MAKKAH: A Saudi artist has taken his passion for portraiture to the streets by producing sketches on disposable cups of coffee shop customers as they enjoy their daily brew, and then handing them over as gifts.
Salem Al-Salem said it all started when he worked at a cafe in Alkhobar. During quiet times, he would practice his art by doodling on paper cups and gifting his creations to his customers.
“It was a great way to make someone’s day and win them as a customer at the cafe,” he told Arab News. “It was a different experience for people and they liked it, so the number of customers increased.”
But not everyone appreciated his art at first, Al-Salem said.
“While it was an excellent way to attract customers to the cafe, the owner believed that drawing people like that was forbidden for religious reasons. But gradually, society accepted it and I’m able to paint and present my work.”
The artist said he loves seeing people’s reactions when he hands over his sketches to them. “Sometimes, they even embrace me.”
But not all of his unsuspecting subjects get the idea straight away.
“One person was just leaving as I finished his picture, so I followed him to give him the drawing. I handed him the cup but he just took it and threw it away,” he said.
“So I picked it up, introduced myself and handed It back. When he saw the drawing, he apologized and was ashamed of his reaction. But he was really happy with it.”
The artist said he had a special way of deciding who to sketch.
“Because I love coffee and art, I visit different cafes. I look for people with different facial expressions and choose the person who least expects to be drawn.”
Al-Salem said he started learning about drawing and painting at school and while many of his classmates regarded art as less important than other subjects, he found it inspiring.
“I find inspiration in all kinds of art,” he said. “It may be beautiful music that carries me on a journey and results in a painting, or it could be a beautiful scene or a situation. Drawing makes me very happy.”
And as his experience has grown, so has his speed.
“It used to take 35-40 minutes to draw a face, but that has come down to 10-15 minutes now,” he said.
Al-Salem said he was positive about the future for art in the Kingdom, as people like him now had more opportunities to pursue their passion.
“The fine art movement is living its best days in the Kingdom. There is the Jax neighborhood in Diriyah, which hosts artistic programs, exhibitions and workshops, and that is helping to advance the artistic movement and raise people’s artistic appreciation.”