students in a collaborative storybook project, Alessandra explored the fictional journey of the Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta in contemporary Arabia. Through writing and drawing, students reimagined the adventures of Ibn Battuta, combining elements of history and fantasy.

“Finding the key to access the gates of time and allowing Ibn Batuta to return to his century was a lot of fun to see how the young people graphically translated it,” said Alessandra.

Regarding her artistic growth, Alessandra said constant practice is key, adding to aspiring artists, “Draw, draw and draw some more.”

“Always keep a drawing pad in your pocket and exercise your hand and mind at every opportunity. While waiting for the bus, in a coffee shop, during TV commercials, use every free moment to scribble in this notebook, no problem, just a few lines for practice,” added Alessandra.

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