Sketching Istanbul’s Hans Part 1: Büyük Valide Han

This blog is reposted from Yabangee.com where I and my friend Emilie Varlet are regular contributors.  Emilie and I, as close friends and sketchers, have been collaborating on a writing/drawing project since the Fall 2014.  Here is Emilie’s contribution to the first part of our Han Series.  Mine is soon to follow…

Emilie Varlet and Gabrielle Reeves began exploring Istanbul’s hans in the summer of 2014, when they first started their sketching adventures in the city. They have since become fascinated with these buildings and how they reflect the city’s vast history. In this series of articles, they will share their discovery of these ancient places through drawing and how this exploration has really deepened their love for the city.

Buyuk Han Sketch 5, G Reeves

“Rooftop” Gabrielle Reeves

 

Büyük Valide Han

We sit on borrowed cushions, perched amongst the onion bulb protrusions of the han’s roof, above the hubbub of the anthill streets below, soaking in the luxurious calm. We take in the panorama of this ancient city spread out before us — a model that we never tire of, whose beauty is arresting and timeless. Behind us, an artisan releases pigeons and calls to them. They flip in the air in response, the long feathers on their legs making it look like they are wearing legwarmers.

The journey here is like a treasure hunt, as we wind up behind Eminönü’s backstreets, feeling our way with memory’s fingertips. We take a slightly different road each time, until we eventually wash up at one of its entrances. The Büyük Valide Han feels like a secret we’ve stumbled upon. We walk up to the second story, led by the distant clicking of hammers, and go past artisans’ studios to find the gatekeeper, a jolly man named Mehdi Bey. His crowded keyring also holds the one that opens to door to the rooftop. No password is required, however, just perhaps a few coins.

Buyuk Han Sketch, Emilie Varlet

“Han Sketch” Emilie Varlet

 

We sit, tools in hand, and sketch what we can see: The majestic domes that reign over the skyline, the Bosphorus bridge, and the clusters of buildings growing organically from every direction — a cacophony of angles and an ode to the beauty that can be found in chaos.

It is humbling to sit atop so much history. The building — one of the biggest hans in Istanbul — is as layered as the city it lives in. Originally a Byzantine structure, and later a palace, it was built anew in 1651 as a han and money-maker by Kösem Sultan, a harem girl turned powerful Sultan’s wife, and one of the only women to single-handedly rule the Ottoman Empire. Once a caravanserai and a storehouse for goods coming from the Golden Horn, the han is also said to have housed Kösem’s ample fortune, which disappeared when Kösem was strangled, in some versions of the story, by her long, flowing hair. A less grisly part of the han’s history is that it housed some of the city’s first illegal printing presses, and that the first quran was printed here.

Today, the Büyük Valide Han is very much alive. It isn’t just a crumbling building or a polished monument, but a functional space. It houses various artisans: lamp makers, tailors, and jewelers. On one of our first visits, we were eagerly ushered into a fabric dyer’s workshop, where bra straps bubbled like oversized spaghetti in blackened pots of blue and pink water, and where we were shown the process of dying silver colored buttons to gold with ordinary kitchen tools — illusory alchemy. The joy of sketching at the han has also been in meeting these various characters and getting a peek into the city’s rich world of atölye and their craftsmen.

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“Buyuk Valide Han Sketch” Gabrielle Reeves

 

After some time spent drawing, afternoon turns to evening, the call to prayer rings out, and the light starts to dim. We slowly pack our things, thinking about the journey and the people we’ve met, and take a look at the work we’ve made — our drawings, love letters to the city.

Buyuk Han 6

 

 

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Brown Paper Drawings

In order to get more drawing in, I have been carrying a 5×7 inch brown paper sketchbook with me everywhere.  Sometimes life in the city goes so fast and when I look up from my daily activities, I realize it has been days or perhaps weeks since I have drawn.  Although I am painting, stretching canvases or working on some project nearly everyday in my studio, drawing from life introduces a different element to my artistic practice.  While studio work is meditative, something about the call and response of sketching on location makes me feel connected and engaged in an incomparable way.

As you can see from my recent drawings, I can’t seem to get away from this brown paper.  The push and pull of black and white on top of a mid tone seems to work so well with the layers of Istanbul, and I hardly seem to be starting from an intimidatingly white page these days.

If a mere 15 minutes opens in my day, it is enough to keep up with consistent drawing.  I have found through this practice that working within the limitations of my time and materials, can often provide the most creative results.

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Sketching the Asian Side from Besiktas

 

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A sketch and a poem in Karakoy

 

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Topkapi Palace on a sunny day

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An elaborate column from Hagia Sophia

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Sketching home objects in Trabzon

 

Prints!

I spent several months this fall in the print shop at Mimar Sinan, Istanbul’s fine arts university.  I first stepped into the school not having made a single etching, block print or aquatint for years, so I had to roll up my sleeves and start from scratch on this one.  Working in the Gravür Atölyesi, or print studio, reminded me of my print making class in college…except for this time I had to pay extra attention because all of the instructions were in Turkish.

The reason why I found myself with ink covered hands and working among Turkish fine arts students was to make work for an upcoming print exhibition.  Since I am a painter primarily I needed to spend a few months coming up with new work for this show.  After many weeks of drawing, etching, inking, pressing and learning many new Turkish words…I had made a series of 3 prints, all reflecting my current theme of interior and exterior spaces.

On the night of the opening, we crossed the Bosphorus to Kuzguncuk, on the Asian side of Istanbul to see my work hanging along with 24 other print artists.  The best part of this process for me is of course sharing my work, celebrating with friends and loved ones…and seeing that little red dot on the wall.

A very special thank you to Can Aytekin for the invitation to participate in this show, and for all of the help and patience.  Also to my friends and family, and to Ozgur for all of your love and support this fall.

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“Untitled” Etching and Aquatint on Paper, 2014

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“Pekmaz Yaparken” Dry Point Print on Paper, 2014

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“Interior/Exterior” Etching and Aquatint on Paper. Credit for the original photograph of this piece goes to Heather Freedman.

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New Year

I was lucky enough to fly back to the US this year for Christmas and New Years.  I have only missed 1 Christmas away from my family in Wyoming, and am realizing more each year how much of a priority it is for me to be home over the holidays.  As I seem to have a new family member every year, I don’t want to miss out on catching these days of seeing their constant growth, change and discovery.

My days at home are few and precious, and with seeing these amazing changes in my family, along with having visits with inspiring friends, I can’t help but make a list of resolutions for 2015.

The other night I had dinner with my dear friends, and fellow artists Eric and Maria Wimmer.  Maria, who is a prolific blogger, recently posted her list of new years resolutions, which you can read here.  It seems only fitting that since I talked with Maria and Eric late into the night about new projects, upcoming shows and promises for the new year, that I should do the same.

That being said, here is my list for 2015:

1) Keep in touch.  With the loss of internet in my studio last fall, I fell into a silence.  Yes, I was also doing my best of staying in the present moment, but I realize how important keeping in touch is for my friends and family living far away.  So I promise to keep up on emailing as well as blog posting.

2) Complete all my projects.  Especially collaborations with friends, and push them as far as they can go.  This includes a collaborative sketchbook project, a series of articles on Istanbul Hans, a published book of travel sketches and 3 solo shows!

3) Keep up with my Turkish.  Its easy to get lazy about this one.  Even though I am living in Turkey, I am often surrounded by English speaking friends and too often succumb to the comfort of my native tongue.  This year I will continue with my private lessons, try out duolingo.com, which just added Turkish, perhaps take a month long intensive course, and just speak more often.

4) Continue with my consistent art making process, push forward with more discipline and diligence, even in those times when it is difficult to make anything.

5) Don’t loose the dedication to my yoga practice, keep connecting to that inner child and have the natural confidence that comes with letting go of our expectations from the world…just like Captain America here.

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Monsoon Colors

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Some flight home, on some date, some day-trip to a friend’s home

in a nice neighborhood, some old men who sell figs in a damp

market, wave gently and nod by, a boy on his tractor,

breathless and heavy, with Monsoon colors in his hair

Sleeping Positions.

An excerpt from a poem by Catherine Reeves

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“Monsoon Colors” Mixed Media on Paper, 2013

Sarah in Babayan

Due to some visa confussion, Sarah and I had to reroute our journey back down South to Ankara.  I was leaving for India in less than a week and the Embassy still had my passport!  I could go into this stressful side story that involves leaving Sarah at the bus station, jumping into a cab and speeding to the Indian Embassy minutes before it closes, dodging cars as I make my way to the embassy across the street while my taxi driver somehow convinces them to let me in after business hours…..and after all of that, I did make it back in time to catch the bus, but my passport and visa had to be sent to me later on.

This was all a major inconvenience.  However, because we were so close to Kapadokya, I ended up taking Sarah back to Babayan where we spent 2 blissful days.  We loved our time on the Black Sea, but felt as though something was missing.  We had fallen in love with the unrivaled hospitality of central Turkey on previous adventures, and though it had been fascinating to visit a new part of the country, we missed the warm heartedness of Anatolia.  In Ibrahimpaşa, we were reminded of why we return to this country again and again.

We spent our short time in the village visiting friends I had made during my residency, getting invited into homes for tea and sweets, taking walks with the resident donkey, sketching as the sun went down, having dinner with artists, and attending an open studio at BCH.  Time went so fast and before I knew it, we had to be on our way to Istanbul.  Though it was short, I was so grateful to share this special place with my dear dear friend from home…and nothing can replace it.

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Sarah sketching in the village at night

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A page from my sketchbook, Ibrampasa as the sun goes down.

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Prints

Just a quick side note before I continue with my account of the Black Sea….

I have recently been in touch with people about selling prints of my paintings.  I have sold a few in the past, but have never done much advertising for them.  Its good for me because prints are easy and fast to make, and good for the client because they are affordable, can be printed at any size and look almost as good as an original.  So, that being said if you are interested in purchasing a print of any sketch, painting or drawing of mine, please contact me at gabrielleannreeves@gmail.com.  You can find most of my work on this site, as well as at Gabriellereeves.com.

A few examples of prints sold…

"Mala in the Monsoon" Mixed Media on Paper, 2013

“Mala in the Monsoon” Mixed Media on Paper, 2013

"Waldo" Oil on Canvas, 2011

“Waldo” Oil on Canvas, 2011

"On Road"  Oil on Canvas, 2008

“On Road” Oil on Canvas, 2008

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“Apparaition” Oil on Panel, 2010

Thank you to everyone who has supported my work!  Now, back to the Black Sea…