Monday, August 31, 2009

Four Tall and Skinny Collages

I did these about 2 years ago, but I still like them.
I made the tea glass and nargile stamps by cutting up erasers

This one has a sprig of foilage from Greece.

This one has a tag I took off a pillow case in a hotel I stayed in.
It's a reference to the Orient express which ran from Paris to Istanbul.

An old Turkish stamp, a hookah (Nargile) pipe,
and drawings by Mimar Sinan for his famous domes.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Road Trip to the Middle of Nowhere! Nizwa Oasis!

On the weekend, we were joined by Grant's wife, Catherine, who flew in from Abu Dhabi. No sooner had she arrived when we hit the road for a mini road trip to Nizwa!

Nizwa was once the capital of Oman, but that was then! Today it's a sleepy town with a busy Friday morning market in the middle of the desert. It took a few hours to drive there through some of the most stunning mountain scenery I've ever seen. Dramatic, multi-coloured, sheer plates of stone crushing up against each other, showing how this earthquake prone country was formed.

Also, it has loads of antiques and it's known that antique dealers from the capital come to Nizwa to stock up on cheap items. Like Omani jewelry...

and wooden doors... copper platters.... and Arabic coffee pots!

....and freshly roasted coffee beans!

This man came across us wandering around in the back streets of Nizwa, snapping pictures of every centimetre of his town. He is kindly telling us if we go back between those buildings we'll see some really nice things to photograph.

.....and he was right!

Every Omani was kind to us. It is one thing that really stood out. From the women who smiled and offered us a "Hello" in the souks, to the taxi driver who refused to take our money because he got lost and couldn't find our villa, the people were unconditionally warm and open.

They were less hung up on "western people" and "Eastern people" and focused on "people". We heard many times, from many people, how we were not so different and we had to learn about each other in order to put our fears and prejudices aside.

I left this country feeling privileged to have explored it.
Even if only for a week.

Oman! Poor Man in the Gulf

This is horribly late, but serves as a little recap of our trip. Mostly pictures and a few words.

We booked a short one week trip to Oman to visit Grant, Mel's friend from yoga class. We've always wanted to visit, and his offer of fine company, fine food and wine and free accommodation was to good to pass up!

Oman is the poorest country in the Gulf region and that's precisely it's charm. No soaring scrapers, massive malls or construction cranes crowd the landscape. In fact, no building is over 5 stories. The air is clean and the harbor uncrowded, and those dramatic soaring mountains divide and separate the city into little "pockets".

Downtown Muscat

Along the main cornice of Muscat proper are a row of quaint wooden portuguese houses,
all whitewashed and crisp!

We spent the better part of one day at the Sultan Qaboos Mosque, the largest and grandest mosque in Oman. We were warned beforehand that we'd have to cover carefully and even wear socks (!) to cover our infidel feet.

Infidel feet! (And yes, my sister and I are searing the same shoes.)

This is one of the nicest mosques I've ever been in, and by now, I've been in a few. To be very honest the inside was "meh" but it was the outside that held our attention. For hours. In the blazing heat. The reason were these niches around the outside.

Each niche is covered in tiles in the style of all the other Muslim countries of the world. India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran and Spain were my favorites.

Detail of an Indian Niche

Detail of a Pakistani Niche

So a word about heat. Muscat's heat is beyond anything I've felt in Egypt, Syria, S.E. Asia, the UAE or anywhere else for that matter. It's burning. It makes you unable to see straight. It beats down relentlessly and even standing in the shade offers no respite.

As Mel and I plodded from one building to another in the blistering heat, I was reminded of the lyrics by Noel Coward that my neighbor Mike used to sing:

At twelve noon the natives swoon, 
and no further work is done -
But Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

The Sultan himself!

Grant, ever the gracious host, took us to the Muscat Souk one night after the sun went down. Small little alleyways, densely packed, it was all we've come to expect from souks. Mel and I bought Omani silver pedants here, and today mine remains my favorite souvenir from the whole summer!

Sparkly Pajama Store

Omani Clinique Counter!

Mel and Grant wandering through the streets of the souk. Probably discussing plans to visit Nizwa Oasis on the weekend.... Stay tuned, more pictures on the way!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Process

I love Ortakoy. For me, it's where the Bosphorus meets Istanbul. There's something intimate and secret about the place. Every odd Thursday night you can find me there with a group of revelers from "The Sublime Portal", other times I'll be there on a Saturday wandering its little streets, and all streets lead to this mosque.

The architect was Armenian, and a Turkish friend pointed out that seagulls never land on this mosque. I've watched, and he's right.

Google "Ortakoy mosque", and you'll see this mosque and bridge captured over and over - in every type of weather and every season, in every media.

No matter. I also wanted to do something with this mosque beyond photographing it, so I dug up the above photo that I took last summer.

And I drew this.

Ugh and ick. Not happy. Not only did I mess up several of the details on the mosque, it didn't convey how I felt about the place at all. So I threw it in the bookshelf. Where it sat for months and months, until Mel fished it out last week and said, "I think you should really do something with this".

She was right. So I thought about why I felt this try was so unsuccessful, and decided I wanted the space to be more cozy, like the area itself. So I turned the next paper on its side, and after lots of trail and error, I drew this.

This was better! I fixed several of the details on the mosque I'd messed up on the first one and then distorted it slightly and simplified it a lot.

The next step was to decide on, and colour in, all the black parts with a soft graphite pencil, and then transfer the mirror image onto lino. Then I carved it up. As is tradition, I also carved up part of my finger as well. I would have shown this as part of the process, but it's pretty nasty looking.

I usually change a lot of things in this step, depending on how many times I slip and mess up. I added some details to the boats and made a last minute decision to keep the dome all black. I also made a major, (in my eyes) blunder, but we're not going to talk about that.

Ok, so I'm not one of those printers who pulls off the first few prints and labels them artist's proofs. I'm just too picky for that. This is the very first print. It's now at the bottom of the rubbish bin. As you can see, this is just for me to check out how things are looking so far, hence the torn out paper from a sketchbook and sloppy printing.

This one wasn't too bad. I often leave bits undone, so I can look at the whole picture after the first print and decide which direction to go. I decided to straighten and neaten some lines, take out some bits that were getting accidentally inked, and leave the rest as it was.

Then I made a mess. Yes, I like to work on the floor for this part.

Nearing completion! I have to do more printing later tonight. The ink is just drying far too quickly in this heat for me to pull nice prints. The prints in the morning were much better.

And done! Ortakoy mosque, fresh off the roller!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It's been a while.....

Finally we're back!

It's been a great summer. I saw some new places, met some new interesting people and took a quick trip out east which has left it's mark on me.

Stay tuned for pics of Oman! Emirates! And south-east Turkey!