Winter Days in Istanbul

Upon my return to Istanbul, I was greeted by a blast of cold moving in from Siberia and settling a layer of fresh snow in the city.  I was half expecting to find solace from the cold as I had just departed from the -33 degree Wyoming winter, and the mild Istanbul weather seemed like a promising relief.  I was not met with the warm sun but I was however met with love, friends, hot çay and a few adventurous days of sketching in the snow.

Emilie, a fellow sketcher, jewelry maker, coffee drinker and just great friend has been joining me since summer on drawing dates around the city.  You can read about her experiences and see her work on her blog.  Since Istanbul nearly shuts down at the sight of snow, Emilie was off work for 3 days, and we jumped at the chance to explore some new sketching spots.

Durring the entire week we drew huddled up in the Haydarpaşa Train Station with kitties keeping us warm on our laps, sat on the cold marble in Hagia Sophia, and sketched in warm hipster coffee shops with our friend Melody who is also joining us these days.  We had chance encounters, ate in newly found restaurants, planned new projects and filled up our sketchbooks.  It was as if we had extended our holidays, and stepped into a space where we could settle back into the city to rediscover all over again, what made us fall in love with it in the first place.


Photo Credit: Emilie Varlet



Photo Credit: Emilie Varlet


My sketchbook in Haydarpasa Train Station


My sketchbook in Gezi Park


My drawing of Emilie in Karakoy


Emilie’s drawing of me in Karakoy


Drawing Melody and Emilie and and myself in the mirror.


Emilie’s drawing of me


Emilie’s drawing of Karabatak Cafe in Karakoy

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Sumela Monastery


We found a camping spot late at night and curled up in our car, Sarah in the front seat and me in the back.  The night was colder than anticipated, and because we didn’t have blankets, pillows, or any other camping necessity, we covered ourselves on T-shirts, tank tops, skirts, and whatever else we found at the top of our bags.  It was the best camping spot we had found on the trip, and the worst nights sleep.  In the middle of the night, a  camp ground neighbor knocked on our window and asked politely why we were afraid to sleep outside in a tent.  We explained that we had no tent, or sleeping bags.  He looked confused and receded back into his warm camping accommodations.   Yes, two girls sleeping in their car at a camp sight must have looked strange, but what else are we to do on such a spontaneous adventure?  Sometimes making due with what you have is more fun anyway, especially because it makes a good story to write about.

After shivering under thin layers of clothing for the entire night, we woke with the warm sun pounding its way through the windshield.  We had a home cooked breakfast, made by our lovely campground owners, packed up our makeshift sleeping arrangements and headed up into the mountains once more….this time to see Sumela Monastery.

IMG_2110 IMG_2114 IMG_2121 IMG_2124 IMG_2133We could just catch a glimpse of Sumela from where we parked the car.  A magnificent structure, clinging to the cliffside of Melá Mountain and surrounded by lush forest.  Though it was originally founded in the 4th Century, Sulema fell into ruin and was reconstructed several times.  According to legend, a miraculous icon of the virgin Mary was discovered in a nearby cave by two priests, and thus inspired them to create the monastery.  Its present form was established in the 1200s, and after it was abounded in 1923 due to the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, Sumela became a museum.

The path was roped with tree roots, and when we could see through out the thick forsest, the view was breath taking.  I was lucky enough to get a few shots of the path without the crowd of visitors walking to or from the site.  After dodging tourists on the trail and walking up many steep stone steps, we entered the monastery.

Behind the stone facade of Sumela, we wandered amoung the crowds of tourists, exploring chapels, kitchens, monks’ quarters and the main church which is carved directly into the cliffside.  The walls inside the church were painted fantastically with biblical stories, saints, angels, lions, and images of the virgin Mary and Christ.

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We processed the experience with a Turkish coffee from the museum cafe.  Gazing out over the intoxicating view, we discussed where our little araba should take us next.

Babayanlılar: The People of Babayan

As a part of my project this summer, I conducted a series of individual portraits, and Ibrahimpaşa‘s residents served as my models.  I made as many portraits as I could, and sometimes could barely keep up with all the appointments I made.  I drew the villagers at work, in their homes, drinking çay in the kahve hane (coffee house) and taking lunch breaks in the town square.

Rather than bringing models into my studio, I wanted to see and interact with them in their own element, where they where comfortable, where they are themselves.

Thank you to all of my village models, for all that you have taught me…

"Kus Mehmet" Mixed Media on Paper, 2013

“Kus Mehmet” in his shop, Mixed Media on Paper, 2013

"Dukkan" Ink and Watercolor on Paper, 2013

“Dukkan” with Kus Mehmet behind the counter, Ink and Watercolor on Paper, 2013


“Mustafa ve Linda” Ink and Watercolor on Paper, 2013


“Eski Mustafa” Graphite on Paper, 2013


“Merve” Ink and Watercolor on Paper, 2013


“serefe” Graphite on Paper, 2013


“Recep” Ink on Paper, 2013


“Ismet 1” Graphite on Paper, 2013


“Ibrahim ve Mustafa” in the kahve hane, Mixed Media on Paper, 2013


“Ismet 2” Graphite on Paper, 2013


“Kadir” the kahveci, Graphite on Paper, 2013

Little Paintings

I made these little panels when I lived in Istanbul.  My intention was to paint as many  tiny images as I could and someday hang them in an exhibition.  However, I was spending so much time out in the city drawing from life that I almost completely neglected my studio work, and the only oil painting I completed was the “White Pigeon”. So I took back the the US this single oil painting, a few blank and half worked panels, and many travel drawings and sketch books.

When I began working in my studio again, I decided to complete some of the little panels, and worked on them occasionally in between my larger works.  They were intimate and satisfying to focus on.  So different from the larger and somewhat intimidating pieces.  I completed 6 for the Hüzün exhibition, and when I stood back to look at them hanging on the gallery wall, I realized that they looked like little icons, which linked them back to my influence and interest in early Christian art.  This gave them more significance than I had planned, and I was pleased to see other people drawn to them as well.

Since the show I have made 30 more small panels. They are of varying sizes, but do not exceed 7″ in either direction.  I intend to take some of them on upcoming travels, and leave some in my studio for future response works.  Someday, if I can pull myself away from my travel drawings and larger paintings long enough, I will fill a gallery with hundreds of these delicate little paintings, as was the original plan……..



“White Pigeon” Oil on Panel 5″x7″


“Bitmiş” Oil on Panel 5″x5″


“Self Portrait with Language” Oil and Found Paper on Panel 7″x5″


“Lessons 4″ Oil on Panel 7″x5”


“Fortune 1″ Oil and Turkish Coffee on Panel 5″x5”


“Fortune 2″ Oil and Turkish Coffee on Panel 5″x5”



Hüzün: Memories of Istanbul

Hüzün, the Turkish word for melancholy is among the most mysterious concepts I have ever come across.  Hüzün has an Arabic root, and in one sense refers to a type of spiritual anguish, suffered when we grow in attachment to worldly pleasures, and in turn experience a distance from God and spirituality.  However, the modern concept of hüzün goes far beyond the history of the word.  It is not only a spiritual affliction experienced by devout Muslims, but also a much more ambiguous emotion felt by the residents of Istanbul.  Turkish author Orhan Pamuk described hüzün as “the emotion that a child might feel while looking though a steamy window.”  Hüzün is not the melancholy of a single person, but a dark mood shared by millions of people together, by the entire city of Istanbul.  Although a grim concept, hüzün is central to Istanbul culture; it binds Istanbullus together, and is shared with pride throughout the community.

To a newly arrived visitor, the deepest presence of hüzün may go unnoticed, or simply described as a mysterious presence or air about the city.  I myself, emerging as a new resident of Istanbul, was ignorant to the strong effect hüzün has over the city.  In the first months, I characterized the feeling as a magic, or dream-like quality that possesses every detail of the strange and beautiful city.  Indeed, it is a kind of magic, a type of collective awareness that is unique to Istanbul.  However, as the months wore on, and winter settled over the Bosphorus, I felt the presence of hüzün so tangibly I could almost touch it, and I experienced the heavy weight of Istanbul for the first time.  These works are my hüzün, my Istanbul, my surreal world.

“To feel this huzun is to see the scenes, evoke the memories, in which the city itself becomes the very illustration, the very essence of huzun.  I am speaking of the evenings when the sun sets early; of fathers under streetlamps in the back streets returning home carrying plastic bags.  Of the old Bosphorus ferries moored to deserted stations in the middle of winter,/ of the children who play ball between the cars on cobblestoned streets;/ of teahouses packed to the rafters with unemployed men;/ of ship horns booming through the fog;/ of crowds rushing to catch ferries on winter evenings;/ of the city walls, ruins since the end of the Byzantine Empire; of the markets that empty in evenings;/ of the seagulls perched on rusty barges caked with moss and mussels, unflinching under pelting rain;/ of crowds of men fishing on the sides of the Galata Bridge;/ of the busses packed with passengers;/ of the little children in the streets who try to sell the same packet of tissues to every passerby;/ of the underpasses in the most crowded intersections; of the overpasses in which every step is broken in a different way;/ of beautiful covered women timidly bargaining in street markets;/ of the view of the Golden Horn, looking towards Eyüp from the Galata Bridge; of the simit vendors on the pier who gaze at the view as they wait for customers; of everything being broken, worn out, past its prime;/ I speak of them all.”

~Orhan Pamuk “Istanbul: Memories and the City”  Chapter Ten


“Huzun 1″ Powered Graphite and Turkish Coffee on Paper, 30″x22”


“Huzun 2″ Graphite and Turkish Coffee on Paper, 30″x22”


“Huzun 3″ Powered Graphite and Turkish Coffee on Paper, 22″x30”


Mutlu Noeller

One year ago, I sat on a sunny porch with dear friend and fellow artist, Trici Venola.  It was my first Christmas away from home, but Trici’s cozy apartment tucked away in the middle of Cihangir, an Istanbul neighborhood, was becoming as familiar to me as any home I had known.

However, I still found it hard to be so far away from my family and found myself desperately searching for the familiar.  So, on Christmas Eve, Trici and I sang carols in a small church by the Galata Tower, and then settled in to watch Its a Wonderful Life while we ate chocolate and wore Ottoman house coats.  Ok, not exactly what I do every Christmas Eve, but Trici was becoming like family and Istanbul was my surreal home.  I fell asleep among Trici’s five rescued kitties and woke up in the morning to fresh coffee with cinnamon sticks, dates and figs with yogurt and the sun coming in through the windows.  We opened gifts and sipped coffee while listening to the familiar sounds of Istanbullus bustling on the streets below.

IMG_5119 In the late afternoon, we wandered to our favorite cafe where we ate a full Christmas breakfast of mini pancakes, Pekmez (a Turkish molasses) with Tahini, cheese, olives, salad, honey with cream and endless cups of çay.  In the evening, I sat in front of my computer where I saw my whole family open their presents in between the broken internet connection.

I am overjoyed to be with them this year, in our familiar Wyoming home.  But, as I look around the house, I see Turkish carpets on the floors, Trici’s drawings on the walls, and Pekmez on our breakfast table.  I know the influence from Istanbul will always be with me, and my Turkish Christmas with Trici will always be in my heart.

The Sale Barn

I love drawing people.  In Turkey, I would often sit in a tea house for hours and draw the crowd of Istanbullus, talking, laughing, smoking and sipping tea or coffee as if they had no other cares or obligations in the world . An open sketchbook, pencils, pens, markers and brushes scattered in the table in front of me, a hot çay and a sea of endless faces and gestures to capture is all I would need to feel as though I were in heaven.  In Wyoming this summer, I didn’t have a tea house but I still found interesting places to draw people.  Here are a few sketches from the sale barn in Riverton, where I was for three hours, drawing cowboys bidding on cattle.  This is ironic because I have not eaten meat in years, but I used to go here with my grandpa and watch the cattle, sheep and pigs as they are herded in and out of the arena.  I would listen to the auctioneer as his lips moved rapidly, resounding into the microphone his almost musical rythum.  I haven’t been here in years, but was delighted with the variety of faces I found and the nostalgia of the atmosphere.  I can’t imagine how out of place I looked, but no one seemed to notice me staring at them from the corner, just as no one seemed to notice at the çay bahçesi in Istanbul.