Saturday, January 31, 2009

mosque, palace and cistern

Just about every morning I start the day with a little beyaz peynir (white cheese) on olive açma bread sprinkled with olive oil, black pepper and hot pepper flakes. It's oddly addictive. Once I finished my tea and breakfast, I headed out to meet an old friend of mine who happened to be in town this week. It took a dolmuş, cab and a tram to get us to Eminönü, the district of Istanbul that was once the centre of the Byzantine empire, Constantinople. Eminönü is the main tourist attraction in Istanbul as it's where the Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque and Topkapı Palace are.

Aya Sofya in the background.

I stood outside to draw the Sultan Ahmet Camii, known as The Blue Mosque for all the magnificent blue tiles in its interior. My sketching drew a crowd of both tourists and Turks, curious to see what I was drawing. I had my picture taken by just about everyone with a camera that passed by, and was met with smiling faces and hellos in all sorts of languages.

Without getting into too much history— I'd like to save that for a future post specifically on this impressive building— I came across a few numbers on Wikipedia that I found interesting. The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616, has over 20,000 ceramic tiles with more than fifty different tulip designs, more than 200 stained glass windows and six minarets. It is enormous, you cannot help but feel humbled. It is a favourite of mine, and like the Aya Sofya, the camii needs a post of its own.

Topkapı's Gate of Salutation

After my fingers froze, we moved onward to Topkapı Sarayı— saray is Turkish for palace. Sadly the weather did not allow for a lot of sketching, and I was yelled at for taking pictures of the Ottoman kaftans in one of the exhibits, so I will have to come back when it's warmer and sketch out all the beautiful items that were once owned by the Sultans. There are slippers and cooking vessels, daggers and bejewelled thrones, holy relics and miniature paintings. And more bejewelled thrones. Bejewelled everything. Topkapı was the main residence of the Sultans from 1465 to 1853, and housed about 4000 other people— and yes, that includes the harem. There's so much to see that it really should take the bigger part of a day, so we'll save all the jewels, daggers and the harem for another day.

There's an often-overlooked site that can be hard to miss with such grand buildings nearby— it's known by several names: Yerebatan Sarayı or "Sunken Palace," Yerebatan Sarnıcı or "Sunken Cistern" and simply, The Basilica Cistern. I love this place. The Yerebatan Sarayı is one of the city's largest underground cisterns and was built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian. Aqueducts filled the massive chamber with water for Constantinople. If you've ever seen From Russia with Love, you might recognise the 300-something columns that rise out of a dark pool of water.

Two columns have Medusa heads at their bases, one is upside-down and the other is on her side. So far no one has figured out their significance. Sometimes you can catch a classical concert on a stage built above the water. If you get there in time, you might be able to grab a table in the café to watch the performance from, or you can listen to the music echo in the darkness as you walk down the platforms and watch the fish swim by glittering coins.

After the cistern I indulged in my favourite winter snack, roasted chestnuts. Nothing warms your hands faster than a little paper bag full of hot sweet chestnuts. We decided the evening would be best ended in Ortaköy over some tea and a nargile, a waterpipe with which you smoke flavoured tobacco. I had been watching this couple playing backgammon for a while before I decided to draw them. He seemed really into the game whereas she looked cold and tired.

Friday, January 30, 2009

pattern and preview

I just spent a fun-filled day of exploring Topkapı Palace and the Yerebatan Sarayı Cistern with a friend of mine from back in my Cairo days. There is so much to write about and since I'm sleepy, I thought I'd give you a little taste of the post I'll be concocting tomorrow. There will be more photos, a little history, food and of course, sketches.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

a little breakfast

I went back to the Yeniköy Spor Kulübü for a little breakfast and a sketch. I've been wanting to draw this woman for the past three weeks now— I've been told she takes care of the bathrooms in the café and is from Anatolia. She has so much character, and is usually moving about but today she sat down and had a breakfast of bread, butter, cheese and tea. Her hands were so quick, they were difficult to draw.

Once again, a waiter whisked away my Moleskine and when he showed it to her, she let out this little noise of surprise and started smiling. She said all sorts of things to me that I didn't understand— I was told one of the things was "health to your hands." As I was touching up the drawing, I noticed a familiar happy face at a table— it was the gentleman I had drawn last week. We waved to each other and the Moleskine soon made its way over to him, where he thumbed through it, showing his friends the drawing he was in. I love the reactions I have gotten so far from my "models," they make for a fun and rewarding sketching experience.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

wild parrots and potatoes

Yesterday I went to draw my favourite mosque in Istanbul, the Ortaköy Camii. It's a small elegant building on the Ortaköy pier, right on the Bosporus. I've loved it since I was a child, it has always seemed so intimate in comparison to some of the other older mosques, that feel so grand.

My goal for the day was to knock out a few drawings of the camii, Turkish for mosque, so I hopped on the bus and made my way down the Bosporus toward Ortaköy. It was another gorgeous spring-like day until we turned around one of the many bends in the road. The sky over Ortaköy was dark grey and suddenly, the bus was hit with rain. I had resigned myself to the idea of sketching in a café, but once I hopped off the bus, the rain stopped!

It seems so far that Turks are not big coffee-to-go people, they like to sit and enjoy their coffees rather than run about with them in their hands. While I do prefer to sit in a nice cosy café, there's nothing like having a hot latte next to you while you are sketching outdoors. So I ran into the one place that would guarantee I'd get a soy latte to-go, Starbucks. I ordered my drink in Turkish, feeling quite proud of myself, when suddenly the guys behind the counters started grinning and saying all these things I couldn't understand. I kept hearing something about a bean, fasulye, and then one of the guys would laugh. Through many hand gestures, I realised that they found it funny that I would drink "milk" from a bean with my coffee.

Dodging the cars, I ran across the street to the camii, wiped off a bench and sat down to draw. Midway into the sketch, the wind picked up and my fingers started to freeze, which made for a wonky drawing. I decided I'd rather grab a baked potato from the potato vendors nearby than try to stiffly sketch out another drawing. The potatoes are fantastic— a large baked potato is opened up, the insides whipped with a little salt, butter and cheese, then you get to pile in all sorts of toppings. It's perfect for a cold day, and the next time I go to Ortaköy, I won't forget to bring my camera and I'll take a picture.

I'm pretty happy with the looseness of the sketch, as I've been trying to get a little looser with my drawing. The camii has so many beautiful details that is was difficult for me not to break out a pen and try to draw every flute on the columns.

Walking home along the Bosporus with my potato, I saw the Savarona— the yacht of Turkey's founding father, Atatürk. The boat is truly stunning, a picture of 1930's glamour. She's been fully restored, with Atatürk's private quarters preserved as a museum. Apparently she can be chartered for cruises— but with celebrities and dignitaries listed as past passengers, I imagine getting on the boat would be quite difficult for those of us with tiny pockets.

Once I reached the town of Bebek, I saw a flash of brilliant green out of the corner of my eye accompanied by a familiar sound of laughter. I had just discovered that Istanbul has it's own flock of wild parrots— conures to be exact— just like the famous parrots of SF's Telegraph Hill. A few of the little birds were happily conversing up in a nearby tree, to my delight. Hopefully one day I can catch them on film.

* * *

Today I finished my entries in Yoda Navarrete's book for Moly-X 48 Exquisite Corpse, part of the International Moleskine Exchange. This exchange is a little different in that once the book is completed, the pages will be cut into thirds so that the sections can be turned independently— this way you can see the top of one artist's entry on the middle of another artist's entry on the bottom of another's. The Exquisite Corpse idea was first formed by the Surrealists in the twenties to create a fun collaborative work of art. I've included in my entries a portrait of Yoda herself, photographer extraordinaire Ola Bell, and a self portrait.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


On the way home I drew this, sandwiched between people on the bus, balancing as though on a skateboard. Luckilly I didn't fall on someone.

Friday, January 23, 2009

a day in

I stayed in today to work on various art projects, so I thought I'd post some of the photos I've taken over the past few days that I like. Above is a drawing of a migraine I recently had.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

public transport

Let me rave about Istanbul's public transport. After years of suffering SF's MUNI— buses that never ran on time, broke down, often crashed and yes, even caught on fire, I was thrilled by the cleanliness and efficiency of Istanbul's buses. I didn't see any gum, half-eaten chicken in a tub under a seat, grafitti or discarded sodas. People were courteous with each other and obeyed the No Cell-phone sign. I also didn't have to wait long before a bus or a dolmüş came along that was going my way. Speaking of dolmüş, I learned today that you can pick one up from anywhere on the side of the road and my, how people are friendly! I got a little confused as to where my stop was, so I asked the driver (in broken Turkish) if the building I was pointing to was where I needed to get off. Realising I was a foreigner, the driver and about three other passengers kindly explained through hand gestures and smiles that my stop was two stops away. They all alerted me when we got there and wished me "iyi günler," a "good day." I am in love. Good, easy and inexpensive transportation is necessary to being able to get around a massive city like Istanbul. In the next few days I'll try out the Metro.

I had just gotten off the bus on the way back and decided I needed to sit on a bench and draw this, the beginning of a town called Sarıyer. The Black Sea is right around the corner from Sarıyer, which has a rather large iskele, or port. From there you can catch all sorts of ferryboats, which I can't wait to do.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

sketch and tea

First off, I'd like to mention how happy I am to be able to say "President Obama." I watched the Inauguration last night, moved and inspired. I feel proud and optimistic. And goodness, I can't help but say it— didn't he look hot?

I was glad today was a little warmer since I still don't have any proper winter clothes. I was able to throw on a coat over my standard SF uniform and leave the house without freezing— which felt so good. I went to Yeniköy Spor Kulübü again to do some sketching and have a tea. Turkish tea, çay, is a black tea that's served piping hot in little tulip-shaped glasses with sugarcubes on the side.

When I was close to finished, the waiter asked if he could see what I was drawing. I showed it to him, then suddenly he took my Moleskine and presented it to the man drawn here. What was a look of utter confusion melted into a big grin, and all sorts of things were said with smiles. The man was so flattered, especially since he felt he was drawn younger, and asked if he could get a photocopy of the sketch. With my nod and an "evet," Turkish for "yes," the sketch was whisked away to a little scanner/printer by the cash register. I signed the photocopy and handed it to my model, who was all smiles and thankful. It was an experience that made my day.

Then I went to Asia— I love being able to say that! I needed a new duvet and a few random things, so I crossed the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge to Ikea. Sometimes Ikea is just the place for what you need. I also got an akbil today, which is a rechargeable metal button that works as a bus, metro and ferry pass. You charge it up with money and get to pay a reduced fare. Now there's no stopping me.

Monday, January 19, 2009

a little of this and that

I haven't spoken Turkish since I was ten. It's amazing how languages can just slip away if they aren't used. I've got some basic vocabulary down but I'm a little shaky at stringing words into sentences. The other day, I wanted to tell a cab driver to drop me off at the fish stand, instead I told him emphatically that "Fish is ok." We had a good laugh, then I tried to say "good evening" and ended up telling him "good night," which is only used intimately. We laughed even harder. That's the wonderful thing about Turkish people— I've never felt ridiculed or afraid to try and speak their language. People here are quite patient, kind and willing to help you learn— just today I was given a friendly pronunciation lesson at a frozen yoghurt stand. Apparently I've got my "ü" sound down!

Turkish is a very musical language with everything built on vowel harmony; words that begin with vowels that are sounded in the front of the mouth will end with front-sounding vowels. Likewise, words with throaty vowels will end with throaty vowels. Turkish is what's called an agglutinating language— "attachments" or suffixes are stuck onto words to create a sentence or part of a sentence. It sounds complicated, but once you've got the rhythm down, it comes easier than most languages. There are also very few grammatical irregularities, and everything is phonetic!

After the yoghurt and the language lesson I worked on some pigeons, a drawing of a migraine I had recently and an entry for Moleskine Exchange 48.
I also drew a guy I saw in a café this afternoon, but I don't like how it came out. If he grows on me, he'll be scanned and posted.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

a semi-productive day

I had planned on going to the Dalí exhibit at the Sabanci Museum today but when I saw the line that stretched down the road, I knew it wasn't going to happen. I went home to work on some new pigeons for my Coup series.
I started Coup in 2007 for fun, never expecting them to fly off the shelves as they have. But really, who wouldn't want a drawing of a pigeon with a Napoleonic complex? I adore pigeons, and took to studying their behaviour back in San Francisco. I noticed that many pigeons were missing feet from all those horrible spikes people place on ledges. In all the places I have lived, I had never seen such mangled birds. I imagined that they had had enough, that a pigeon's coo was a call for a coup. I broke out my Prismacolors and metallic ink, and Coup was born. I'm delighted that it has been so appreciated!

Once I get the new pigeons I am working on to a good point, I'll post a photo of them for you. In the meantime, here's a small sampling of my feathered friends:

On a different note, these are two of my latest sketches. The first takes place in a Starbucks— I saw this woman and had to draw her, her hair was enormous and her expression incredible. The second I sketched tonight at Filiz, a fantastic fish restaurant in Tarabya.

Friday, January 16, 2009

new shoes, an early gift and an experiment.

Isn't it marvellous when something you've had your eye on is suddenly 60% off? I've been dreaming of these strappy gray babies since before the holidays. Today I'm wearing the 10 lira/6 dollar shirt-dress I found at the Levent market in December, my souvenir-scarf from Lebanon and the belt I got for Christmas from my mom. I ended up switching shoes before running out the door since I was planning on going to Ortaköy, a fun part of town with narrow cobblestone alleys that while charming, can eat up your heels. It was a quick trip— tea in a cosy café, a game of checkers and peeking in boutiques. As an early birthday gift, my sister bought me a gorgeous handmade necklace of antique beads crocheted onto the trim of old scarves. I fell for it instantly, it so reminded me of spring. I still can't quite believe I'll be 30 in the next two weeks. I'm excited—
I plan on having much more fun in my thirties.

On Tuesday I went to a café in Yeniköy called the Yeniköy Spor Kulübü, where people often get together to play Mah-jong, Okey and cards in addition to having lunch. I decided to try sketching with gouache in an attempt to loosen up my drawing style. I think I'll keep trying to see what happens.

Please click on the image to see it larger.

It is imperative that any Sketcher have within reach a delicious Turkish coffee, or kahve. A Turkish coffee is thick, silty and strong, served in a dainty little cup. I like it best orta, medium-sweet— your other options are şekersiz, sugarless and şekerli, sweet. There's a tradition of flipping the emptied cup upside down onto its saucer and reading the future in the sediment left behind. I've seen a jungle full of animals and patterns in mine, but I haven't the foggiest what it all means!