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DOORS OF BYZANTIUM: Drawing the Boukoleon Palace Portals


Days of rain! Days and days of rain. I’ve actually done an outside plein air drawing in pouring rain, sitting under a clear plastic umbrella jammed up under a window ledge, but that was an emergency: the client was hot and the rent was due. Things are much better now, thank you Donna and Guy, I don’t have to draw in the rain, I just want to.

Affable Ahmet

But today was perfect, high dark blue skies edged with cloud, and almost cold. It took me all day to get there, but it was fun. Pretty Rhonda juggling phones and customers and never missing a hotel beat; Jeannie in jeans with her huge gold hair damp and down her back; tall golden Hasan slicing through Turkish red tape up at the bank; a fast hike lugging boots in a bag up the tramline to the shoe repair store only to hear that the Sole Master is on Hajj in Mecca; Fatma from Bulgaria working on Rhonda’s nails in a tiny lime-green salon; running into Nazan on the way down past the Hippodrome wall and admiring her style– black pashmina fringed with leather, perfect black tailored shalvar, a diamond in her nose in her diamond-shaped face. And just as I realized I was hungry, the gnarled simit-seller at the corner making cheese simit for me, slicing the round dough-ring and spreading cheese with incongruous young hands.

Affable Ahmet came by, apologizing for the day he was drunk. He’s been living in the Lighthouse all summer, even put a door on it. Next to it, the entire corner between the wall with the Pillars and the Lighthouse has collapsed. Luckily nobody was under the stones when they fell.

Far Left with Popup Kitten

It was a short day but great. It’s tempting, now that the end is in sight, to just finish it up any old way. I had to force myself to slow down and treat it like this was the only part of the drawing that would survive a disaster, like those surviving parts of Cimabue’s Crucifixion, found floating face-down in the Arno River by volunteer art students in 1966 after the devastating Florentine floods. Or those few bits of mosaic in Chora’s nave that survived the scraping by either Christian Iconoclasts or Muslim Conquerors. Or the Boukoleon Palace itself… Who among the workmen thought about his one carved bit of marble being the only part of the surface to endure for 1200 years? They were probably hanging in slings, thinking about not falling into the sea or getting brained by a swinging bucket of mortar.

These people were artisans, building with solid three-dimensional materials, building to last. How I respect them. In this incarnation I’m a line artist creating works on paper and computer data, the most ephemeral of mediums. Still– some of it may well last, as much as, say, silent films. As I work I often think about those artists of old slaving away over one detail that is now so eroded by time and circumstance as to be unrecognizable. What will live? What will get chiseled out by idiots or the march of time? What…potboiler…might be the only surviving bit of my life’s work? EEK! Rip up that potboiler and treat it all as important. And if what I’m working on it isn’t the most important thing I’ve ever done, it’s time to do something else.

 Here’s today: mostly just drawing the rest of the bricks and blocks. There’s some proportional stuff going on I don’t understand. The Cross is working but that hole at left seems too small. Hm.

Turns out the hole is the right size. To do this, hold your pen out with your arm out straight, aimed at the actual thing you are drawing, and measure one thing against another.

In a sparkle of serendipity, just as I was drawing that hole, this little white kitten popped up. Thinking of that one surviving detail, I got it down in the thirty seconds it held still. I darkened around it, and something is not right. What actually shows is a bit of the roof bricks, but it got lost. You can only do so much.

At least the kitten lives because I didn’t blacken all the way to its edges. Living things have a glow, an aura, and they also move. Blackening to the edge can kill something, can make it static and make it disappear. And yeah, I learned this the hard way.

Came back in the amber autumn light over the water, alive with brilliant white seagulls just over the surface. Cold wind trying to rip off my scarf, coming on winter. One thing from today, I looked over to the corner and saw the guy I’ve wondered was a ghost. He waved, looking alive, made a universal “whaddaya whaddaya” gesture of comraderie. I made it back. I’m glad to be recognized, even by a ghost. I’m glad to be working. I’m glad to be alive.

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