Today’s illustrated North African ceramics are inspired by my collection of Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algerian earthenware. My husband and I both hail from a multi-cultural heritage that includes Moroccan and Italian cultures. To celebrate our mixed cultural identity, we have a nice collection of handmade Mediterranean ceramics to remind us of our back stories. To me, offering food in a North African pot is more than just a meal presented in beautiful serveware. It’s part of my deeply personal cultural personality, allowing me to daily enjoy my cross-cultural roots.
I come from a family of travellers, whose homes are filled with all sorts of teacups, dining sets, and souvenirs from different parts of the world. Naturally, I grew up collecting ceramics and souvenirs that allow me to reconnect with my ancestors, both culturally and inspirationally. My most treasured feat to date is a small collection of traditional North African ceramics, with a few glazed clay souvenirs from Italy.
In this post’s illustrated collection, you can see a depiction in pen-and-ink, coupled with alcohol-based graphic markers, of Tunisian ceramics that I own. The pottery illustrations in this post also include a few glazed clay items that I’ve seen in local souks and pottery workshops during my travels to Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.
Moroccan Tile from Essaouria
I have a strong affinity with North Africa, especially that my great grandfather is from Morocco. I actually found out about my roots way after I had developed a strong intuitive love for this fascinating North African country. As a child, I felt I had roots in Al-Magrib, but never knew why. That is until, one day, my late grandmother told me my great grandfather was in deed Moroccan! This instantly explained my deep infatuation with Moroccan tiles and ceramics. To find the perfect tile design to illustrate, I scoured the internet for royalty-free photos and ended up loving a picture taken in one of Essaouira’s souks. I fell in love with the handmade quality of this particular tile and decided to include it in my illustrated North African ceramics collection. Essaouira is a laid back fishing port and resort town on the Atlantic Ocean in western Morocco. Not necessarily known for its pottery artisans, this bohemian town – adored by hippies in the 60s as well as modern-day musicians – is known chiefly for its inlaid woodwork and famous Thuya wood boxes.
Moroccan Tagine from Fez
In the 8th century, Arab Muslims prevailed over North Africa. At some point, the 5th Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid came along, ushering in a new dawn for North African pottery. Some say, during his reign, the Moroccan Tagine was born. In present-day Morocco, artisans continue to handcraft their exquisite pottery with shapes and colours that vary from region to region. According to VisitMorocco.com, blue patterns – like the ones seen in this Moroccan Tagine illustration – are a staple of the city of Fez (Fes). Yellows, on the other hand, can be found in Safi, and greens in Meknes.
Tunisian Ceramic Serving Soup Bowl
The patterns on this Tunisian ceramic serving bowl with a matching lid could be the accumulation of so many influences. Such influences include the linear art and geometric shapes of Berber Amazigh tribes, Arab-Muslim Andalusian tiles, the direct 8th century rule of Arab Muslims over North African lands, and the pottery-making techniques brought to North Africa by the ancient Romans many centuries ago.
Tunisian Ceramic Dish
According to ArabAmerica.com, the 17th century witnessed a noticeable leap in pottery-making and embellishment of ceramics in Tunisia. This is on account of the final expulsion of Spain’s Muslims in the year 1614, which signalled the “arrival of skilled earthenware craftsmen exiled from the Iberian Peninsula.” The Iberian Peninsula is the name historians use to refer to modern Spain, Portugal, and parts of southern France. It is also the area that saw the flourishment of the Andalusian civilisation between the 8th and 11th centuries. The exiled artisans’ “distinctive ceramic heritage include among others, the swirling floral designs in blue, green and yellow, separated by thin black bands,” the site says. “Today, the majority of Tunisian ceramic artisans who still follow the Andalusian traditions have not forgotten their legacy,” the article continues to say. This Tunisian ceramic dish is the perfect example of Andalusian-influenced pottery with its obvious black linear lines and what many refer to as “Moorish patterns” adorning the middle of the dish.
Algerian Berber Jar
I used to have two Algerian bowls from the city of Biskra, nestling quietly on the northern edge of the Sahara in north-eastern Algeria. I actually got my two bowls from a rustic pottery workshop, standing in the midst of a mesmerising oasis a short drive from our hotel. The patterns on those bowls were very much similar to the ones on this Algerian water jar, currently on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). According to the museum’s website, “pots not intended for use in cooking, like this one, also had a resin applied to give a glazed surface. This gave a yellow colour and ensured that the pot was watertight.” This jar was made before 1868, probably by a woman. “The clay was shaped by hand using the thumb and coiling methods. Before firing, the jar was decorated with kaolin, coloured oxides and slips (liquid clay), usually in blocks of red and white overlaid by geometric designs applied in black.” I must say, I love the linear black patterns that are typical of Berber design; those have influenced my pen-and-ink illustration style to a great extent.
Algerian Berber Teapot
This Berber teapot from Algeria is also on display at the V&A Museum in London. It, too, was handcrafted before 1868 by Berber artisans in the north-west region of Djurdjura, a mountain range of the Tell Atlas, part of the Atlas Mountain System. The geometric shapes applied in black are typical Berber motifs – of triangles, lozenges, and diamonds – that can also be found in jewellery made by the Tuareg, a Berber group with a fascinating arts and crafts heritage. This teapot might have been made by a woman. According to V&A, Berber women have made earthenware objects from locally-dug clay for more than 200 years “for domestic purposes such as preparing and serving food, storing water and providing light, and for ritual occasions such as births and weddings.”
Hand of Fatima Tunisian Ceramic Platter
A few years ago, I went to a Tunisian bazaar that had an unbelievable collection of handcrafted ceramics on display. Finding it hard to pick and choose from what looked like a sea of earthenware, I finally settled on a Hand of Fatima platter, among other beautifully-made Tunisian ceramic ware. This serving dish is basically made of 6 little plates, which make for the 5 fingers and the palm of the hand, as well as one large plate underneath. It’s perfect for serving nuts and dried fruits, or to spruce up the styling of your coffee table. Interestingly, the Hand of Fatima motif has long been associated with Moroccan culture. Some believe the motif originated from the spiritual beliefs of Moroccan Sufis, a mystical group of Muslims who travelled across North Africa and the Levant to seek higher knowledge and wisdom through the art of travel.
Tunisian Ceramic Teapot
This teapot makes me smile every time I look at it. Being an ardent lover of everything blue and white, I have a great appreciation for this Tunisian clay teakettle. There is something so refreshing about the blue-and-white colour combo that North African ceramics and tea pots often sport. The hand-drawn motifs with all their imperfections, and the shapes of the pottery items, are just so beautiful. Picture enjoying your teatime with a set of beautifully made navy-blue-and-white tea cups that are sure to elevate the occasion.
About The Analogue Illustration Tools Used to Create This Collection
Ink Pen: The main tool in these analogue illustrations is, as usual, pen-and-ink on paper.
Markers: I have added new materials and brands to my collection of analogue illustration tools to include an expanded colour range of alcohol markers. Following many months of creating watercolour and ink illustrations, I have finally decided to move on to a new medium. I’ve never been too excited by alcohol markers, but creating this illustration made me realize I don’t mind these dual-tip markers at all! For this illustration, I used professional quality graphic markers by different brands including: Zig Kurecolor alcohol-based markers by Kuretake, Copic Ciao markers, and Promarker graphic markers by Winsor and Newton.
Paper: I bought a Bristol paper pad in heavy-ish weight just for this self-initiated project. I’ve never used Bristol paper before and I must say, I’m totally in love! The paper is ultra-white, which makes it easier to scan as it offers the right amount of contrast between the actual illustration and the white background.
Cultural travel illustration, illustrated pottery collection by Yaansoon Illustration + Art | This post is part of the Illustrated Travel Stories, Illustrated Mediterranean Kitchen Tools, and the Illustrated Collections blog series