BIG MOTHER HAN 3: Drawing in Buyuk Valide Han

Well, she’s gone. My drawing partner from the past six months, Gabrielle who got me up on this blog, is now drawing her tucchas off in Rome.  I’ve never had a drawing partner, and my we had fun, both drawing and hanging out. We’re about the same height and coloring, and she’s half my age. Everyone thought she was my daughter.

Gaby & Me ©2012 Trici Venola


Our last drawing session was up on the roof at Buyuk Valide Han. We meandered up there about a month ago the first time, on a miserably cold dark day, and held out for about two hours. We knew she was leaving, and wanted to make the most of any dry weather. Here’s what I got: not much:

Up On the Roof WIP 1 ©2012 Trici Venola

And we had a swell pizza. This beloved place is just out the back door of the Han complex. If there’s a better in the Old City I don’t know where.

That Great Pizza Place ©2012 Trici Venola

After that day the snow set in and drawing outside was impossible. About ten days ago, we staggered up there anyway to finish the drawings. Plein Air, brrrrr.

Suleymaniye Vista ©2012 Trici Venola

But here’s the view, isn’t it wonderful? That’s Suleymaniye Mosque on the hill up there. It was built by the great master architect Mimar Sinan, still studied all over the world, back in the mid-16th century for Suleyman the Magnificent. It’s been in renovation for the past five years. It used to look like God had been living in it for half a millennium, and now it looks like a movie set. It actually is a movie set; they shot part of the new Bond movie up there last fall.

Bosporus Vista ©2012 Trici Venola

And there’s the Yeni Mosque in front of the Galata Bridge in Eminonu, and beyond it the Ataturk Bridge across the Bosphorus. We’re looking up toward the Black Sea.

The Guys in the First Courtyard ©2012 Trici Venola

Where are we? You go all the way through Buyuk Valide Han: up the steep driveway and through the first little courtyard, through the Big Han parking lot with the Shiite mosque in it, clear to the back. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet one of the all-time great faces: Cemel.

The Best Face in the Han ©2009 Trici Venola

I’ve never encountered a face like this. Cemel tells me he’s got several brothers look just like him, but this is a two-shot of his face alone. You’d do a lot worse than to get a shoeshine from him, too.

Cemel at Work ©2012 Trici Venola

Through the arched Byzantine passage, past the sunken courtyard, and out the back door of what I call the Church Han. Back in 2009 there was this kid, Firat. He hung around for hours when I drew the Han, and since he did not demand it I drew him. He was so excited. Firat’s probably in the Army now, but here he is with his first mustache.

Firat Holding Still ©2009 Trici Venola

Like all portraits, I did this in about ten minutes and rendered it later, along with the background. Notice the pen strokes, how they can really strengthen the illusion of depth. Here’s a photo of the Church Han courtyard:

The Church Han Courtyard ©2012 Trici Venola

As you may remember from older posts, the roof, a barrel-vault arching across from side to side, came to just above the tops of the arches. The altar area is straight ahead. Just at the exit, there’s an astonishing work of art on the stone wall: the electrical panel for the Church Han. Lost in admiration at the sheer audacity of this job, I once started to draw this but got lost in the wiring. See?

Wired: Big Mother Han ©2007 Trici Venola

Then a hard right and a climb up a flight of tilted cement steps stuck precariously onto the side of the centuries-old wall. It’s stone and brick, with horizontal wood spacers in places. A mason friend told me that these take stress and keep the wall from collapsing. The wood is hard to recognize but wood it is. Here’s what the place looked like in fall 2004.

BVH Back Porch ©2004 by Trici Venola

I found this unfinished take with a note: Too damn cold. Later. This is common when one does not have a drawing partner. It was far colder when Gabrielle and I were up on the roof finishing those bloody drawings. This roof, like the much larger one of Buyuk Valide Han’s biggest structure, is covered with small domes, each topping a workshop. This smaller han’s domes used to cover the church, and possibly a monastery or convent.

Rooftop Domes ©2012 Trici Venola

Up here on top, the domes are weedy in places, holey in others. See them sticking up above this doorway?

There are several workshops up here, built onto the roof. Right at the top of the stairs is an earsplitting din. Glance in and see hundreds of spools furiously spinning, winding brass wire. The smiling proprietor is partially deaf, as was his father before him, but still employed.

Roof Shop Spools ©2012 Trici Venola

There used to be a cypress tree growing up here, and a rusty old weaving machine and a tribe of bronze tabby cats. And down at the end a shanty with a million-dollar view, in which dwelt a happy bearded man and a lot of barking dogs. There were more chimneys, too. One day in 2007 I was told in the Han that weaving machines had been banned. I came up and found a pile of rubble, a tree stump, and one lonely chimney. The Forces That Be had swept it all away. No one knows why.

That last morning, I got to the roof about fifteen minutes before Gaby. I’d just set up when I noticed the air turning thick. This jocular group was cleaning stove parts. In no time it looked like Armageddon.

Rooftop Smoke ©2012 Trici Venola

I leaped up and away, and fifteen minutes later there wasn’t a trace of smoke. Thanks to its location, a natural castle moated by seas, Istanbul has remarkable powers of recovery. Here’s my final drawing. Suleymaniye is undoubtedly the most magnificent mosque in Turkey. Its proportions are perfect. The four minarets (one is hidden by the dome) are of graduated size, and give a different aspect from every angle.

Up On the Roof ©2012 Trici Venola

As you can see from the rough at the beginning of this post, I tried to draw the top of this historic Ottoman chimney, but my own proportions got away from me. To my chagrin the top didn’t fit on the paper, and I’d already invested a few bone-shattering cold hours. So after I finished the drawing, I drew the chimney-top, and Photoshopped the two together.

Up On the Roof Composite ©2012 Trici Venola

Gaby with Chimney ©2012 Trici Venola

You know what? I like the first one best. The complete chimney throws off the balance and pushes the whole composition too far down. But we should pay attention to this fine old Ottoman chimney, because it is the very last. The much bigger roof of the main part of Buyuk Valide Han was covered with them, but now there are no more anywhere. Or so I am told by architect friends.

Tower of Eirene.detail 1 ©2012 Trici Venola

At the end of the roof is the Tower. This is the one I mentioned in Big Mother Han 2, the tower the guidebooks peg at 11th century but the guys in the Han call 6th. It lost its top in an earthquake in 1926 but is still impressive. A young woman was taking photographs of it, with a ruler for scale. We asked her, in a polite way, what she was doing. Her doctoral thesis, no less. At last, an expert. “What is the name of the church?”  Unknown, and this from a Turkish graduate student. She commiserated on the complete lack of information. She’s looking to find out, and I’m rooting for her. One tiny puzzle piece: an 18th-century writer referred to this tower as the Tower of Eirene. A churchly friend thinks it was a bell tower. And there it must rest.

Gaby Smoking Nargile ©2012 Trici Venola

As did we. We packed up and wrapped up, and my drawing fell facedown on the roof, which accounts for its murky wash shading in places. We clambered down the steep steps, me clutching the handrail, and out the Han, charged up the icy street and flung ourselves gasping into the clamorous color and warmth of the Grand Bazaar. Straight through, out the top and over the cobbles to the nargile cafe at Corlulu Ali Medrese. This haven deserves its own post, so I will leave you with this picture of Gabrielle smoking a snowy farewell nargile. In Rome, in Paris, in Laramie, Wyoming, draw on, girl, draw on.

All drawings Plein Air.


SAINTS AND ANGELS 1: Drawing Mosaics in Hagia Sophia

I feel across the centuries kinship with these patient mosaic artists, and all who maintain the passion to create vital images in a tedious medium.

Ayasofya Rising ©2004 by Trici Venola

Ayasofya Rising ©2004 by Trici Venola

AN AMBER SKY 537 AD, the sky was amber. That’s the thing to remember when you’re standing in line looking up at the sprawling mass of towers, arches, brickwork and minarets, waiting to get into Hagia Sophia. The greatest church in Christianity for a thousand years, sacked by Crusaders in 1204, but still a building so sublime that Mehmet the Conqueror refused to burn it in 1453. He converted it into a mosque until Kemal Ataturk made it a museum in the white-sky 20th Century. But in 537 when it was consecrated, the sky was amber. In 535, something happened that darkened all Europe. Tree rings in Ireland show zero growth for ten years after 535. The people whose business it is to look into such things think it was Krakatoa erupting that caused the cataclysmic darkness. Krakatoa is a volcano in the Java Straits near Indonesia, and the last time it went off, in 1883, it killed thousands, changed the geography of the area and altered weather conditions for years. Years of darkness due to a globe-encircling belt of ash would have been nothing to such a force. So the Dark Age really was dark, gradually lightening into the yellow sunlight of Medieval references, those paintings we thought were because of yellowed varnish. Suchl darkness would have meant no photo-synthesis and no rain: Drought, famine, horror. Accounts of such have been found from Germany to Syria. The people must have thought it was the end of the world, and for many of them, it was. The sun would have been a red disk in a sable sky when it began to show up. In Constantinople, still recovering from the Nika Riots of 532, there was hunger and plague. Yet the great basilica continued to rise. By 537, the light may have lightened to Byzantine gold.

Deesus Mosaic “The Last Judgement”, Hagia Sophia.

REAL LIFE SEEM SLOW I’m standing in line a lot these days, staring at the marauder-scarred marble in the courtyard waiting to get in, because I’m drawing from a mosaic in one of those upper galleries from 9 AM until it closes at 4:45. It’s that real famous Jesus, in The Last Judgement, a Deesus Mosaic– Jesus flanked by Mary and John the Baptist. The Jesus is a masterpiece. From a few feet away you can’t tell that the face is mosaic at all.

Ace photographer Ken Brown sent me this photo of some graffiti in New York. It says:




So what do these moldy old Real Life Byzantines have to do with anything, anyway? Computer graphics, for one, you little Fast Life graffiti refugee. The first time I saw these mosaics, back in ’99 after fifteen years in computer graphics, I thought, My God, they can bend the pixels. 

Byzantine Griffin ©2006 by Trici Venola

Here’s a 6th-century Byzantine Griffin I drew in the Mosaic Museum back in 2006. Here’s a closeup of the head. Mosaics are 3D crosshatch. They ran the lines to match the contour of the shape they were creating. You can see those lines. But in setting in the tiny mosaic squares, they created lines going crossways:

Byzantine Griffin.Detail ©2006 by Trici Venola

DIGITAL MOSAIC Would computer graphics have developed as they did without the collective consciousness of mosaic? The most durable art form in existence: tiny bits of colored stone, pottery, glass and metal making up the shape of the world as we know it. Now computers do it with light. In the early days of the Macintosh, we had very few colors of light to work with. Here’s a vintage piece, built in Studio 8 in 1989. The center figures are vector graphics I created in 1988, using MacDraw II.

A Chorus Line in 8 ©1989 by Trici Venola

Look closer!

A Chorus Line.Detail @ 400% ©1988 by Trici Venola

Like all computer graphics, this is made of light. And it appears on a grid. At that time we had only 8 colors to work with, since there weren’t any color paint programs. We used ’em in various combinations, like black and red checkerboard to make dark red. Here’s Krishna’s mouth on the grid.

A Chorus Line ©1988 by Trici Venola. Krishna’s Mouth @ 800%

Seurat woud’ve loved it, but I would have killed for a blur. A blur makes up for a limited palette. It’s also a way to help the pixels appear to tilt and bend. The colors in the very earliest version of this, above and at left below, were WHITE, YELLOW, RED, MAGENTA, BLUE, TURQUOISE, GREEN and BLACK. By 1989 we had Studio 8 from Electronic Arts, with 256 colors and all the paint tools. I dropped this image into Studio 8 and blurred  it. See the difference?

Chorus Line CloseUps: Left: 8, Right 256.

Studio 8 was divine. You could actually paint with it, if you knew how to build a 256-color palette. Here’s my 2-month “learning” image. Since it says Studio 8, EA used it as a demo poster. And for what it’s worth, the fire used to actually cycle.

Dancing Fool ©1989 by Trici Venola

Close up, you can see the hard edges of limited palette, but like all mosaic  it reads from a distance. See the blur on the left of his neck? It’s actually gradating shades of several colors.

Dancing Fool.Detail @ 400% ©1989 by Trici Venola

In 1990 came the dawn, with millions of colors and Adobe Photoshop, casting long Jesus rays over the world of Art Creation. Photoshop, the Universal Solvent of computer graphics, elegantly and consistently programmed, intuitive, kind to artists. Came Wacom Tablets, no more mouse! Sections of this piece were built in 8 colors, then in 256, dropped into ‘Shop with Millions of colors and tweaked there, more created directly in ‘Shop. It’s my last mouse piece. No more painstaking placement of pixels with a mouse.

Earth Angel ©1990 by Trici Venola.

But close up, it’s still a mosaic made of light on a grid. As is everything, on every computer, everywhere.

Earth Angel.Detail @400% ©1990 by Trici Venola.

And that brings us to today.

Main Entrance Ayasofya

STARTING JESUS Hagia Sophia’s basilica is 6th-century but the pictorial mosaics are all after the 9th. The reason is that the Iconoclasts, discussed in the From Pillar to Post blogs, destroyed all the icons and pictures in the 8th and 9th centuries. The transept was undoubtedly lined with fabulous mosaics but now it’s bare brick save for one over the mighty main door. So our Jesus was created in the 13th century. He’s on the cover of all the guidebooks. He’s studied in Art History courses worldwide.

Looks pretty simple, huh? Deceptive, this face. It’s wider than it seems. The eye on the right is much larger, and the pupil is toward the right, wihich makes him appear to see everywhere. The mouth is a rosebud, but not prissy at all. The features are delicate but very masculine and strong. Look at that neck! The hand is graceful but the general impression is one of power.

The first drawing started out okay, but I don’t like his nose and he looks too soft.

JC 1 WIP ©2006 by Trici Venola

So the next day, I did another. This Jesus I can live with.

Mosaic is pottery or stone dipped in gold and then used, or dipped in gold and then dipped in enamel. The colors never fade. It’s the most durable art form on earth. The Crusaders in 1204 thought the gold mosaic tile was solid, and they stole a lot before someone thought to melt it down. The gold of theJesus Mosaic, called the Deesus Mosaic, was  not pilfered by Crusaders but by Muslims bent on obliterating all trace of Christianity. Before plastering over the images, they spared the faces. It must have been Mehmet’s Muslims, for the Deesus mosaic was created after the expulsion of the Western Romans from Constantinople in 1261, almost six decades after their entry in the hideous Fourth Crusade of 1204. Just behind me as I work is the former tomb of Dandolo, the fellow who let them into the city. After they left 60 years later, the residents exhumed Dandolo and threw him out the window.

JC 2 WIP 1 ©2011 by Trici Venola

Notice that I’m not drawing individual mosaic tiles on the face yet. That’s because this needs to read first as Jesus and then as a mosaic. What I’m doing is following the contours of the face and folds and hair, keeping it light, and paying a lot of attention to the proportions. Also, I can’t really see, from this distance, where the lines of mosaic divide one color from another. That’s how good it is. Now across the way from the actual mosaic is a huge color photo blowup of Jesus. MOSAIC TILES The next day, I camped out there where I could see closely, to draw the mosaic construction of the face. If I drew exactly what’s on the wall, I’d get a person in a mosaic suit. Drawing, I met Maria and Ioanna. They’re Cypriot Greeks, like Michael Constantinou who commissioned this piece. Gorgeous, aren’t they? Thrilled that someone knows the Greek part of Hagia Sophia’s history, and now we are all Facebook Friends. I’d jumped up to show them something. One thing I had noticed from the original location is how the artist took into account the light coming in from  the left. Here’s the Jesus as I left him on the last session.

JC 2 WIP 2 ©2011 by Trici Venola

Notice the shadow to the left under his chin? That was built in mosaic and gives a damned good impression that he is three-dimensional. Now that’s a Master. Imagine, the sun pouring in the window, and Jesus standing right there next to it surrounded by gold, so real he casts shadows in the yellow light, high up on the wall at the Last Judgement, his eyes filled with something beyond compassion: the complete and painful understanding of just what there is in each person, in the whole world, how much power, how much evil and confusion, how much joy.

All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola. All art ©2012 by Trici Venola. Thanks for reading. We love your comments.

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 14

21 October 2011 1:30-5PM


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.