FROM PILLAR TO POST 1

BREAKING GROUND, WITH GHOSTS  

Saturday 5 November 1-4:30 PM

Ghosts walk at noon, said the ancient Greeks, when the light sears all the colors to white: bleached and bleak, they are paler than pale. But in my present-day Istanbul, ghosts walk in the intense amber light of November. I feel them down in the marble bones of the old city, like scraps of shadow scuttering in the dark of my day. Because my friends are leaving I’ve felt like a ghost myself. Suddenly the lively present is becoming the happy past, and I stalk down the hill to the Boukoleon, the palace site as changed by winter as I am by the prospect of loneliness. Only one thing to do with all this maudlin self-pity and that is to draw.

It was those pillars got me off Facebook and out into the brisk blue day. As you face the Boukoleon site, your back to the sea, the pillars are high up on the wall to the right of the PortaIs, ending at the Lighthouse. They look to have been centered between brick arches, in a colonnade. The two arches I can see are so desiccated as to resemble old twisted combs, but the pillars are still smooth and white. These original Byzantine pillars and arches are partially covered by a stone outer skin, perhaps added to patch the wall after the palace was burned by Crusaders in 1204, perhaps added by Ottomans after 1453. This stone skin is quite old and weathered. I love this visual history lesson and want to preserve it.

I found a spot next to a broken place on the low brick wall and set up. This consists of setting out my water bottle and putting down the light cushion I schelp down there in a light sack. Carrying it is a much smaller pain in the ass than the one you get sitting on a brick wall for hours at a stretch. I did a quick-and-dirty rough to figure out how to position it on the page. I was tempted to use a slanted format like so many of the sketchbook drawings, but opted for straight-up-and-down to harmonize with the other two big Boukoleon drawings.  On first glance it seemed like I could fit both the top of that wooden house, upper left, and the top of the Boukoleon Window, lower right, into the drawing.  But after invoking the Cross– you remember the Cross, don’t you? –where we draw a mental straight line from one point on the subject to find where another point is– I realized that the perspective was closer to this:  I didn’t actually re-draw it, this second version of the rough is tweaked in Photoshop  to illustrate my mental picture. What I actually did this afternoon in the cold changed Boukoleon site was to put the rough down on the bricks in front of me and weight it with a couple of rocks so I could look at it. Then I pulled out a clean new sheet, doubly precious as it is now Bayram, the Muslim equivalent of Christmas, and every store is closed for the next several days. I have a very few sheets of this size on hand, so I hope this won’t be a false start. If I run out of paper I can’t continue this project now. If I can’t draw my mood will flood up and choke me. Worse, it’ll poison the time I have left with my friends. So I stared at the site, holding out the pencil in a straight line, seeing that indeed the perspective really is that slanted. Sigh. Something has got to go, and it’s the top of the wooden house, because I’ve got to get that little corner of window down in the lower right.
I did a very few passes with the pencil to this effect, pulled out a #8 Artline drafting pen, turned the point sideways and began to draw. Little light strokes, not taking it too seriously. Heigh-ho, nothing heavy here. Drew for about half an hour, and here’s what we got. It’s the pillar and arch on the far left.

Boukoleon Pillars 1 WIP ©2011 by Trici Venola

An old fellow in a big coat shuffled up. He comes by every day but my old work spot was off his beat. He’s shrunk into his coat, which is new and stiff, and he’s had a bad stroke. He really, really wanted to talk to me, but all that came out was a series of baas. To my horror I realized that he wanted to sit next to me and watch me draw. If the drawing is well started, that’s not a problem, but in the early stages I could cheerfully rip the head off my best friend. Please not now, working hard, come back later, I said in Turkish. I think I said this. He smiled at any rate, two stubs of teeth, and shook my hand. His hand was clean, his handshake firm. Somebody takes good care of him. At last he left, and not a minute too soon. I’m polite, but the Art Demon is a real bitch, and rude to boot. If I didn’t keep a hard lock on that door I’d spend my life in trouble, apologizing or feeling guilty. I encounter and read about surly artists all the time, usually young men. I wonder what that feels like, to give into that desire to scream at people who interrupt you in the creative process. I’m a lone woman in an alien patriarchal society not my own, and being rude is stupid. So the Art Demon Bitch can complain all it wants but we are polite and save our fire for the drawing.

I drew for a little while and the light was more and more intense. The sun was dead on my little bit of wall, clear amber, a searchlight blaring just above the horizon behind me, when the guy I’ve been calling the Ghost walked over to say hello. I asked him to sit for his picture, and here it is. His name is Hasan. Not an old guy at all. Weathered, but young. As I drew him I thought of Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird, that sense of a watchful sad guardian. He guards the Boukoleon. The two cats are his. I hope he is warm enough to sleep.

Then in a second, the light was gone. I see I’m going to have to get out here a whole lot earlier these days. The minute I stopped drawing I felt awful. Dead and grey, trying not to think of those halcyon sessions with Gabrielle, that day Nazan walked with us down to Kumkapi, the sea gold under the dark silver cloud. That was a bare month ago. Now all the leaves are brown, I’m wearing a heavy leather jacket, it’s dark at five. I stomped over past the tour busses to the cafe. Everyone was inside. I sat there smoking nargile and feeling punk, but I finished the drawing of Hasan and called my friends, and later we had a fine dinner together and I felt normal and happy again. But after the cafe I walked along the highway, the sea and sky dark clotted grey, lights across the water, a high silver half-moon. Coming through the Stable Gate I saw the fellow who stands there saluting the cars. He too resembles a ghost, but he can’t be one because he’s aged since I drew him in 2008. Hiking up the hill toward Hagia Sophia I thought of how I love the marble bones of this place, how they comfort me. My fears and cares seem to melt into the fabric of history, like the ghosts, black transparent overlapping wings shifting and changing, ready to swirl up and blind me. But at the bottom is all that Byzantine Roman marble, smooth and cool and blessedly solid under my feet, all the way home.

Gold Cat ©2005 by Trici Venola

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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 6

Sunday September 25 2011 • 4:00-6:00

LINING IT UP

Sunday. The park is full of people picnicking. They’re so glad to get out by the water they don’t even notice the highway, families sitting two spits from the cars whooshing by. I got there late, just two hours to work, but these days I’m so excited about the project it’s sheer joy. At this point, the stuff is filling in fast. The weather is delicious, breezy and warm, crisp in the evenings. Bliss. And then, the first bloody insurmountable problem…

Normally I draw by finding the center and radiating outwards.  I draw the first thing and use it as a unit by which I measure everything else. The first unit on this drawing was the distance between the top left corner of the far portal and the iron strap wrapping it just below the first hole in the marble. I mentally think of a cross, for when I’m trying to find where the next line goes, everything is above or below, to the left or the right, of something else. In this way, the perspective comes out perfectly each time. And I’m working in ink.

But did I trust this? No, I had to go and use pencil for this big fat drawing. Pencil, not too much, just the major sweeping horizontal perspective lines. The one at the top of the portals, and the one at the bottom.

The top of the portals. Well, they’re not lined up. The center one has a lower lintel than the other two. And it has lost its top as well. The far right lintel is much smaller, but originally it lined up with the far left one.

So I recklessly drew that perspective line in pencil, because I could, and used it to determine the perspective of the center lintel. But it never looked quite right. Now I discover that the center portal is NOT the same perspective at all. Because, in its 1200 years it has… pleated slightly, in an accordion manner, and straightened out again by the right portal. Dayamn. Something– the railroad running through it, so it vibrates with each train, or the many earthquakes it has survived, or maybe when that top storey came down with the building of the highway– anyway, it ain’t straight. So I’ll have to see about chewing on those lines a bit, to make them look more like the thing itself. Rather than ripping it up I darkened the arch.

Just as the bricks began to get blurry, the affable guy appeared behind the fence, staggering and carrying a bottle. When someone walks like that they are drunk enough to get ugly. I started to pack up, I was done anyway. But he stopped. He stood on his side of the fence, staring with such longing, longing to be friends. I know that feeling. I could see myself through his eyes. He knew he was drunk and he was ashamed, and it was all hopeless. I wanted to tell him I understood, but I could only salute him. With his whole body he gestured back, what can we do? LIke watching the tide go out, so sad. He turned unsteadily and stumbled away, past the antique window, past the lighthouse, down the highway that used to be the sea.

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 4

Friday 23 September 2011 • 2:00-3:00/4:30-6:00

RENT

A hot blue fall day, perfect for drawing. But I had to pay the damned rent. Not that I mind, I’m glad I have it. This means a trip to my bank in Cembelitas, all the way up by the Grand Bazaar. Gabrielle, who is here from Wyoming, painting her socks off, is trading art time for blog-lesson time, and we were meeting at the Boukoleon. I rode the tram up to Cemberlitas, but the angel who helps me was at lunch, since it was lunchtime. I walked down the hill and bought potato chips at the Hippodrome, kept going past obelisks and arches and out through the Cadladikapi Gate and around the corner to the Boukoleon. Set up in record time and sweetly sank into drawing. Using a pencil, which is like soft shoes after dancing pumps. Too sweet. I had to abandon it and go for the pen. I almost never use pencil anymore, it’s too easy to erase and change stuff, it feels like cheating, and if you go too long it means drawing everything twice. But this drawing is so complex, and it’s already a good seven hours in, so– a little pencil, dammit, I told the art demon as it hissed “Pencil is for pussies.”

Gabrielle showed up and set up. She’s gorgeous, so I made her drape her scarf over as much as possible, button up all the purses and carryalls and sit on them, and we started. And then I had to run back up the hill to pay the rent.

Why do I have to do this? The only way it’s legal to pay is via a bank. Just putting it into my landlord’s account over the counter costs 28 lira, and I’m already paying too much for the apartment. So I learned how to do the Internet Banking thing. It worked fine, and then a year ago I got hacked and lost my email account. Oy Vey!! Every single thing in my life was tied to that account! Had to change everything, including both bank accounts. And the next time I tried to pay my rent, I couldn’t get it to work again. Lots of boxes popping up, Turkish in red with exclamation points, scared hell out of me…so I went to my branch and pled my case.

This is Hasan at Garanti Bank. That little delirium tremens on his shoulder is actually an icon of his surname, which means Lion Sword. And boy, does he cut through all the problems. Paying my rent is now a pleasant ritual involving conversation, tea drinking, catching up, and so forth. This is one of the more civilized aspects of living here, that such things can happen.

So back happy down the hill to the Boukoleon. Gabrielle drawing, we’re talking, and guys showing up– a big friendly galoot watching us draw. A tent regular stumbled by, loaded, carrying his dog. The galoot said he was bad news, kept talking, trying my Turkish and my patience until I finally indicated needing to work and he mercifully left. Another guy lurched up, startling Gabrielle, but he’s okay, he’s the affable guy from the service station. Around here it’s really if they’ll hurt you, and I never met one down here who would, although they hang around the periphery. Then before I could blink it was six, and the bricks beginning to blur up there on the portal.

Then Turkish coffee at the teahouse in the wall, the clouds blowing peachy across the light sky over the water. A hike through the Stable Gate and up the hill, and eventually home. Now I’m looking at the drawing and wishing I was back there, the Art Demon in teeth-gritting fury at being diverted, thwarted…it’s a nasty beast, it hates everyone and everything but creation, all the lovely moments of society mean nothing to it, it won’t listen to reason, even when I say look, these things can’t be helped, there are responsibilities in my life, people in my life and I’m glad of it, but it won’t let me rest or sleep, I’m dog-tired now but I just trashed the entire note and had to write it again but it doesn’t care. It says, “look at this pitiful bit you did today, I rest my case.”

Tomorrow I’m getting out there early, I swear.


Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 2

Friday 16 September 2011• 2:00-5:00 

STARTING OVER

Today we had no dogs at the Boukoleon and the bums’ tent was empty. It’s made of a blanket hung over a cord tied to the ancient wall and a little tree, with a teapot set up next to it, trash everywhere and wadded up against the fence. Away over in the corner near the big arch a guy sat scowling and reading. A pair of teenagers showed up, spread a newspaper on the brick pavement amid the blowing trash, and started necking. They were there for three hours. I felt like a duenna. Re-drew the left portal, and am I glad I did. Now it works, it’ll carry the whole thing.

Had a time as I couldn’t find my pencil. Knew I’d put it in with the pens. The page I prepared at home, up against the window, tracing the layout with pencil from what I”d done before, turned out to be cut too short. I had to prepare another. And. No. Pencil. Trying to hold two huge flapping papers up to the light and keep them from sliding out of place while I made pen dots on the perspective lines.  Then I packed up, went down to the bus stop and asked one of the drivers. He gave me a fine art pencil and I almost kissed him. Oh bliss, to safely delineate the basic block-in of that blasted portal. Here’s the hash I made of it yesterday. Notice the point on the dark negative space at the top of the inner arch. It doesn’t look like that, it’s rounder. The whole proportion is off:

Far Left Portal Misfire ©2011 by Trici Venola

The problem yesterday came when I drew the entire rectangle of the portal in ink and then tried to put all the arches inside, and they came out squeezed. This time I penciled only the left post and the top, the main horizontal perspective lines and some of the inside. Then I started drawing in ink, the inside of the portal, all the arches and twisted burned brick. This worked.

Far Left Portal For Real ©2011 by Trici Venola

It may not matter to you, but it sure matters to me. Sometimes you just don’t have time to start over, but this time I do. Also, a proportional problem this early on will only lead to grief, since as I draw I measure against everything that has already been drawn. Here they are side by side. See?

Far Left Misfire

Far Left for Real

Started sneezing but didn’t care, it was going so well at last. High above my small shady cypress tree is an enormous Sycamore, and something up there is crapping on the page from time to time. I have to be quick  with a tissue or it soaks into the page. Those neckers hung in there and I got a surreptitious drawing of them melted into each other.

They felt it, her suspicious little face glancing over at me past the sheaf of black hair. A kid with braces from Iran asked me the history of the palace, said he was stuck with his mother and grandmother who only wanted to shop. I gave him a card for the website.  A guy crawled out of the tent, scratched himself, waved.  An affable face. Said he knows me, I’m the artist, I could draw there as long as I liked and he would keep off the riffraff. He works long hours at the gas station across the highway, was catching some sleep.

End of the day an ebullient Turkish guy came up and said he could feel the presence of the ancient Byzantines. I said I could too, they blow in with the leaves and watch me draw. He said he could also feel the spirit of Jesus Christ. I let that one go. The Boukoleon was built in 817, lived in for four centuries,  sacked and burned in 1204. Byzantines built it and lived and prayed in it and Crusaders destroyed it, and all of them in the name of Jesus Christ. While I was drawing the portal I saw dark and blood and flames,  Crusaders in armor stalking through the arcade of arches, one standing there with drawn and dripping sword, the red cross on his chest visible through the smoke, over him the same cross carved in the blackening marble lintel, the flames fluttering like Crusaders’ flags.

Dog In the Ruins ©2008 by Trici Venola.