Céline Raffy uses her illustrations like a diary and her senses as inspiration

The Egyptian illustrator has been using drawing as a means to express herself since childhood. Today, anything – a song, a delicious meal, the weather – can be a prompt for a new piece.

Date
1 November 2021

In one of Céline Raffy AKA Celli Belli’s drawings, a character fills the frame, steam blowing from their ears and sweat dripping down their face. Other elements create a busy scene: a tiger, a skull and cross bone, Arabic text and chilli peppers. In front of the character is a bowl of ominous-looking food. The piece is hilariously and simply titled Spicy Noodle Challenge. This wry humour can be found throughout the illustrator’s portfolio but that’s not to say her output is defined by one note; Céline’s work expresses the full spectrum of human emotions, a product of her diary-like approach to creating work.

Born and raised in Cairo by an Egyptian mother and Lebanese father, Céline was a shy child – “really shy,” she notes. “I would not be able to talk in some situations.” Drawing presented itself as a means of communication and a form of escapism, so Céline quickly became one of those kids who would draw on anything and everything, all of the time. “I liked drawing anything I imagined – scenes from stories I read in books, what I felt from a song I liked. If something really moved me, I would draw it so I didn’t forget what I felt in that moment,” she says. It’s a technique she still employs today in her full-time freelance illustration practice. “My senses are the source of my inspiration,” she explains. “If I see something beautiful (a person, movie, nature, etc.) or listen to a certain song or sound, if I taste delicious food, feel the grass and raindrops on my hands, all these give me a feeling of inspiration that makes me want to draw.”

Often she draws to record a moment or experience that she doesn’t want to forget. And this was the case with a piece titled New Me that Céline describes as “one of the closest posters to my heart”. The artwork emerged during a particularly difficult period in her life. “I was quite depressed with everything going on, I wanted to change things in my life but I couldn’t do it, it was something beyond me,” she explains. “The only thing I could do was cut my long hair. By cutting it I felt like a new person, a ‘new me’. It made me feel like I was in control.” The resulting illustration makes references to Mulan, she continues, hence why the central character is using a knife to cut her hair. She also experimented with hand-drawn Arabic lettering: “It was purely based on my intuition and if it will look aesthetically pleasing or not, there was no real reason behind it besides that. I thought, why not draw the Arabic letters separately on top of each other? I was kind of scared since the Arabic letters must be connected together, but it turned out well in the end, it rhymed well with everything in the poster.”

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Celli Belli: New me (Copyright © Celli Belli, 2021)

Despite having a deep connection to illustration, Céline didn’t consider pursuing a creative career for a long time. “In my society being an artist was not considered a good career,” she explains. Luckily, though, her parents saw her talent. They were “very supportive and encouraging of my passion, always buying me art supplies to encourage me to draw more,” she tells us. “They were never the kind of parents who tried to deteriorate their child’s dreams and passion.” She therefore went on to study graphic design at the German university in Cairo, from which she graduated with a bachelor’s this year. “It was the best decision I’ve taken,” she says.

Céline’s style is wayward and totally unique. Chunky black lines outline her scenes which are replete with pinks, purples, reds and blues. “Most of my illustrations are hand-drawn with ink on paper, I then scan it and colour it digitally,” she explains. Her initial sketches are always incredibly intuitive, she continues. It’s only once she gets to working digitally that she becomes more considerate of elements like composition, colour and typography; both Arabic (her mother tongue) and Latin letters feature in her works. “I sometimes draw thumbnails of different layouts, then choose what I like best,” she adds. Despite being a product of digital processes, her work retains a certain DIY aesthetic, something perhaps informed by the TV shows and comics she consumed as a child. “I was obsessed with cartoons,” Céline recalls. “After coming back from school I would always stay in front of the TV for hours watching old Teletoon, Boomerang, Tiji cartoons, old anime like Detective Conan, or French magazines for kids like Pomme D’api and the Perlin et Pin Pin comics.”

As it stands, Céline tells us her central focus right now is furthering her knowledge and style. She wants to experiment with her medium and has recently been dabbling in animation. In the future, she aims to open an online shop to sell her wares and is also keen to collaborate with others on album covers, editorial projects, book covers, articles, exhibitions and more. “I see myself opening my little studio, Celli Belli Studio,” she concludes, “where I will have four cats, flytrap plants and a little corner with books, posters, a laptop and art supplies. I would also love to collaborate with big brands some day, like Nike or Adidas.”

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Celli Belli: Escape (Copyright © Celli Belli, 2021)

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Celli Belli: Dangerous stare (Copyright © Celli Belli, 2021)

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Celli Belli: Nike arabic AD (Copyright © Celli Belli, 2021)

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Celli Belli: Pain (Copyright © Celli Belli, 2021)

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Celli Belli: Poster inspired by a poem my mother wrote about the sky’s beauty, from Makhout workshop (Copyright © Celli Belli, 2021)

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Celli Belli: “Cocoon” in the process of becoming a beautiful butterfly (Copyright © Celli Belli, 2021)

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Celli Belli: Tranquility (Copyright © Celli Belli, 2021)

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Celli Belli: Spicy noodles challenge AD (Copyright © Celli Belli, 2021)

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

rbd@itsnicethat.com

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