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.