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DOORS OF BYZANTIUM: Drawing the Boukoleon Palace Portals


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 illustrating 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, so far…

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 by Kurt Wahlner, © Comic Strip Factory 1986.

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 bottom left, 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 exact. 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. 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.

TA-DA! The finished product.

Boukoleon Portals, ©TriciVenola 2011

AFTERWORD It’s years since I drew the Portals. The original is on Guy and Donna Perkins’s wall in Alberta, Canada. The posts above appeared on my Facebook page as they were created over a decade ago. I’ve drawn this palace so many times, it’s memorized. And now, in 2022, there’s good news: under the auspices of the Mayor of Istanbul, the Boukoleon is being excavated and strengthened. It’s being done right, preserving the patina of history recorded by 1200 years of storms, political upheaval, and general mayhem. So far, the place is covered with scaffolding, they’ve dug down 5 meters, uncovered the Cistern where the Hasan the Ghost used to live, and kept Affable Ahmet’s Lighthouse from collapsing. Yet Hulusi’s graffiti endures. I don’t know how much of this original rotted glory will show, but I know what 1200-year-old Byzantine architecture looks like. And now you do too. The Boukoleon will open to the public next year or thereabouts. I can’t begin to express what this means to me, so I’ve reposted all this in order to try.


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