Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 15

22 October 2011 2-7 PM

GESTALT

I have a compulsion for accuracy. The real, actual world is so astonishing and beautiful that I want to document it. Accuracy is not simply a matter of everything being exactly in place, it’s also a matter of mood. Gestalt is a term for something where the whole equals more than the sum of the parts. You know how some people are not particularly beautiful, yet they are fired with charm, radiance, charisma– so that they seem stunning in person. But a bad photo can make them look empty. So it is with buildings. This rendering of the actual present Boukoleon is as accurate as I could make it, yet something is missing. That’s what we’re working on today. Here’s the drawing as we left it last time.

Boukoleon Portals 14: Work In Progress ©2011 by Trici Venola

I’m making this work better simply by blackening certain areas and strengthening certain lines, while looking at the actual Boukoleon. It really helps to look at the drawing upside-down, in a mirror, and from across the room. You can immediately spot what needs to be done. 

This piece is really busy because of the accuracy. In line art, you’ve got two choices: lines and no lines. There’s a kind of code that develops: dots mean one sort of surface, hatching another. In this piece I used stippling for mortar. For brick, I used hatching.  And now we’re going to talk about foliage.

Oh, the drawings I’ve ruined from drawing the foliage wrong. OK, it’s ephemeral, but it’s there and must be dealt with. It has to do with the way the Boukoleon looks. It’s green, and nothing else is. So we have to find a code for it. The code for this foliage in this drawing is white, sparsely detailed, with a few forays into black.

The detail is sparse because the drawing is not about the foliage. You have to say “What is this drawing about?” And you have to keep saying it as you work. What the drawing is about determines everything you do: the amount of detail, treatment of surfaces, chiaroscuro– the light and dark. This drawing is about endurance. It’s about the contrast between red brick and white marble and old stone. It’s about splendor that survives decay. It’s about grandeur. And on a personal level, it’s about 40 hours of my life in September and October of 2011.

The Boukoleon tells us a lot by its age and decrepit condition. We can see how the rainwater fountained down by the way it carved troughs in the bricks. The big stones at the bottom record the thrash of waves in storms. The blackened areas tell us of past horrors of destruction. The layers of brick and stone are clues to its construction. The lines of stress and weight tell us how a building 1200 years old can survive earthquakes, fires, explosions, partial demolition by dynamite, and the constant vibration from the trains running through its truncated guts.

I’ve been drawing this during a time of upheaval and change. While I was working on this, Muammar Gaddafi died on the hood of a car. You probably saw it too, how he put up his hand to his bloody head and looked at in amazement and dismay. Like many of the ancients, Gaddafi was a horrible sociopath who bled his people like a spider sucking out the guts of flies. His end was foul, as were those of so many of the ancients. As I draw, trying to bring out the massive bulky shapes made up by thousands of bricks, I’m thinking of Nicephoros Phokas.

Phokas Captures Halep: from a contemporary manuscript

He lived in this palace, although he was not born to the purple. Emperor from 963-969, Nicephoros Phokas was a great general. His nickname from a grateful populace was Pale Death of the Saracens.   He killed so many of them that he made Christian Constantinople safe from what it perceived as the ravening hordes of Infidels. Then the Emperor Romanos died, leaving two little boys, a gorgeous 22-year-old widow, Theophano… and a eunuch in charge of the country. Probably to save her sons, Theophano seduced Nicephorus Phokas. This would not have been easy. He was four feet tall, with no neck and thick rubbery lips, and he undoubtedly stank. He refused all comfort, being one of those Christians who believed in rigid asceticism. He slept in a tiger skin and eschewed women, wine, and good food. Nevertheless, Theophano prevailed. “The people love you,” she said, “if you want, they’ll crown you Emperor.” And so it was done, with a grand processional from the Triple Gate all through the city to Hagia Sophia, where he was coronated on the great dais there.

Six years later he was killed by Theophano, his head displayed on a pike before an angry mob, his body thrown out of a window, likely from this very palace. He had insisted that the people continue to behave as though they were still at war, practicing rigid economies and prayers, and they wanted to enjoy life. He was Oliver Cromwell. He was soon hated. He forced the people to build a wall from the Great Palace, next to the Hippodrome where the Blue Mosque is now, all the way down to the Boukoleon on the sea, ending at the Lighthouse, cutting the people off. The Wall of Nicephorus Phokas still exists in places. It’s hollow, a great enclosed walkway the size of a roofed street, big enough for an unpopular, grandiose upstart to walk with his army. But it didn’t save him. The people would have killed him–one source says they did– If Theophano hadn’t done the job. From those contemporary physical descriptions I wonder that it took her six years. On his tomb was carved “You conquered all but a woman.”

I always wanted to be right in the center of things. It seems my fate to be drawing the center of things 1042 years after the fact.  As I put the last stroke on my signature, three people walked up. We started talking and I met Trevor, who is studying archeological preservation of Byzantine antiquities here in Istanbul. He told me some hopeful things about the Boukoleon, such as who has an interest in it and who put the fence up. These are people I’ve some acquaintance with. They do things well here in Turkey and have a great appreciation and understanding of antiquities. Trevor has an impressive amount of information about the Boukoleon and much more access than me since he is working from within the Groves of Academy. I explained that I’m doing this entirely on my own hook, with no organization or funding save the commissions from fascinated clients, and he made some suggestions as to people I might look up, people who would be interested in my Drawing On Istanbul project. So I’m going to do just that, and I’ll let you know what happens.

I am drawing for those who will never see this palace in all its rotting glory. I am hoping that it neither falls apart nor is rendered unrecognizable by Restoration, where one must be told how old it is since it looks brand-new. Why is visual antiquity good? It’s interesting. It tells us things we can’t learn from looking at the same thing new, or made to look new. Today I wore my go-to-hell jeans, which have been with me after a laundry mix-up in West Hollywood in 2001. The original owner was a fairly tall man who wore his 501 jeans until the knees split crossways and the hems were ragged, the backs of them torn clean off. The fronts of the thighs are worn white, and the left one is beginning to fray to white crosswise threads. On either side of the knee splits, the torn threads hang down in an interesting manner. What does this tell us? The wear over the knees tells us he was active. The worn left thigh is a clue as to his behavior, like perhaps he wore a tool belt that rubbed that spot. The ragged bottoms tell us that he was in rough country and wore his boots on the inside. Or perhaps he tucked the jeans in so many times that they tore. Now to buy a pair of jeans like this in LA costs an arm and a leg, because it’s impossible to create a pair of jeans worn out like this from scratch. You can stone-wash jeans, you can artificially distress them, you can put cutesy little tears and frays on them and charge up the yingyang for them and the designers do, but all they are is kitsch. Fake and common. But their pricey existence points up the value of the real deal. The high value of actual worn-out jeans is tribute to the years it takes to make them and the stories that they tell. Tribute to the human experience of those actual jeans, made visual. For this reason they are infinitely more valuable than they were when new. And so it is with antiquities. I can’t preserve them so I draw them.

So we come to the end of the Portals Drawing Experience, and here is what we have to show for it:

Boukoleon Portals 2011 ©2011 by Trici Venola

Gestalt? You decide. Thanks to Donna Perkins, in the Back Of Beyond, Canada, for making this Boukoleon Portals project happen, and I sure hope you and Guy love the original.

Samaver Cafe ©2011 by Trici Venola

Thanks to Samaver Cafe, just on the other side of the parking lot from the Boukoleon. Thanks to that bus driver who gave me a pencil, to Gabrielle for getting me, finally, up on a blog. Finally, thanks to all the people in the park, people who will likely never see this blog, but who have either ignored me so I could work, or looked out for me while I was working, made me welcome, and made it possible.

Drawing the Boukoleon ©2011 by Trici Venola

Ahmet and a few nameless guys and that shy fellow, the Ghost, who I tried to draw from memory. All the neckers, a different pair every day, now gone to warm cafes. It’s all sad and strange now, the weather has turned to winter, and today will be short. My best friends are leaving Istanbul, off to new adventures. I don’t know what I will do without them. But working all day today on this I am comforted. Part of the expatriate experience is that people leave, and it tears your heart right out when they go. But the drawing is always there. I don’t know why it makes me happy, but I’m very glad it does.

photo ©2008 Donna Perkins

Donna took this picture of me back in 2008 down in front of the Lighthouse. I’ve drawn the Window there, but there are some pillars up top on the wall, in front of desiccated arches and partially behind the remains of an Ottoman stone covering. Fascinating. I wonder how long the rain will hold off?

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 14

21 October 2011 1:30-5PM

PERSPECTIVE THROWS A CURVE

Well, I blew it. Hoo-boy. After all this drudgery, a mistake I can’t fix. But the piece will still work.

It’s the perspective in the top left corner that’s off.

I was an illustrator in the recording industry for years and years. One-point perspective creates drama when you’re drawing something like a recording console or piece of equipment, like this:

and you can easily apply forced one-point perspective in Photoshop with the Transform command, like this.

But of course, it looks like hell. Flat. Fake. Real perspective is much more interesting.

Here’s the piece entire.

Boukoleon Portals.WIP Three & One ©2011 Trici Venola

All this talk about invoking the Cross– well, I should have STARTED with the Cross.

I did, from the left to the right. But at the very beginning, from ancient habit I laid the piece out in forced-perspective. I ran the perspective lines from high up down to a point far to the right of the edge of the page, and I slightly tilted the vertical plane. Why? For drama. Artistic license, if you will. Now some of this is allowable. We are attempting to convey mood and accuracy, and we have jettisoned color, mass and one of the three dimensions. We have black and white and we have line. So there’s got to be some compensation. OK, so now it’s dramatic, but  I forgot something about perspective. I can’t believe it, but I did.

I used to be married to a guy with the best natural perspective sense I’ve ever seen. I remember seeing him lay out the perspective lines for the backgrounds to a comic program we collaborated on. Here’s part of his Main Street background, which he based on Cannery Row and built, as we did back in Paleolithic Mac times, with a mouse in SuperPaint:

Main Street ©1986 by Kurt Wahlner for Comic Strip Factory

You see? The lines aren’t straight. They bulge out when they are close to you, like a fish-eye lens.  Here, I’ve scored them in red:

See? Curved. Just like the eye sees them. And, dammit, when I draw ONLY using the Cross and the Unit, I never make a perspective mistake. That natural fish-eye effect shows up. But no, I had to run those stupid perspective lines straight out and up and off the page like I was drawing an ad for a recording console. Damn!! I should have done it like this, if I was going to do it at all:

All is not lost. You see toward the bottom, that slab of marble below the PopUp Kitten hole? That angles off almost flat. That is correct. Because I was using the Cross. But up above, the white rocks, oh dear, such proportion problems. If I’d stuck to my forced-perspective the bricks would have been taller than they are wide.

So I did what all artists do, and I’m telling you about it: I faked it. That’s pretty much what it looks like, at the top left, but it’s not accurate. There are a whole lot more bricks drawn than are actually there. I had to make up the difference between the forced-perspective left top corner of the Left Portal, and the stuff below it, which I built on the Cross. So if you’re looking to rebuild the Boukoleon as the Byzantines did, don’t look at this part. Look at the rest.

Boukoleon Portals WIP.Three & One ©2011 Trici Venola

The Cross method is a way of creating, exactly, what the eye sees. If you’re trying to draw something that you are seeing in your imagination, one-point won’t do. Back then I didn’t quite understand what my former husband was doing with those bulging lines, but I sure do now. I’ll never forget it. And I hope you don’t either.

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 13

Wednesday 19 October 2:00-5:20

FINISHING IT RIGHT

Days of rain! Days and days of rain. In the past I’ve actually done an outside Plein Air drawing in pouring rain, sitting under a clear plastic umbrella jammed up under a window ledge, but that was an emergency: the client was hot and the rent was due. Things are much better now, thank you Donna and Guy who commissioned this piece. Now I don’t have to draw in the rain, I just want to.

But today was perfect, high dark blue skies edged with cloud, and almost cold. It took me all day to get there, but it was fun. Pretty Rhonda juggling phones and customers and never missing a hotel beat, Jeannie in jeans with her huge gold hair damp and down her back, tall golden Hasan slicing through Turkish red tape up at the bank, the fast hike lugging boots in a bag up the tramline to the shoe repair store only to hear that the Sole Master is on Hajj in Mecca, Fatma from Bulgaria working on Rhonda’s nails in a tiny lime-green salon, running into Nazan on the way down past the Hippodrome wall and admiring her style– black pashmina fringed with leather, perfect black tailored shalvar, and a diamond in her nose in her diamond-shaped face. And just as I realized I was hungry, the gnarled simit-seller at the corner making cheese simit for me, slicing the round dough-ring and spreading cheese with incongruous young hands.

It was a short day but great. It’s tempting, now that the end is in sight, to just finish it up any old way. I had to force myself to slow down and treat it like this was the only part of the drawing that would survive a disaster, like those surviving parts of Cimabue’s Crucifixion, found floating face-down in the Arno River by volunteer art students in 1966 after the devastating Florentine floods. Or those few bits of mosaic in Chora’s nave that survived the scraping by either Christian Iconoclasts or Muslim Conquerors. Or the Boukoleon Palace itself… Who among the workmen thought about his one carved bit of marble being the only part of the surface to endure for 1200 years? They were probably hanging in slings, thinking about not falling into the sea or getting brained by a swinging bucket of mortar. These people were artisans, building with solid three-dimensional materials, building to last. How I respect them. In this incarnation I’m a line artist creating works on paper and computer data, the most ephemeral of mediums. Still– some of it may well last, as much as, say, silent films. As I work I often think about those artists of old slaving away over one detail that is now so eroded by time and circumstance as to be unrecognizable. What will live? What will get chiseled out by idiots or the march of time? What…potboiler…might be the only surviving bit of my life’s work? EEK! Rip up that potboiler and treat it all as important. And if what I’m working on it isn’t the most important thing I’ve ever done, it’s time to do something else.

So I darkened around the PopUp Kitten in the hole, and something is not right.  What actually shows is a bit of the roof bricks, but it got lost. You can only do so much. At least the kitten lives because I didn’t blacken all the way to his edges. LIving things have a glow, an aura, and they also move. Blackening to the edge can kill something, can make it static and make it disappear. And yeah, I learned this the hard way.

 Here’s today: mostly just drawing the rest of the bricks and blocks. There’s some proportional stuff going on I don’t understand. The Cross is working but that hole seems too small. Hm.

Here’s the whole drawing so far.

Came back in the amber autumn light over the water, alive with flittering white seagulls just over the surface. Cold wind trying to rip off my scarf, coming on winter. One thing from today, I looked over to the corner and saw the guy I’ve wondered was a ghost. He waved, looking alive, and made a universal “whaddaya whaddaya” gesture of camaraderie. I returned it. Whaddaya whaddaya, I’m happy to be recognized, even– or especially– by a ghost, happy to be working. In any incarnation, I’m happy to be here.

When I Drew Rustem Pasha

by Trici Venola on Monday, 17 October 2011 at 00:33

The following is compiled from emails to friends last March.

From 7 March 2011

 From their emails, some friends back home think I’m in Rural Turkey.

I live in a city of 20 million people they tell us is only 15. I’m in a 1940s apartment with 10-foot high ceilings, orchids blooming next to the computer, a big geranium-covered balcony over other balconies, and five cats. It’s two rows of apartments back from a spectacular view of the mouth of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, across from the Old City, Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium, the Center of the World for 2000 years, layers of antiquity overlaid with a frenetic young culture obsessed with technology, surrounded by water on three sides which I can see if I walk outside and around the corner. I go over there to the old city a lot these days to draw.

Just now I’m drawing in the Spice Bazaar in Eminonu at the Galata Bridge. I’m drawing Rustem Pasha Mosque, and today did not go well. I sat on a campstool on a manhole cover next to a cafe in a parking lot for four hours and blew it, so I have to do it again tomorrow. I have to draw Rustem Pasha because it is like a pain every time I look at it until I do. Until I draw it. Here’s the drawing I finally did: Rustem Pasha & Friends ©2011 by Trici Venola.

The mosque rises above the right-angle joining of two long buildings topped by many domes. The masonry is rubbly stone layered with red brick. The vintage is Medieval. The windows piercing the stone on the building to the left, Papazoglu Han, may have been standard when the buildings were new, but centuries of reinforcement with marble and wood have made them different sizes and personalities. Most of them have black cross-hatch iron grills on them. Above them, arches of brick are visible in the texture of the stone. There’s a lot of green growth erupting from patches of the masonry on both buildings, and the domes are whiskered in places.

The building to the right, Chukur Han, has pairs of windows with pointed arches built in the brickwork. Both buildings are two stories, with a store under each dome. At the corner, there’s a Coffee World, a local chain that serves chocolate spoons with every cup. The other stores sell spices, dried fruit, nuts, candy, tea, restaurant supplies, hardware, lunch and so forth. The spices and dried food are mounded in open bins, the place is jammed with people shopping, the ferries are loading and unloading just across the highway zooming with cars, old people feed pigeons on the square, lunatic seagull shrieks and ferry horns blowing, guys jumping in and out of cars, parking them, and in the middle of this daily melee, the charming old mosque.

It was built by Mimar Sinan, Suleyman the Magnificent’s great architect of the Renaissance. From the ramp to the Galata Bridge you can see it below Sinan’s great Suleymaniye Mosque on the hill. Sinan said that Suleymaniye was his masterpiece, but Rustem Pasha was his heart. It’s got a fine dome with many clerestory windows and one minaret, the view I’m presently drawing. It’s built high, over many shops and courtyards surrounded by arches and workshops (these are called Hans), some functioning and some fallen into ruin. High Medieval walls loom above narrow passageways going up to the mosque, where you duck into a dark enclosed stone staircase leading up to a high airy courtyard of marble pillars and arches and fabulous Iznik tiles. I love Rustem Pasha for the same reason everyone else does, because as Sinan felt, it does have a heart. It’s small, highly textured, accessible, and covered with the wonderful tiles in many different patterns, most of them cobalt and turquoise and white. There’s one right next to the door, a souvenir tile from a hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, that looks to be from a few hundred years ago. It’s a lone picture tile stuck into the middle of a frieze of identical floral ones.

It’s naive art, and I was drawing it because I love it. People coming out of the door after prayers were laughing and telling me they love it too, and one of them told me it was Mecca. Six minarets all round the edge, the requisite pairs of doors, the sacred oil flasks, the fountains, and in the middle, the big sacred black cube: Mecca. I’m hunched on my stool thinking how much I’d like to be drawing inside but it’s got to be forbidden, but I’m drawing away and people are coming up and telling me what the picture means and buying my book (I have a book of drawings I sell out of my handbag, sold about 1000 so far) and the Imam (priest) comes out and invites me to draw inside anytime. So I did but froze to death, it’s still too cold.

So today I spent out in the sun, trying to capture the charm of this place, but I’ll have to go back tomorrow and try again. I quit, disgusted with blowing the drawing but on the whole happy to care enough to do it over and have the time to  do it. I bought cheese and olives and walked across the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, fishermen on both sides, ferries and tankers and cruise ships and seagulls and the heaving teal sea, Japanese tourists everyone is being extra nice to, because of their disaster. Walked along the piers toward home past a decayed Byzantine chunk of old church pressed into service as a parking lot I should draw before it’s demolished. Walked up the steep hill to home.

Tomorrow night I’m going to an art opening, see some swell new work, talk to the artist, a professor friend from New York about art tours. But tonight I made soup, my Winter Soup staple that lasts five days, and watched a movie like I do most nights. Some days I take people on tours, some days I take people shopping, some days I work on the computer all day. I have 27 sketchbooks full of drawings and a few stories.  I live really quietly, but I live in Byzantium.

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 12

Thursday 6 October 3:30-6:00

THANK YOU, STEVE JOBS 

 

Another day of splendid weather, but an odd new world without Steve Jobs in it. I am so grateful for my former life as a digital artist and MacEvangelist. I got to participate in the computer revolution, which was a technological wave crashing over the whole world, with some of us zipping across the face of it. It was a privilege to observe Steve Jobs evolving into a hero of the age. Things that were impossible dreams just a few years ago are now unconscious extensions of our lives, like this ability to draw by hand, scan it, write about it, and share it that night. Sharing is what Macintosh was always all about. A pirate flag flew over the buildings at Apple when it was being developed; the software never liked limitations, didn’t perform well when the money boys had put in copy protection, Shareware was a Macintosh concept. Sharing information globally. My best friend recently participated in the Libyan Revolution, Twittering to the world after reaching behind the lines from a place where the hackers and murderers could not get to her. Instant communication, unlimited information at our fingertips, and a painting of my little cat Rex, incorporating an entire digital studio, done onscreen in 1993 in about ten minutes, and preserved, glowing, to this day. I’ve given this drawing away a hundred times, sent it all over the world for years, and I still have it. And every copy is exactly the same as the very first one. Computer art, the gift that keeps on giving, having my cake and eating it too. All possible because of Steve Jobs. What a legacy.

No matter what goes on in the world I have to keep drawing. Today I got down to the Boukoleon at 3:30 and picked up the trash. It took five minutes and made me feel better. I finished off the lines for the far right side of the drawing in about twenty minutes. Moved to the other side, left of the Left Portal. Left of the left, story of my life. Immediately caught a near-disaster and switched to pencil. I was blocking out the big marble support for the vanished balcony and about to draw everything too small. Measured everything by units and saved it. I do this by holding up a pencil or pen in front of the object in question– in this case, the hole in the wall with the kitten in it– and holding my thumbnail to the edge of where it comes on the pencil. I move the pencil and thumbnail to another part of subject, in this case the top of the portal next to it. What a shock: All that wonderful detail: the arch-topped hole in the wall, the bush, the support, the chunks of desiccated marble– it’s all about twice the size I thought it was. It just looks small because it’s surrounded by bigger stuff. When I was sure the size was right, I went back to the pen. The kitten in the hole is real, impossibly cute as it is. The little head popped up right before my eyes.

Here’s what the drawing looks like now.

Notice the fine detail on this scan, the exact copy of the hand-drawn kitten. And up top, look at the beautiful wash tones in that digital painting of Rex, done in Painter on a Mac in 1993. Here’s another cat drawing, this one done in 1985, with a mouse and MacPaint. Steve Jobs is everywhere. The first tiger took awhile to draw in that earth-moving, groundbreaking pixel-shoving MacPaint, but I was able to option-drag it into four tigers. This was revolutionary! Nothing remotely like this had ever been possible.

A world of possibilities opened up, so intriguing and entrancing that I spent the next fifteen years like this:

THANK YOU, STEVE JOBS!! This is my alter ego, Fred Nerd, back in 1985 in his virtual trance. I worked nights for years and years. Finally, in honor of Steve Jobs, here’s a page from the first underground comic done on a computer, Astral Byte, created in 1986 for the MacUnderground, a precursor to the Internet. It took a week to draw, onscreen with a mouse in SuperPaint, and all the copy was typed in Helvetica and augmented and crawled by hand. Back then we lived pretty much hand-to-mouse. Forgive me, it’s late. Anyway, Jobs ushered in a whole new world, and here’s a little piece of what it looked like back then.

(above) Rex at Sundown ©1996, Boukoleon Portals ©2011, Running Tigers ©1985, Fred Nerd ©1986, On Sale Everywhere © 1986 by Trici Venola

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 10 & 11

Sunday 2 October 1:00-4:30

INVOKING THE CROSS

Yesterday I put in the big lump of roundy brickwork at the top of the far right arch. It was not at all where it seemed it should be. I invoked the Cross: the method of lining up what I ‘m trying to draw with something I’ve already drawn. I do this by holding the pencil out in front of me, so that it makes a line across what I’m looking at and… NOOOO!! Couldn’t be that low… you can’t see it here, but that pencil is all over the drawing. That pencil  I was only using in emergencies…well, this was an emergency. A perspective perception emergency. Everything in me told me that big brick lump was WAY HIGHER than it actually is. Wrestled with this awhile when Gabrielle showed up. She’d come the day before, when I was home working, and her ink-wash drawing is now wonderful, dark and solid and mysterious. She decided to leave it alone, and about that time the affable guy, the one who works up at the gas station, turned up. His name is Ahmet.  I asked him if I could draw his picture. He was bewildered, actually pointed at his chest and looked around as though he stood in a crowd and I had beckoned. Then he stood rock-solid, without a trace of self-consciousness, for ten minutes until I said he could move. Here he is. For portraits I do a tight but light drawing as fast as possible, using my own code to indicate what’s black, plaid, etc. as people need to move. Then I darken and finish it up later. I meant to scan the preliminary since many people are curious about how to draw a portrait. But I forgot and finished, so I’ll have to show that another time. Afterwards he kissed my right hand and put a small handwoven multicolored bracelet on it. He told Gabrielle he would give her a necklace. Youth!

After a plan to meet later and play How To Blog, Gabrielle left to go do stuff on the apartment she’s fixing up. A friend from the first day. What a bright, talented beautiful girl with her whole life ahead, and a solid resume besides. I remembered where I’d been at that age, barely on my own radar, hadn’t even gone back to school yet.  I worked for awhile longer but my head, that old enemy, had started up like a rusty old engine. I started worrying about getting my work out while I’m still alive. If I live as long as I’ve been living, I’ll be 122. Hm. How hard I work, moan whine, and look at how little I make. Piss, grind. When my head really gets going I completely forget things like choosing to do what I love, choosing to do without other things to make it possible, having friends who act like angels…Then I noticed the slant on the bricks had gone all wrong and I quit while I could still fix it.

 Monday 3 October 1-3:00

DISTRACTIONS

Today was a short one.  I showed up at one fully prepared to draw my ass off for five hours. Ha.

Took the route down from Hagia Sophia along the Topkapi Palace/Gulhane Park wall and out the Ahirkapi, the Stable Gate, to the highway. Another beautiful day! So beautiful that when I walked through our tea garden in the wall and saw Osman sitting there smoking nargile (waterpipe, apple tobacco), I asked him for a hit. Staring out at the water and smoking was just what I wanted, and I got up to leave…and then I found myself going back to draw him and the cafe…just a few lines…

Forty-five minutes later, I got to the Boukoleon and started to draw. As always, the first look is clearer than any other. I tackled the Cross Hell Mess from yesterday and got some licks in.  Straight across, yes, it really IS that low on the page. Should I use the pencil again? I’m tired of all this backing and filling, I just threw the ink on.Looks like a pine cone, not like bricks. I drew what I saw and not what I thought I saw, and yes, it looks exactly like a pine cone. Why?  First the marble sheathing was removed or fell off. Then the wall began to erode. The mortar went first, from the surface backward, leaving the edges of brick exposed. Then the brick itself began to erode. So now there are these edges, curved from rain and wind patterns, sticking out like wafers, tongues of flame…a pine cone.

Just then, a mere hour and a half into the session, a group of truculent teenagers came striding up, through the gate in the Belidiye’s fence, and over to the little tree and the site of the bum tent. They carried pillows and rugs, and set about shouting and shoving each other and hanging the rugs to make a tent.  Five skinny guys and a lumpy big girl with a mean face, a dog on a leash. I wondered if they were going to draw lots. These kids looked angry. They punched and screamed at each other, particularly at one kid. He stormed out the gate and over past me, then came up too fast and close and demanded… a potato chip. He got it. Thanked me in English, too. Well, the dog looked clean, actually I think it was the same dog as the second day, when kids were emerging from the tent straightening their clothes, and the police stopped by and said I should be careful. So this time too I kept drawing.

A woman with winesores came up with her companion. She wanted me to know she’s Romanian and her mother was an artist. She kept petting me all over, wanting to be friends. She looked like she had been pretty, in an elfin kind of way. She looked like she lived under a bridge somewhere.  I didn’t wince away, she was harmless and I didn’t want to hurt her. But I was glad when they wandered away.

I started delineating the actual end of the wall, a time I’d looked forward to…but now I was just slamming it down there as fast as I could. Never know how long I’ve got with these things– can’t come tomorrow… drawing a little tree growing out of the wall up top, the dark of the wooden house behind it. I fixed the slant on the bricks. No white pen this time, just a lot of shading.

The group by the tent got louder and uglier. Years ago in my experimental youth I hitchhiked all over Greater Los Angeles, developed some street sense, and lived to tell the tale. Maybe these kids were just kids, but I didn’t know what substances they were ingesting, so I got out of there.

Back to the tea garden and drew some more, smoked some more. Osman told me he and Asim are buddies from ‘way back, started this place together. He did this by crossing his two fingers and shaking them emphatically.  I drew the boats across the highway, up in dry dock. I drew some trees and the water. What I didn’t draw was the traffic. Cars bumper to bumper, slowly moving, so I had to draw real fast and then wait.

Went home, carrying far too much since I stopped and bought cans of cat food. Walked up the Istiklal, the huge walk street down the top ridge of Beyoglu across the Golden Horn, on my way home. Saw a demonstration, women in photos with hangman’s nooses, etc, a petition for women who were under sentencing for murdering their battering husbands. I said I’d sign it, although I didn’t know if it would do any good since I don’t vote in Turkey, I’m just a resident. not a citizen. A woman passing by said, “You don’t vote? Where are you from?” When I told her she said, “Ha, you should go home and vote against Barack Obama.” A brisk exchange, and  I sorta lost it. They were all laughing. So I said, OK, fine, insult my President and my country, to hell with it. And walked off. Why can’t I ever remember to say that if one is going to trash America, then one should trash those Nikes and jeans. And toss that iPhone too. Go home and sever the landline, and while you’re at it, rip out the electrical box and toss that. And the refrigerator-it seems to me that this, too, is an evil American invention. No more Facebook either! Finally if one owns a car, get rid of it and never ride in one again. Most especially, no more American dollars, which I notice are quite high here right now. But I didn’t think of any of those things in time to say them, and they wouldn’t’ve cared. It’s fun to hate America. It makes the world kin. And here I am being political in an Art Blog. What do I know? There’s nothing I can do about any of this, not the battered murderer wives, not the trashed ruins, not my spent youth, not my hated motherland. One thing we don’t have in America is the Boukoleon, or anything remotely like it. All I can do is draw it, draw it all, make art out of it, make sense out of it, make sense out of something.

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 8 and 9

September 29 & 30  about 6 hours total

THE WHITE PEN

Yesterday was spectacularly beautiful; intense blues in sky and sea, brisk winds, hot light over all. I showed up an hour before Gabrielle. Here is where we left it last time, when I left the bottom of the RIght Portal undone because it looked too tall and I was tired.

A good thing, since I discovered to my horror that not only was it not too tall but the Center Portal was too short. By a good quarter of an inch. God in Heaven.

So I performed major surgery.  I moved the threshold of the Center Portal down and touched it with (gasp!) white pen. White pen is a big de-valuer in line art, if you look at stuff for sale they always say “a small amount of white,” or “some white” or “absolutely no white.” Well, they can sit on it, sit right on my white pen, because I’d rather offend the purists with it than offend the laws of God and Nature and Archeology and have the drawing off by even a hairsbreadth if I can avoid it with a dot of white. Yeesh. Still it was nip and tuck there. If you have to do this, know that the white comes last. Move everything first, because it’s amazing how little white you’ll really need. See that big black line where the threshold used to be? That will nearly disappear once I put in the bushes waving behind the threshold.

I’d gotten to this point when Gabrielle showed up. Her wash drawing is looking more exciting, with depth and mystery. She no sooner sat down and got out her ink wash when Nazan called. Normally callers during a drawing session get savaged by the Art Demon, but Nazan is something else again. Fabulously unique, a sculptor and jeweler and a woman capable of rebuilding an entire house, floors, tile, stairs, everything… So we conferred and invited her. She showed up, and I am sorry I did not draw her that minute, sitting there with her white shirt and vest and cheekbones. After a few minutes conversation Gabrielle and I both realized we didn’t WANNA draw, we wanted to amble about in the glorious golden afternoon, so we did, all three of us, over to the tea garden and then up the highway, along the water to Kumkapi. Tourist restaurants all around, but tucked in amongst the stalls of fresh fish is one tiny one we love. The rule holds: most food here is pretty good, but for sublime food that Turks eat, look for bad halogen lighting, ugly walls, zero ambience and Voila! Great food, not expensive. We stuffed ourselves on leveret (sea bass) and salad and fresh bread. By the time we finished the sky was so gorgeous that we asked them to bring chairs outside so we could look at it with our after-dinner chai. Peachy clouds, a golden sun getting ready to set, all the sky pale blue washed with gold. We walked back along the water, looking out at the fishing boats. Many adorable kittens played on the rocks of the quay. Little tables were set up down there, and the men drinking beer with their backs to all the glory, staring at the walkway. I said Are they blind? Nazan said, They are hoping to see a leg or a breast walking by, nothing like that in the sea!

A huge grey cloud, edged with gold, hung over the water. We looked back for some reason and stopped dead. The water was  shimmering silvery grey fading to gold and back again, like rippling changeable silk, you could comb it with your eyes. And the little fishing boats, solid and deliberate, rocking in that light. We walked backward, laughing, telling stories, while the gulls screamed and the whole windy world turned gold. Over at my place, Gabrielle showed me more about blogging, we watched The Man Who Would Be King, which she had never seen, and that was yesterday.

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 9

POTATO CHIPS AND THE GRAND GESTURE

When I first lived in Sultanahmet I fed two cats on my roof, a wide-faced grey tiger and an orange tabby. I called them Peachy and Danny after the two heroes of that movie. It always leaves me with a fine afterglow of adventure and friendship. I love that their lives were saved by an avalanche caused by their laughing in the face of death.  There are two fine bronze tabby cats down here at the Boukoleon I call Bobcat and Little Mama. Many cats come out of the house above, sit sniffing in the Right Portal before descending like liquid from crag to crag of the broken stonework, down to frolic in the park below. But Bobcat and Little Mama are particular denizens of the Palace park. I always take potato chips down there with me. Both the cats love them.

Normally I eat my chips right away since I find them impossible to ignore, but today the drawing started by itself. I put in a good hour first, finishing the bottom of the Right Portal, segueing over to the left and up the entrancing surface of the wall between the Center Portal and the Right.

I stopped and ate my chips, staring at the Portals, looking at their totality. It’s important to stay in touch with the grand gesture. The details are wonderful, but that grand gesture– the bone structure of the drawing– has to be right, be there first, and stay there. You can’t get hung up in the details. It’s easy to do as each tiny section of brickwork is its own world. If the drawing has good bones, the details take care of themselves. If you lose that grand gesture you’ve got a bunch of meaningless squiggles, and the thing looks chewed because you’ve hacked away at those details trying to make them look right and they never will.

I learned a lot about this doing computer art. I had to sustain the sense of the grand gesture in the painting I was doing even though I couldn’t see it anywhere but my own mind, since the section I was working on was all the computer would let me see. There was awhile there around 1990, the program I was using had no Zoom Out capability, and that was really hell. It was a painting with figures, I copied a head and pasted it into the section I was working on and measured against it, a real pain since the program also had no layers. People think digital painting must somehow be easier, don’t you just push a button? But it’s infinitely harder. And boy, did it teach me to appreciate the utter simplicity of drawing from life with a pen and paper. Grand gesture? Duck soup…but I still have to remember it.

So I’m eating my chips and feeding some to Bobcat. He leaves a few crumbs, and I watch the ants. Amazing creatures, ants. So organized! These are big fellows trundling about, almost a centimeter long, two of them tackling some shards of potato chip. They hustled it over to a crack in the bricks, wrestled it around, turned it sideways, upended it, and down the hatch. Wow! Where did it go? There must be a big passage down there, that chip was not small. Then they tried another. This one wouldn’t fit. Gangs of ants scurried around it, pulled it in all directions, it just wouldn’t go down. Finally I broke it, and what excitement. Oh, they were all tearing around, some with tiny crumbs– I think they’d been eating it smaller– and some pushing the big pieces. They quickly disappeared into the crack.  Meanwhile, two feet away, an entire potato chip was surrounded by ants half the size of the big ones. I broke it. In the time it took the Big Ant gang to move that second shard down the hole, the pieces became edged with solid black. Rows of munching ants. It was upsetting, some primal revulsion to insect infestation, but I watched anyway. Finally I couldn’t stand it and knocked them farther away with a stick. Talk about getting lost in details!

When I looked up, I saw the arch, the great dramatic slashes of bricks, and began drawing as fast as I could, shards of brick worn thin, sticking out like the seeds on a pine cone. From down here some look as thin as wafers. Hundreds of thousands of bricks, millions of individual gestures by hundreds of workmen back in the ninth century, what did they look like? Feet in leather wrapped around and laced across the top, sandals laced up the leg, tunics, hose, beards, caps. Leather trusses. Jerkins. They saw that sky, with those peachy clouds at sunset, they saw that silver sea. What did they eat? Bread and fish most likely, cooked on fires much like the bums cook on now, down here in the park. But no grass. When this Palace was built it rose up from the sea. The workmen hung from ropes, leaned from ladders with bricks on slings and pulleys, trundled about on the growing walls, swinging wooden buckets of cement. Whatever mortar they used, it turned to rock, good for 1200 years. I can see it quite clearly, coarse-grained pale lumps as opposed to the flat dark red brick. I use stippling for it, nothing else will do. I have to edit a lot out, or lose the grand gesture, the great dramatic sweep of this place built of so many tiny actions, so many little labors, so many breaths in and out, under the great gold sky.