Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 7

Tuesday 27 September 2011 2:00-5:30

EMPRESS ZOE & THE CROSS

Here’s a picture Joy Harvey sent me of Empress Zoe (978-1050) waving from the Boukoleon. How do we know it’s the Boukoleon? Because of the ships. That’s the row of portals right there. Those triangles on top are sitting on the lintels, over the arches I’m drawing these days, forgetting to breathe, trying to get it right. In the old days, they didn’t even show.

This splendid CGI reconstruction of the Boukoleon at byzantium1200.com shows flat grey marble around pillar and lion details.

©byzantium1200.com. Used with permission.

The CGI artist is working with Byzantine scholars, and his reconstructions are masterful. If there was any data on the color and texture of the Boukoleon facade I’m sure he would include it. From my years of wandering the Palace ruin, I think the facade of the Boukoleon was highly decorated. The Byzantines never did anything that wasn’t ornamented to the nth degree.

This vivid recreation of a palace by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema is close to the mark. I thought I was new to his work, but guess again, like everyone else in Western Civilization I’ve grown up on his imagery in the movies. All that Cecil B. DeMille Bible stuff, Spartacus, Gladiator, Rome and everything else of antiquity– full of Sir Lawrence’s imagery. This painting, Spring, was done around 1900. Pure speculation, but…Check out that layout!– a row of high stately portals on the right, a small arch to the front over a doorway, right where there’s the ghost of one in the existing wall, and behind those pillars at the left, an enormous arch. Notice the pophyry and malachite– those pillars in the back are definitely green. A pillar lying in the weeds inside the ruin is malachite and the thickness reaches above my knees. I wonder if Sir Lawrence visited the Boukoleon after the railroad ran through it in 1873? Before the highway, when there was still some neoclassical marble clinging above the portals and the front was a lagoon…

Another of his paintings, Hero, done in 1898, is also evocative of the Boukoleon.   Nobody rendered the ancient world like Sir Lawrence, and I’m grateful, he helps me. Thanks to all these artists and my own observation, I have a vivid idea of what this place looked like, with translucent sheets of white marble, giant lions, saffron and speckled green and amber stone, pophyry and malachite and white marble fitted together with a lo-rez ziggurat cut, as we can still see in the arches over the doors of various mosques and in Topkapi Palace.

Things like this play through my mind while I’m drawing the precious, dessicated old dragon that the Boukoleon has become. They play through all right, and I don’t notice them go, because I’m mired in ghastly perspective problems like this one, today. That damn pencil got me into it, and I had to use it to get me out.

Actually it’s a lovely pencil, the one I borrowed from the bus driver. I never saw him again although I look for him every day. He’s going to have to fight me for this pencil. It’s become a talisman. It’s so long and sharp. It’s much longer than my drafting pens, so long that I can hold it up to line up various points on the drawing and find the perspective. Which DOES NOT match the spiffy pencil horizontal lines I drew last week when the world was young and I started this project.

Just for laughs, before I started inking it in from scratch, I checked the topmost right point of the Third Portal, using the Cross Method. I held the pencil up, level, and Mah Gawd, it was level with…the inner arch of the Far Left Portal? This CANNOT BE!! It’s much higher than that…isn’t it?

I checked the other side. Level with that Center Portal top inner right corner? Whaaa? ?????The black inner top right corner? Level with that point HALFWAY DOWN the Center…oh, this can’t be right…

Well thank God for that pencil. I drew and I drew, and I knew the proportions were all wrong, yet I checked them over and over again and…

THE CROSS NEVER LIES. See? The blue lines are my faulty perspective lines. The red lines are the Cross.

This is EXACTLY the correct size, position and perspective of the Third Portal. I’m still wrestling with the bottom. It seems too steeply slanted, so I left it for tomorrow when I am not tired. Because  I felt like I’d climbed all Seven Hills. I had pack up and hike down to the tea garden, drink some water, shake my hand and my head around. I came back, unpacked, measured, measured, measured some more, took a big deep breath, and laid it in with the pen. After carving that thing out in pencil against all my drawing instincts, it felt like coloring in a book. I made a mental note: When the drawing is nearly done, blacken all the shadows to where they are at around 5 PM.

The drawing was right. The world was beautiful. I noticed that it had gotten really windy, almost cold. Hurrying down along the CIty Walls, I had to hold my hat on. Across the highway, the water was deep teal with ripped whitecaps and seagulls rioting all over the surface. Through the Stable Gate, up the hill and down, stopped at the Spice Bazaar on the way home for olives and cheese and cashews. Oh how I dreaded climbing the hill to my apartment, so I decided that that was going to happen to someone else: the person I was at that moment got to look at the minarets of the Yeni Mosque. The tram was jammed, but I did indeed turn into someone else, someone who didn’t care that much about a little old hill, for coming across the Galata Bridge, the light turned to that fairy color between pink and blue, the sea whitening under the fading sky.

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Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 3

Wednesday 21 September 2011 • 4-6

BEFORE THE RAIN

During three days of coughing and sneezing, I started to upload stuff for a blog. I don’t know what I’m doing and there’s a mass of stuff to do before anyone can make sense of it. God, blogging. The writing is the easy part, it’s all the uploading and what size and dayamn, I was never going to get into computers again when I moved here in 2000, I’ve been dealing with them since 1984, so damned difficult to surmount all the mechanized obstacles and still come up with something that resembles good art, good writing. But it will out, it will out. I’m really excited and thank you Gabrielle for helping me get started!

Back to the Boukoleon. All this art here is at the left side of 35 X 70 cm (about 17 by 35 inches) horizontal heavy rag paper. Back on Friday, I posted about a misfire of the Boukoleon Portals. We’re looking at the portal on your far left as you face them.  I made the mistake of penning in the posts and lintel first. The arch squeezed, don’t ask me why, it’s pointed and it shouldn’t be. I forgot to draw from the center and leave myself room to grow a bit. So that drawing is trashed.

I started all over again. So many people have asked me how long it takes, and how I start, etc. that I’ve decided to scan as much as possible with each day of drawing. (Note 1 November 2011: When I figured out what I was doing on this blog, I went back and inserted the scans into the earlier posts, including this one. I put the comment into boldface because it’s actually when I realized what we could do by showing daily progress. This may be an old idea on the Internet, but it was new to me.) Here’s what I did last time in three hours. 

This time I started with the left post and then immediately went to the inner arches, finishing the right post only at the end and then lightly. We learned our lesson, we’re going to the right only.

Today was clouded and sultry, storm weather. But it didn’t storm. I had lots to do after being housebound for three days and didn’t get down to the Boukoleon until four. What a surprise, no trash around the Big Arch! Maybe the Belidiye read Facebook. Still pretty foul inside the fence in front of the Portals, but oh, what a difference. Now in the time I was housebound, I got into Blog Mode…thinking about it, planning…so I really. didn’t. think. I’d get anything done, but sat down anyway and opened up the drawing, which I keep clipped on a double-thickness mortarboard, also 35 X 70 cm, wrapped in brown waxed butcher paper. Tried not to think about switching gears and how I hate it, tried not to think at all. And went into the paper. With the pen, dotted in some perspective lines; pencil is okay but it smears and soon, you’re doing inking over pencils instead of pen-and-ink Plein Air. So I reserve pencil for the very minimum and only on these big ones. Walking on eggs, delicately added some surface bricks to the top and left. I was walking on eggs because there’s so much detail that it’s easy to make the entire drawing so busy it flattens out and kills all the drama. So there’s some severe editing that has to happen, in addition to reducing millions of colors to two, and millions of edges to lines.  Another couple of teenagers watched, also a young Turkish guy. The guy who sits in the far corner is still there drinking beer. I don’t think he’s moved all week. Maybe he’s a ghost. The light went at six. A short, sweet session. Here’s what we got today: all the brick down the right side of the Portal.

Packed up, walked along the City Walls down to the Stable Gate. The sea was slate-blue and scuttering foam. Warm delicious wind, the whole darkening day gathering in anticipation of rain. Walked up the hill next to the Topkapi Palace Wall, watching the buttressed backside of Ayasofya spread out at the top like a trumpet blast. Past the ornate Ottoman fountain with its swooping canopy, past the guards at the Topkapi Palace gate, along narrow Sogukcesme Street between tall wood and stone walls, over the hill and down, past the cheap shops and nargile places tacked onto the wall, played with a filthy black and white kitten, wished I could take it home, ran across the tramline and just as I got where I needed to go, oh rain!