Gece Çizimler/Night Drawings

Ibrahimpaşa is stunning at night; when everyone retires into their homes, the streets are quiet, and dim lamps reflect yellow and orange hues against stone houses tumbling down the hill.

The last time I did a night drawing was in Istanbul 2 years ago, with fellow sketcher Nicole.  We sat awkwardly at a tippy table in Fener, using çay as medium while street cats walked across our drawing paper and the light rapidly faded.  I remember how uncomfortable the situation was, but also how all of these challenges brought about unexpected energy to our drawings.  For me, another layer of difficulty brings another layer of exhilaration, and I find that my work often benefits from a bit of chaos.

One way to add a great deal of chaos to the drawing process, is to work at night.  Finding a good light source, sitting in the cold, trying to capture the infinite lights and darks that appear within shadows, being able to see the colors you are using….all difficulties in the night sketching process.

In the early Kapadokyan summer, I sat under a dim street lamp with frozen fingers. Drawing shapes that had become so familiar to me during the day, and so mysterious at night.

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“Gece Çizim/Night Drawing 1” Mixed Media on Paper, 2013

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“Gece Çizim/Night Drawing 2” Mixed Media on Paper, 2013

 

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“Gece Çizim/Night Drawing 3” Mixed Media on Paper, 2013

 

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Choice

My favorite season in Istanbul was, fig season.  Never having seen or eaten a fresh fig in my life, I was fascinated by this strange and delicate fruit.  My first encounter with them came when a great friend and I were walking through the sea side town of Kuşadası, on our way to catch a boat to Greece.  It was mid August, the air was thick and sweltering and our back packs were heavy.  We stopped to stare curiously at the fresh figs a woman was selling by the side of the road.  After buying 3 liras worth, we continued trekking through the busy streets to the dock.  An hour later we were on the boat, rocking in the rough water, our skin covered in sea salt from the occasional splash on board.  We examined the figs in their intricacy.  They were plump and round, fitting nicely into the palm of my hand.  Each one a deep purple, fading to a bright green towards the small stem.  Small flecks of white covered their skin and as I looked closer I found many other colors; blue, grey, pink, orange, red.   We tore them open, indulging on their seeded insides.

After our trip to Greece and the departure of my dear friend, I watched the figs fill every market place, and they became my daily purchase.  Subjects in my paintings and photographs, I was always happy to indulge in them and remember my boat ride to Greece.  By the middle of October, they began to taper away and I felt disheartened to see them diminish.  Every day during fig season I recalled Sylvia Plath, and my favorite passage from the Bell Jar.  The passage is about choice, each fig representing a potential path in life.  While living in such an overwhelming city, I felt a connection to this idea in an entirely new way.  Everyday presented me with infinite choices, and I was only hoping to be picking the right fig.

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.  From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.  One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.  I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.  I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.  ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 7

“Choice” Watercolor

Drawing with Trici

I have recently befriended one of Istanbul’s greatest artists.  Her name is Trici Venola, a digital artist from Las Angeles who has been living in Turkey for the past 7 years, reconnecting with plien air drawing.  You can see her digital and traditional work here.  Before I made my move to Istanbul, I found her website through my professor Doug Russell.  As it turns out, she illustrated a book I was reading at the time about living in Turkey.  I contacted Trici a number of times before leaving and after arriving in Istanbul, but our schedule’s were so busy this summer that it was too hard for us to meet up.  Although, I am quite surprised that we never ran into each other as we were both drawing outside all summer.  Trici and I finally met about three weeks ago when she called and invited me to her house for coffee.  I gathered my travel drawings and headed over to her lovely home for a warm afternoon of chatting on the terrace.  We drank iced coffee and ate melted chocolate with dried apricots while we looked at my drawings and discussed life in Turkey.  I felt an instant friendship with Trici, as though I could share with her all of the ups and downs of my experience living in Istanbul.  Ever since our first meeting, I have been helping Trici build a wordpress blog.  In exchange for my time on the computer with her, she has been spending time with me out drawing at the Boukoleon Palace.  This experience has been quite fascinating.  As an artist who sketches outdoors, I am always influenced by my surroundings.  When I am drawing in solitude, my work has a completely different feeling that when I am drawing in company.  All summer long, Nicole and I would lug our drawing bags around the city and sit down for very quick, gestural and energetic work.  Drawing with Trici is equally as wonderful, but a very different experience.  Her work is incredibly detailed, and takes a great deal of concentration.  Trici seems to go into a deep meditative state when she works and I felt directly influenced by her method.  Though I am always compelled to banter on when I am drawing with a friend, Trici has made it clear that her work involves silence and extreme concentration.  So, for two drawing sessions, I have sat with Trici, working on an ink wash drawing that is becoming very detailed.  Trici looks at my work from time to time and offers great feed back and answers the questions that I have about responsive drawing.  After our last drawing session, we walked from the Boukoleon to a tea house overlooking the Marmara.  We sipped on our Turkish coffee while Trici talked about her life as an artist in Las Angeles and Istanbul.  When the coffee was done we flipped our cups and gazed at our fortunes.  Turkish coffee comes with a tick layer of grounds at the bottom of the cup.  When you flip your cup over and let the grounds dry, they make swirling designs.  I have no knowledge of coffee fortune telling, but I love looking into my cup and making out shapes.  Its the same as if I were looking up at a sky and recognizing figures in the clouds.  I had the most beautiful design in my cup…Trici said that it looked like my heart was full.

 

After fortune reading, we walked from the seaside through Sultanahmet where Trici took me to a ruin I had never seen before, the Corridor of Lords.  This Byzantine structure lies underneath a carpet shop, and seems to be off the beaten path for tourists.  I would love to draw down there, but Trici told me it is full of spirits…so I’ll save that one for a time when I have a drawing partner.  We slowly made our way back to Arsah Carpets, having several glasses of tea along the way as we stopped in to see Trici’s friends who work in Sultanahmet.  By the time we reached the carpet shop we were famished and Huseyin took us to dinner in Kumkapi, which was as busy as ever and full of gypsy music, tight cloths and delicious mezes.  Trici pulled out her sketchbook and began to draw the musicians and people sitting at tables and walking down the street.  It was lovely to watch her work.  She is so confident in her mark making, hardly hesitating or making any timid movements.  Trici drew her portraits quickly because unlike the Boukoleon, people are bound to move eventually.  I worked in my sketchbook as well, and I realized the improvement I have made in the past few months.  I aspire to be at a level like Trici’s someday, and I know what I have to do to get there.  Ah, Istanbul is full of such inspiring people!

Birthday

Its amazing how in times of need certain unexpected people can appear in your life.  One of the things I love about traveling is how close you can get to someone in a short amount of time.  Living and traveling in Turkey is inevitably dramatic, stressful and emotional.  However, when you share these experiences with someone you have only known  for a few weeks, it is easy to develop a friendship that is incredibly strong, reliable and full of love.  Here are a few pictures from my birthday weekend with Nicole Hanim.

A quiet family beach in Heybeliada
My ink tray, where we were drawing in Greece
Our traveling studioSketch from Greece
Nicole on the boat to GreeceA lovely Greek dinner by the sea
The boat we almost got on by mistake!

Road Trip Photos

I know, I know…this trip was over two weeks ago but due to my ability to fall easily into Turkish time it has taken me a while to even unload these photos.  So here is a brief look at the first part of the trip to Selcuk, Birgi and Efesus.  More coming soon, including some drawings!The girls in one of my favorite towns, Birgi.Carpet trade

Life in Early August

July is gone and with it the hot Istanbul nights.  August has brought a whole new atmosphere to the city and I can’t say I mind the change of pace.  With Ramazan in full swing, there is a subdued mood to the city and everything seems to be surprisingly quite and relaxed.  The devout are fasting from sunrise to sunset as they sit throughout the day in an almost meditative state.  Walking around the city, I see many shops and restaurants that are closed for the daylight hours while the air is not only noticeably cooler but also sleepy.  I seem to have fallen into the mood of Ramazan as I am feeling very calm in my surroundings, and when I am out drawing the energy in and around me is serene.  Below are some sketches of Fethiye Camii, Küçük Ayasofya Camii, a Bulgarian church in Fener and Chora Church.

ink and guache on paperink, guache and gold pen on paper

guache, ink and cay on paper

guache and ink on paper

With the coming of Ramazan, my enthusiasm for drawing has only increased.  Michelle, Nicole and I find new places to sit everyday and I always feel a kind of euphoria from our new conversations, locations and drawings.  Yesterday we laid all of our drawings out on the shop floor to admire our productivity.  It was quite satisfying to see them spread out together.  Most of the drawing we did while sitting side by side, staring at the same scene, but our interpretations, color and compositional choices are always completely unique from one another’s.  I love being able to feed off of Nicole and Michelle’s great energy and see what they choose to add to their work.  Every drawing session we have is a valuable learning experience for me.While walking back from drawing last night we saw a massive crowd in Sultanahmet Square.  Everyone had brought food and blankets and began feasting as soon as the call to prayer sounded, which is when the fast is broken.  It was an incredible sight.
The dome in Fethiye CamiiOn a ferry over to the Asian side to have my first Ramazan dinner.

How to Energize your Drawings

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.

Ink, Guach and Cay on Paper

Fener

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.

Ink, Guache and Cay on Paper