PAPAZOGLU HAN: Painting In Light


Entrance Papazoglu Han

Nobody in the Spice Bazaar believed that Osama Bin-Laden was really dead. I’d heard the news up on the Hippodrome that morning and it froze my blood, because I thought they said “Obama.” Silly with relief, I went up to share the tidings at the Grand Bazaar. My friends from Afghanistan up there hate Bin-Laden worse than I can imagine, since they are from the area where the Taliban blew up those Buddhas. But they thought Bin-Laden’s demise was a government lie. I made my way down the hill to the Spice Bazaar: skeptics everywhere. Finally I ran into some Peace Corps volunteers, and we sang Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, and felt like compatriots. These days Americans must take our patriotic pleasures where we can. I’m sorry to celebrate anyone’s death, but the man did do away with about 3000 of my countrymen.

Rustem Pasha & Friends ©2011 Trici Venola

I’d been down at the Spice Bazaar every day, doing this drawing of Rustem Pasha and friends. Rustem Pasha is the name of the mosque, and the friends are Çukur Han (in English Chooker), on the right, and Papazoglu Han (Papa ZOE loo), on the left, both grizzled old classic workplaces from Medieval times, both gloriously unrestored. You can look at their surfaces and see a history lesson. So it was a year ago that I ran into Papazoglu Han to use the loo and stopped dead, stunned by the sight of Byzantine herringbone brickwork. This is supposed to be a 16th century Ottoman han.

The upper stories are Ottoman, with pointed arches picked out with brick trim. But this ribbed section behind the wiring looks Byzantine. Papazoglu Han is a decrepit old structure festooned with plastic, a working han, not tricked out for Tourism, not picturesque or sentimental. It does have an immaculate lavatory up on the cardboard-congested second floor, tended by an old fellow usually dozing in the sun. I’d always been preoccupied by navigating the perilous cement stairs. And I’d missed the classic structure of the place, the double row of dome-topped, arch-fronted enclosures around a central courtyard, the unmistakable age and integrity of the original walls.

THE PATINA OF DAILY LIFE I hate the Taliban because they make the world ugly. The Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban, like Istanbul’s palaces and temples, were works of art built to inspire awe. But the beauty of these antique hans is a different sort. It’s the patina left by people going about their dailly lives, homely familiarity taken for granted…for centuries.

While thinking such thoughts, I paid my 50 kurus for the loo to dozy old Osman and had one of those moments when you know all plans for the day are scrapped because there’s got to be a drawing of what is right in front of you. Osman happily agreed to a portrait, and sat rock-steady, grinning, for half an hour. Word spread around the Han, and handsome young men appeared, understandably saying that they, too, should be immortalized. But it was ravaged old Osman with his Adidas hat who got struck with the Art Stick that day, Osman and nobody else. I went downstairs, sated with portrait yet needing a background, and ran back into that chunk of herringbone brickwork. I saw that it would fit on the page so that the bottom came to a point exactly where Osman’s hat was, with the arches on either side. Sometimes it works like that, sometimes the thing just composes itself. Here’s what I got in the next two days, and am I glad I scanned it before it was finished.

Osman in Papazoglu Han WIP ©2011 Trici Venola

Now to the Byzantines: the herringbone pattern is formed by the bricks wrapping each arch. Where they come together, it forms a seam. See here on the right of the picture, next to that pipe?

Details like these are usually plastered over, but Papazoglu Han has lost much of its plaster coating, revealing its bone structure. The second-floor bricks are straight across, leading one to speculate that the foundation is indeed Byzantine, added onto by the Ottomans.

KABITZING WITH HISTORY While I was drawing, the manager of the Han came out to see what was going on, along with other Han denizens. There was a castle here in Byzantine times. This whole neighborhood around Rustem Pasa is full of crooked passages, steps going down below blackened arches, and lumps of unidentifiable masonry. Where does this door go?

“Konstantin, Konstantin,” muttered the old men. A voice in English started translating from the Han manager. He said that yes, the old men were right, it was Byzantine, very old Byzantine. Our volunteer translator, who had worked for the Turkish Consulate in my hometown of Los Angeles, said that they were all claiming that this structure had started life as part of the walls or part of the castle complex, making it, oh, fourth-century: Constantine.

We had quite a little crowd there in the courtyard, including Paris the Dog, a recent immigrant from France. Among the kabitzers was Yeshua, the fat jocular proprietor of what I called the Happy Sparkle Store, jammed into the middle of the courtyard, that sold shiny paper and plastic party stuff. A Turk named Yeshua? Or Joshua, he said. But that was Jesus’s name, I said. “Yes,” said Yeshua, “That is because I am a Jew.” From Toledo, descended from refugees from that other hideous spawn of religious fanaticsim: the Spanish Inquisition. Thousands of Spanish Jews came en masse to Turkey when this han was new, and their descendants are still here, adding to the historical texture of this land where doors go down to Constantine, buildings have ancient Greek foundations and there are satellite dishes on the roofs.

The challenge was to draw the herringbone bricks AND the ad hoc electrical wiring in front of it. Just look at this wiring! Of course, electricity was not invented when the hans were built, so these clusters are very common, the bane and delight of drawing antique masonry. There’s a tea kitchen behind the herringbone wall, and the tea boys kept me well supplied for the week that I was there.

NUTS AND BOLTS  I was drawing as fast as I oould, completely engrossed in keeping track of two sets of proportions: bricks and wiring. I used the grid-and-unit method, where you mentally make a cross on the paper, line up everything by that and measure everything off of the first thing you draw. In this case it was this little brick with the red stain.

Papazoglu Han.Detail: Brick Seam ©2011 Trici Venola

And all the while my eyes were being pulled up, up, because what I was saying wouldn’t all fit in one drawing, there was another one coming.

What is this drawing about? What is the center? What’s the element that compels me to dedicate a chunk of my life to it? If I’m very  lucky, I get a circumstance that combines two elements in perfect balance. Here, it’s the slightly manic look on Osman’s face, under that modern hat, and that antique brick seam under the wiring. But part of what I wanted to show was the way the bricks wrapped the first-floor arches, while the second floor bricks were straight. So here’s the wrapped arch, and the arch above, with Mr Mehmet standing there watching me draw him. This drawing was a lot easier to do, but took just as long. I was finishing it up when the Taliban took its loss. I was celebrating life with a work of art when someone who had destroyed so much life and art was removed from the world.

Ottoman Up Top ©2011 Trici Venola

PAINTING IN LIGHT Through many centuries of misbegotten monsters, these bricks have stood. I live pretty simply in order to be available to draw them. Years ago I taught in Disney’s Visual Development division. Very rarified in there. They were just introducing computers into the creative process. I got to show top talent how to use a Mac as a primary art medium, rather than as a glorified copy machine and art enhancer. Disney let me do all-day seminars with just a few people, on a strictly voluntary basis. Contrary to  expectations, the people most interested in learning how to create in a new medium were the oldest artists there. Joe Grant, former head of Disney, was still going strong at 92, and he was fascinated, wound up making them buy him his own Mac. It was the young artists who were the curmudgeons. “Yeah,” one said, “but can it do this?” –flipping his animation cards at me– “And what about texture?” It’s true that getting texture into your digital art prints is a challenge. But there’s a trade-off, and it’s that you’re painting in light. It’s like painting with stained glass, painting on a Mac, and your flip cards, kid, don’t glow in the dark. When I first came here to Istanbul I was mortified, after being so successful in a new field, to be struggling hard to hold on here in this alien culture that didn’t give a hoot about me. But there’s a trade-off, because I’m painting in light. Much like those early days of digital art, I get to do something that nobody else is doing, with severe limitations, in a place that’s changing so rapidly that it seems to vanish almost before the ink is dry, leaving only these filigree shadows of what was. It feels right and important to take the time to draw them. In every culture since the beginning of time there has been an old man dozing. Tyrants come and tyrants go, and I just keep drawing.

Papazoglu Han ©2011 Trici Venola

All drawings Plein Air. All art ©2011 Trici Venola.

Prints of the drawings in this post are available at the Drawing On Istanbul Store on For purchases of original art, contact Trici Venola through this blog. Thanks for your interest. We love your comments.


A BREATH OF AIR: Drawing In Sirkeci


Grizabella in Sirkeci.Cat Detail©2011 Trici Venola

2010 was a year of peril and hassle. Relentless hotelization forced me to move, a hideous enterprise involving months of searching and expense. A good deal turned sour. A good friend left town. Then to top it off I got hacked, lost 400 addresses, 7 years of networking, entire short stories. I tried to reach everyone, but failed, and an old friend sent the hackers an amount which, had I won it as a grant, could have paid an assistant, put all 2500 drawings on a database, bought a new Mac and put this project in the black. Google never did respond. So long, Cloud. I bootstrapped out of the subsequent depression by drawing. In the teeth of complete financial desolation, rent due, no prospects, I took the sketchbook out into the icy winter days and began to draw this:

Very quickly, I felt good. Here’s an email to a newly jobless Stateside friend from January 2011:

Ha ha ha, welcome to the wonderful world of Freelancing. You’ll get used to the footless feeling, like a good hunter. You’re an artist. Make art. 

For Anxious Dread, try fish oil. The super-Omega kind, a natural antidepressant. My dread goes right to my feet and I get horrible vertigo, and this rug-ripped-out-from-under feeling. I suspect it is really Fear of Mortality… Skint this month and last, but for some reason I’m sanguine. I had a real epiphany last month, realizing how many precious days I’ve lost to Worrying About the Landlord. And here I still am, and I’d like those days back.

In the middle of all this Winter Angst, ferocious bouts of creativity… Now, I’m happy to say, my mania for drawing in the sketchbook has returned after ONE SOLID YEAR of halfhearted portraiture and false starts. I’m drawing out in the crystalline cold days, office buildings in our old seaside Finance District of Sirkeci.


On Legacy Ottoman Street ©2011 Trici Venola

In English, Sirkeci rhymes with Stage E. A departure from my usual hoary old Byzantine haunts, Sirkeci is all brisk business. A generation ago, this was the Financial Center of all Istanbul, as its many banks attest. Now they are hotels, offices, notary publics. Brisk breezes whoosh down alleys, calls to prayer interlace with the blast of horns from boats in the harbor nearby, blue or copper or silver sea glimpsed down the narrow streets, everyone rushing along the sidewalks overhung with architectural grandeur from the swan song of the Ottoman Empire. Everywhere are exciting vertical compositions just begging to be drawn. Here’s the one we call The Bat Building:

The Bat Building ©2011 Trici Venola

This beloved landmark, which could have served as a model for Gringott’s Goblin Bank in Harry Potter, is one block from the Spice Bazaar.  Its name is actually Deutsche Orientbank, and it dates from 1890. I’m told it burned, and closed, around 1911. I’ve been all through it, clear up to the adorable round tower office, full of pigeonshit and feathers and possibility. Its main doorway served as the entrance to the Bond film Skyfall, although it does not lead to a tunnel but up to fantastic round rooms full of feathers and pigeonshit. Word is it will be a hotel.


This ornate architecture is murder to draw. Rows of the same elaborate shape with different perspective and lighting, and there are so many of them. Ancient masonry has some give: if you’re off by a bit, you can round a corner and stay true to the spirit of the piece. But this fancy stuff isn’t even two centuries old, the corners are still sharp, the shapes really clear. Get one thing a fraction off and it’s ruined. I use the mental grid and unit method described in the Drawing the Boukoleon posts on this blog. It’s imperative to draw what I see, not what I think I see. I may know it’s a square window, but if perspective makes it look like a slanted slot, I have to draw a slanted slot. The rest of the drawing has to help us know it’s a window: placement on the page, some rendering of bricks so we know it’s a wall, and so forth.  Figuring out how to do this causes a trancelike state that makes it impossible to think about anything else. I go right into the paper.

Designed by architect Vedat Tek under Sultan Abdul Hamit II in 1909, the Art Nouveau facade of our magnificent Main Post Office runs across three New York blocks, a testimony to the extravagant finale of the Ottoman Empire. Hotel sharks are circling, but this is still a functioning post office; this is where your prints come from. It’s too huge; for a first take, I drew this glimpse from a little side street, and it took more time than you’d believe, on several frigid white days.

A Glimpse of the Post Office ©2011 Trici Venola

Everyone from the shops on the street came and watched awhile. I left it unfinished, looking as it did lost in the deadening white. Inside, several wooden Agatha Christie-era group writing desks under glowing state-of-the-art computer screens, a lot of people waiting to pay bills, and the walls go up forever, dominated by a giant painting of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of the Turkish Republic.

Waiting at the PO ©2011 Trici Venola

Behind the Post Office, Hobyar Camii looks old, but it too was designed by Vedat Tek and built in 1909, replacing the 15th-century original. Those ant-like shapes in the background are Istanbul Porters, professional schleppers who move unbelievably huge and heavy items which are balanced on saddles. There are now kitsch faux-bronze statues in Sirkeci of Ottoman porters; I find the modern genuine article much more interesting. These guys are fourth-and fifth-generation porters; in old jeans and wash shirts they carry the whole city on their shoulders.

The Fanciful Mosque ©2011 Trici Venola


Another jocular drawing experience, with many free teas from this cafe. People in Sirkeci were flabbergasted to see an artist there. It’s not a huge tourist spot, but the amount of buildings turning into hotels indicate that it will be. We’re all rooting for another beloved old landmark, across the street from the Post Office. This grizzled survivor, covered with age-blackened trendy splendor of yesteryear, has loomed here for over 140 years. The Art Nouveau window trim and roses were added for modernization around 1900. Notice the two cat faces at the top. The Art Deco musical notes look to have been added in the 1930s. The wooden awnings are there to keep loose old stone roses from falling on your head on your way to the notary public.

Grizabella in Sirkeci ©2011 Trici Venola

Yahya came upon me while I was drawing this. He danced all around me yelling in amazement, so I drew him to shut him up. I told him the usual “Hold still for ten minutes,” while I got the stuff you can’t fake, then I went home and rendered his shoes and coat and blackened his hat. Next day I was out there putting in the background when he came back, saw the portrait, and began to dance and bellow again– louder.

UNUTULMUS SARNICI And what do you know, a little chunk of hoary haunted Byzantium after all:  a forgotten cistern behind an ancient wall, where I got to clamber up on a pile of cartons and draw by one bulb strung on a bamboo pole in the cold clammy dark. Here’s the first shot.

The Hidden Cistern Straight Up ©2011 Trici Venola

Nice and straightforward, eh? They tell me it’s got 5 huge columns, more marching off into the dark behind a storage depot. I can wade in and draw, but they also tell me that there are dangerous vapors in there, and it’s too darned cold now anyway. Nice guys working  there, and here’s the youngest, perched on a stool under the whitewashed Byzantine bricks. Which are herringbone pattern–you can just see that at the top, making me suspect this is older than Hagia Sophia. Two streets above the Post Office in Eminönü-Sirkeci, the water-storage facility is shut now, but you can still peer in through the windows in the crumbling wall and see the columns. I really hope that it survives all this change.

Umut At Work ©2011 Trici Venola

Oh, the mystery of this place! In Los Angeles, a storage depot has a closet in its back room: warped linoleum and a couple of cockroaches. In Istanbul, there’s a Byzantine cistern full of 1600-year-old carved marble. I wondered if I’d fully captured that quality of unconscious magnificence here in our workaday world, so I went back next day and did this:

The Forgotten Cistern ©2011 Trici Venola

And so to the end of that email: …Out drawing, faces light up when they see me drawing, people buy books and send over hot tea and stop and chat. Many, many new Facebook Friends. Frozen out there, double socks, wool coat over sweaters, perched on my little campstool, but do I care? I am SO HAPPY… it attracts all good things to me. And to you.

Trici Drawing Grizabella, taken by an admirer whose name I’ve lost. If this is you, please send me your name and I’ll credit you!

THE OBJECT OF THE EXCERCISE One good feeling led to another and I had a great year, continuing to now. No matter what the dilemma, drawing makes it right. The object of this Turkish adventure is not to live in Istanbul, the object is to draw Istanbul. I’d forgotten that. How I live and where, what I have, who I know and am I cool– that’s all fine, but it’s window dressing. It’s personality. The drawing is the principle. Art is what I’m about. If I get that right, everything else falls into place. All my life, I’ve been trying to remember to put principles before personalities.

Porters ©2011 Trici Venola

All drawings pen and ink on paper, Plein Air.

All art ©2011, 2012 by Trici Venola.