Living in a city like Istanbul sometimes means having very late nights with new friends. Last week I met up with my sketching buddies for some wine and conversation at a flat in Cihangir. I was late meeting the girls so by the time we reached Nabil’s house it was nearly 12:30. Nabil is a Professor at the University of Mary Washington who comes to Istanbul often to do research. We filled the night with talk about art, life, Istanbul and recent happenings in the news when before we knew it, the sun was beginning to rise over the Bosphorus. Though it was nearly 6am I felt exhilarated by the fact that I was watching one of the most beautiful sunrises I had ever seen in a city that I love.
Needless to say I had very little sleep that night and the next day was trying, but this city seems to give me a boost of energy when it is most needed. The following evening Nicole took me to see the neighborhood where her and Michelle have been doing most of their research, Fener. We had to catch a late ferry because Nicole met me in the shop around 5, and of course once you are in the shop it is hard to leave. After we managed to pull ourselves away from jewels, scarves and carpets we walked to my favorite art store where we picked up some ink and guache for Nicole. It is amazing to see how well she has connected with this medium, and how excited her and Michelle are to work with it.
When we reached Fener, Nicole showed me around the main streets where her and Michelle work. I fell in love with the neighborhood instantly. The decaying buildings that lined the streets of Fener had the exact quality of what inspired an entire series of work three years ago. The neighborhood seemed friendly, full of children playing games and families going about their evening routines.
After walking for a while Nicole and I thought it best that we sit down and draw before it was too dark. We found the perfect street but no comfortable cafe to sit at. The last time we did night drawing was in Ortaköy where we had the luxury of a nice cafe, a perfect view, a baked potato and çay. This time we had to improvise. There was a çay house on the street so we convinced the owner to bring us a small table with two chairs that we placed on the very uneven and narrow sidewalk. Fatigue and hunger were starting to set in so we asked the bread maker next door if we could buy a small loaf. Ekmek almak istiyorum is what we tried to say in our shaky Turkish but he ended up giving each of us a loaf of bread for free. So, there we sat with our dinner and our small table scattered with art supplies. The only think we had to dilute our ink was çay, so we decided to work with it. We soon noticed how uncomfortable our situation was compared to the night in Ortaköy. We could barely see the street we were drawing because by now it the sun was completely gone, there were people standing in our way, the wind was blowing, our çay was black from the ink and a cat was sitting on Nicole’s paper. Yet in spite of all this discomfort we regarded ourselves as real travel artist and came to the conclusion that one cannot always have a perfect view and a comfortable place to sit. In fact, I believe our drawings directly benefitted from this situation and they had more energy and life than they would have had we been pampered. We were both satisfied with our work by the end of the night, and also completely exhausted. You can see Nicole’s Fener drawing here, and mine is below.
I believe that experiences like the one Nicole and I had in Fener will always be of benefit to my practice of responsive drawing. A few days later the girls and I met in Sultanahmet and did some more ink and guache drawing behind Aya Sofya. I found my drawing that day to come quite easily and I could feel that my observational skills had greatly improved from the beginning of the summer. There is no better feeing.