Raphaël Seyfried, Roll over Cambodia

Raphaël Seyfried, Roll over Cambodia


Raphaël Seyfried

Roll over Cambodia

Christophe Chommeloux

31 December 2018

By “Going off to meet new people, discover other cultures, and telling (his) adventures through drawing,” Raphaël Seyfrid has transformed his teenage dreams of traveling into a driving force.

In his family farm in Alsace, the visceral desires arose at the age of 15 to go off traveling, and it never left.

A few years later, Raphaël finally decided to take the leap and live out his dreams, not settling for anything less. So, he turned his back on a comfortable position as a city architect and turned into a globetrotter armed with a notebook and pencils.

His first step was Albania, where he worked for some Swiss archeologists by doing sketches. Then, he started working for Océan 71, a special-interest magazine dealing with protecting the depths of the Mediterranean Sea, which naturally took him to Greece, where he stayed for a while before setting off for faraway destinations including New Zealand and Australia.

The friendly, talented French artists has now settled down in Cambodia, where his Travel Rolls enjoy growing success.

Raphaël, how did you end up in Cambodia?

I absolutely wanted to explore Asia, where I had never been to. Since I’ve always been a fan of old rocks, I really felt drawn to the legendary temples of Angkor. I buckled up my backpack, and here I am two years later, settled in this attractive country!

Where did you get the idea of Travel Rolls?

I was 34 years old when I arrived in Cambodia. I had already been traveling for a long time and I was nearly broke. I knew that I quickly needed to make a decision: either I would draw the curtains on my wanderlust and go back home, or I needed to find a solution to make some money so I could carry on with my journey. And honestly, it was out of the question to break my dreams just because of money!

I love books and artefacts and old trinkets, but I couldn’t find anything I liked in Cambodia. So, I decided to create something to my taste. I had the idea of presenting my drawing on a long strip of paper that could be kept rolled up. I liked the idea of discovering the roll gradually as it unrolled, and I thought the unusual item, which I originally came up with, would surely be a hit with others.

It was then or never to take action. I still had 500 dollars in my pocket, but I needed to find the right printer – and what a hassle that was! After a month of searching unsuccessfully, I finally found the Institut Français du Cambodge (IFC – The French Institute of Cambodia) that would solve my problem by putting me in contact with their printer. The test print cost me the last of my money, but it was satisfactory. The result corresponded exactly with what I was expecting, and it was just perfect!

With a single drawing, I ended up making 100 rolls. I jumped into my minivan and went directly to the Siem Reap Night Market (editor’s note: A safe bet in terms of both local and tourist visitors). Within 7 days, I’d sold everything! I had some more printed, and they sold like hotcakes. I was happy with the success of my creation, Travel Rolls.

Why haven’t you changed countries in 2 years?

Actually, I found that temporary residence wasn’t my cup of tea. Going to a country on the other side of the world only to stay there for 3 weeks was no longer interesting to me. I needed much more time to explore in depth and appreciate the smallest details and soak them up. It’s a bit like architecture; you need to invest completely in a project and evaluate all its aspects in order to be sure you haven’t missed anything.

Also, I love Cambodia. This country has already given me so much, its contrasts have nourished my creativity, and its reality has made me grow. And there’s still a lot to discover. What’s also cool is that Travel Rolls are a hit both with Khmers and with expatriates and tourists.

I live off of this today. My subjects include the temples at Angkor, Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri, and Kratié, which are provinces in the east of the country that are much less visited, which is a pity.

Some of the sold-out series have been reordered and my map of Cambodia has been a tremendous hit. Sure, the rolls are enjoyed by people and I’m continuing to make them, but I have one final goal in mind: compiling all my work into a giant Travel Roll, like a rolled-up version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Even drawings that have never been published will be included, and there’s plenty of source material because for a roll measuring 1.5m, I need to do about 3 meters of drawings.

What do you do to make your drawings so detailed?

First of all, I wander around. Drawing while being off the beaten paths allows me to capture all the authenticity of Khmer life. I love Angkor, but there’s so much more to Cambodia. The country can also be found in games played on the ground, and even the lady at the market whose job is to weigh people on a scale for 500 riels. All these surprising things are what I try to capture in my Travel Rolls, like Delaporte did long ago in his minutely drawn pieces of the temples of Angkor, or how Groslier drew the positions of the hands of traditional Cambodian ballet dancers.

All the drawings in my first rolls were done on-site, and even today, my basic drawings are almost always done this way. I sit down, I observe, and I take my time. And if I can’t finish, I’ll come back the next day. Some people take pictures to capture what they see, but I draw. After an accident, I also had to learn to work in a small office I set up for myself. In the end, I realized that this was a real advantage: my drawings are much more meticulous than when I work only in the field.

My method is and always has been pencils. Then, I apply a layer of watercolor, followed by a second one and a final layer. I then use a black pen for outlines. There are at least 4 to 6 layers of watercolor and 3 layers of penwork to get the various lines right. The final touch is finalizing the thickness of the outlines in my drawings, which are always black, and accentuating the shadows with a final layer of watercolor. I began with watercolor when I arrived in Cambodia, but I don’t do it as a purist; I have my own style. I sometimes think about changing it.

Do you ever get special commissions?

I don’t really accept them much because I hate having constraints; I want to keep my freedom.

The IFC asked me to make a roll about Culture, an exclusive limited edition (800 copies).
This was the first commission of that size I accepted. I put in lots of small details, and since I always dread having to draw people, I really let loose. There are redheads, cripples, a black man, blonds, white people, and Khmers putting on shows, but also Barangs and Khmers watching them. There are film students and cooking students, because gastronomy is art as well. There’s a fan blowing leaves toward a library, with messages in the leaves, and if you put everything together, you’ll see I put in some book titles that have helped me in my life, and rebuses, because how do you write “Live the cultures” in Khmer?

Do you ever sell originals?

Out of the question! I keep them for myself! Even though I’ve already been asked, I don’t want to do this and I don’t want to get rid of them. Perhaps one day I will, once I’ve done my first real exhibition, which will also be the last one since I only want to do just one. It will be my apotheosis, the ultimate endgame for all drawings I’ve collected. Then, I’ll go on to do something else.

I want to continue traveling and go to Mongolia, Africa, and go back to Australia to explore the deep Outback. I don’t want only to do travel logs, but rather I want to move onto things that are more sensitive and thought-out.


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