The Making of Mercure Sohar: A talk with artist Lama Khatib Daniel

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Mercure Sohar welcomes travelers to the ancient capital of Sohar; a place also widely claimed to be the birthplace of the legendary Sindbad the Sailor.

Capsule Arts commissioned Dubai-based artist Lama Khatib Daniel who is known for her loose and fluid drawing style, and gift for storytelling.

The story unfolds through a series of monochrome drawings, which combine passages of text from the story with striking imagery illustrating Sindbad’s fantastical adventures, from his encounters with gigantic birds through to his lavish visits with kings the world over.

We sat down with Lama as she talked us through her research and sketching process, challenges, style, and what she learned from this experience.

Lama’s mood board of different depictions of Sindbad’s stories
Lama’s mood board of different depictions of Sindbad’s stories

The artwork in the hotel is inspired by the 15th century tales of Sindbad the Sailor, can you tell us how you went about developing these into wall illustrations? 

I started my research by reading the story again to refresh my memory. I took down notes throughout, which helped while researching illustrations related to the story. It’s fascinating to see the different depictions people have created of the same story!

Once I had collected enough information and inspiration, I started to sketch a few ideas on my drawing board, showing them to client at each stage before transferring and finalising the works into digital formats.

Work in progress: from initial sketches to final outcome.

Work in progress: from initial sketches to final outcome.

When you delve into the tales some of the stories are quiet gruesome – what were some of the challenges in visualising these tales knowing they would be seen in a hotel lobby and all day dining restaurant?  

I didn’t think of Sindbad as a gruesome tale when I was a kid, you definitely visualise things differently when you are older!

The key was to choose parts of the story where it’s not as gruesome to illustrate; the story is such a rich source of imagery that I had plenty of options. I also focused on toning down the look of the monsters so they weren’t too scary and hideous, while still remaining true to the story. You can see that in the sea monster/giant illustration.

Left: a toned-down sea monster Right: initial sketches, more aggressive, which had to be reworked.
Left: a toned-down sea monster Right: initial sketches, more aggressive, which had to be reworked.

The final artwork has a very dreamy and surreal style somewhat similar to your personal artwork practise, how did you find adapting your style to this project? 

It was almost natural to do as my style is all about flow and storytelling. Sindbad’s stories and adventures are so fantastical that they seem like a dream, which is why the illustrations look as though they are floating on the walls. I also experimented with incorporating my own handwriting and a proper typeface, which was fun to do and added to the sense of story telling.

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Were there any elements from the tale that inspired you for future projects?

I really enjoyed reading Sindbad’s first voyage; where he goes to sea, and when he sets ashore on what he thought was an island, it actually turns out to be a gigantic whale.

I was also really inspired by the story of Sindbad with the roc birds and enjoyed sketching what these mythical birds could have looked like using different brush strokes and thicknesses.

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To learn more about Lama and her works, visit our artist and printshop online. You can also read more about the Mercure Sohar, Oman on our project page.