Monday, 26 February 2018


One of the fun things to do in the Basilica Cistern,  is to look for the Medusa heads!  There are two of them. Clearly they have been re-purposed from a former Roman era building & have had the important task of holding up pillars in the Cistern.

However....that's rather boring!

It is much more interesting instead to accept one of the myths.... believed to be from a family of Gorgons (& Gorgons being monsters of the underground world), the Medusas were placed in the Cistern to protect the precious waters there.  They are placed upside down so that they won't turn any of us to stone!  People throw coins into the pool that this head sits in, trying to win a little of that luck & protection for themselves.

I know that they are stone, so don't actually have feelings, but I found myself feeling sorry for the Medusas.  Having her head  upside down,  partially immersed in water & covered in green slime is not the most pleasant way to spend eternity!

How was I going  to capture this setting & environment with fabric & stitch....that became the question for my art project this week!

I know, I know....usually I start with paper & pen & some form of drawing.  However, yesterday, I just felt like trying something else!

I already had a sketch I'd done of one of the Medusa heads (currently sitting up the right way in the Archeological Museum Garden) whilst I was in Istanbul.  This could be printed onto fabric & turned upside down...but what else was I going to do with it.  I chose to start ripping a few pages out of a magazine, with the view of 'sketching' with collage.  The colours I chose were greens & blues to represent water.

I happened to just plop the strips I'd cut onto the Medusa head & have to acknowledge...I quite liked it like that!  However, it lacked intent & I so I tried a few variations...

The last one worked for me & I liked the way the sense of water was coming from above & dropping vertically,  as well as sitting in a horizontal position.  Now to attempt this ...or something like fabric!

One of the negative aspects of contemporary reverse applique, is that there are always a lot of scraps!  I keep a large proportion of mine & so it was too the scrap bins that I went to source the fabrics for this project.  I then needed to do a LOT of ironing!!!

For this style of work, I was endeavouring to build up & cut-back layer upon layer, instead of my usual method of having a full stack of fabrics at the start & them working down the whole lot layer by layer!  This style requires a bit of intuition & spontaneity ...not practices I'm very confident in!  At least I had my collage 'sketch' as a visual guide!

The layers were stacked, stitched & cut back, slowly building a sense of the water in this underground cavern & the way  Medusa is separate, yet a part of it.
I got to this stage & felt that it was enough, in terms of layering.  However, the head just wasn't working for me, at least not as well as it had earlier in the paper collage variation.  I could see that the proportions were wrong, I would have been better to have enlarged the head before printing it onto fabric, but there wasn't a lot I could do about that now...what did I need to do to make that head look a little more included in the environment??

Out came the fabric pens & I applied a little colour to her face!!  This works MUCH better!

If I were to do this piece again, I think I would change the proportions to this & I would have some of her head poking out of the 'water'.

Regardless of seeing the need for further improvement, I am happy with this outcome & I enjoyed working on this WAP. It is always good to step out of the usual routine & try something a little different!!

Tuesday, 20 February 2018


Last week I started exploring the features of the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul that made a particular impact on me.  For this week's art project, I've chosen the second of that list; the reflections of the pillared arches.

Golden light seemed to wash beautiful coppery tones over the whole Cistern & the water below reflected that precision and colour so perfectly that at times it was hard to identify what was solid & what was illusion.

I had two photos to work from, and as is my practice, I started with pen & paper mapping out what exactly I was looking at.   Whilst blocking out shapes & lines, I was also asking myself what I wanted to do with this information I was drawing into my work book. What did I want to play with today?

The answer was repetition.

I often use mirror imaging in my architecture inspired art works.  This time however, I wanted to do more than just a couple of mirror images.  Therefore,I decided to divide my A4 space into 9.  This meant I had a rather small size in which to create a design that reflected the pillars & arches of my inspiration.

Once I had worked up a rough idea of what was physically possible within that space, I photographed with my mobile phone & then using one of my nifty little apps....

... I had before me a rough idea of what my design could potentially look like...eventually.

This was an intriguing image, so I set to work cleaning up my design, tracing it onto an A4 sheet of paper, then transferring it to fabric.

First layering, and stitching and then...let the cutting back begin!!

This was the end result & I am very happy with it.

I know that it is a little shabby looking with all those fraying edges & yes, I would have been wise to have snipped them back before taking this photo!  However...the light was fading & I needed the photo immediately!

It was a mammoth cutting task in a day that was interupted with frustrating telephone conversations (with internet provider)s, so...I was quite distracted.  Nevertheless, this piece draws me in.  It alludes to what it could be if it was repeated many times over.  My eye is drawn to the surface then it travels further into the depths, before coming back again.

Because my photo isn't perfectly square, this version through my app is a little distorted, yet it does give an idea...of a slightly pinker version...of what my design might look like.

It does capture the essence of those repetitive reflections in the Basilica Cistern to me. Another weekly art project well worth investing the time in. :-)

Wednesday, 14 February 2018


My last weekly art project was an exploration of the  brick ceiling of one of the underground cisterns of Istanbul.

This week I have been inspired by another one, this time the Basilica Cistern, which had a starring role in the Tom Hanks film version of Dan Brown's book 'Inferno'. This was the place where a deadly virus was hidden before activation! Scary stuff!

Unlike our first cistern experience where we were the only ones there....THIS cistern attracts the tourist population in DROVES.   Therefore we visited this spectacular Byzantine underground sanctuary alongside hundreds of other people.  Even with so many footsteps clattering along the wooden walkways, the utter beauty of the place was not lost, nor was the fact that this truly is a marvel of engineering.

There were three specific areas of beauty for me & I hope to explore each of those in the coming weeks.  The one I have been engrossed in this week, is the peacock feather column.

Earlier ...above ground, we had wandered around the streets near our hotel &  come across random pieces of antiquity just scattered on the side of the road.  Among them was this fragment of a marble pillar, decorated in a stylised peacock feather pattern.

Peacocks are symbolic symbols in both Christian & Muslim traditions, so it made sense to find the pattern on a column that no doubt graced a Byzantine building.

Imagine how excited we were to then find one UNDERground in amidst numerous plain cylindrical columns.  This time though, water was dripping from it, as if the peacock was crying about the fact that it was wet & slimy &  hidden away in the dark!

Why was it there? Possibly through the practice of plundering...or recycling!  Regardless of the reason, I found the column beautiful &  worth spending some time thinking about in an artistic way!

 I started by drawing what I saw.  Although it involved only fairly simple lines, the act of drawing requires that I look with a more analytical eye, & in turn I made discoveries I hadn't noticed before.

What was I going to do with this pattern?  There wasn't much point just copying it as a fabric representation.  What did I want to say about these columns?  What story did I want to tell? What did I need to do to create a design that respected the original, but told my story?

Art making involves a lot of asking & then answering questions.

I kept my design simple.  On one side I referenced the peacock feather design as I saw it, on the other side I turned them upside down to represent tears of water droplets.

After assembling my fabric choices, I decided I was going to use a variety of threads as well, so I gathered the possibilities.

Then it was time for the cutting back to begin...

Wow!  Get the sunglasses out, that lime green is BRIGHT!
Do you see the watery patterned turquoise fabric that is forming the central background?  That section was supposed to be the pale blue that fills the background of the lefthand side background, however, I had a little brain-warp when I was placing it in the layer & ...ahem...didn't put it all the way across.  Consequently when I cut back to that layer there were half moon shaped patches of the backing fabric showing.  GRRRR!

I remedied it by putting this new fabric BEHIND the backing fabric, stitching it in place, then cutting the backing fabric back to reveal this.  In hindsight it may have looked better to cut away the pale blue altogether & just have the water fabric, but as you can tell...I didn't think of that at the time!!

That bright lime green was really bothering me!  How could I tone it down a little.  I took a photo & using my computer editing programme started drawing on possible quilting lines as a means of softening the impact.  The lines are wiggly because I only have a mouse & not a stylus!  This idea had potential, but the green took the focus away from the peacock feathers.  How about if I...

Oooo, I LIKE that!
What if I adapted both to create more interest...

It is very hard to see in this image, but there are paler green lines coursing their way through that lime green background!

This was the final outcome and I am pleased with it.  It captures the essence of peacock feathers, the green of the underground pillar, and the water dripping like tears because the pillar was not where it was initially designed to be seen and admired!

I could have incorporated this inspiration in with one of the others from the Basilica Cistern, but I'm glad I haven't.  It has been a good exercise to not over complicate the design by putting too much information & intent into it.  Although this design couldn't be considered a stand alone 'real-piece-of-art' design, it certainly has potential as a border or feature in a bigger piece.  A worthwhile effort.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018


 Not all the treasures of Istanbul are above ground. 
Some of the awe inspiring structures that the Byzantines left behind, are the cisterns below the city; great cavernous spaces for the storage of water.  The Basilica Cistern is the best known one & is consequently a major tourist attraction. It has also featured in a few big budget movies, but our first Cistern experience was in the quieter 'Cistern Of 1001 Columns'.

In fact, we were the only ones there!

 This is what I said about it in my travel blog at the time;

"...we came upon the Cistern of 1001 columns & were the only ones there, except for the guys running the cafe.  We sat down with another Turkish tea , lapped up the tranquility& listened to classical music bounce off these ancients columns...along with the drips! It was  a treat."

'Treat' was an understatement!!
The soft golden red light, the narrow bricked ceiling, the music, the drips & drinking Turkish mint tea in tulip shaped glasses. To think that this incredible space had been there since the 4th century! It was quite magical & so... naturally... I wanted to focus on this experience for my art project this week.

 However, focus wasn't in great supply! 
The weather had been particularly hot & I hadn't been sleeping well.  Because my workroom is not air conditioned, I'd had to do my working out in the living area.  Being a creature of habit, this new location made me a bit unsettled & fractious & grumpy &....well, I'm sure you can imagine.  

I've shown you this spread from my sketch book (above) to encourage those of you who don't always produce nice, neat, cohesive preliminary drawings ! 
On this particular day, this scrabble of scribbles was all I could muster, but it was enough to proceed with.

 Instead of my fabric stash, I went to one of my many scrap bins for pieces that I could use to remind me of that fabulous brickwork. 
In the sorting & deciding process, I was looking for a lighter colour & I remembered that I had some tea dyed fabric left over from a series of art pieces I completed a few years ago.  This was perfect, it was not only the right colour, but it imbued this piece with reference to the tea drinking part of the whole experience.

 My design could have been presented in two rows of three, however, I decide to make it a little more interesting by creating three rows of three in the format above.  I worked out my layers & cut them each to the size of the space they were about to dwell in. 

There were to be two different outline fabrics.  For consistancy, I chose to keep the second layer all  the same fabric.  It was a faded pinky cotton that had designs scattered across it that were reminescent of the designs found on  Turkish tiles.  I do like there to be connection in the componants of my work, even if I'm the only one aware of their symbolism & relationship.  It was this  layer that I needed to sew the outlines on first.

 After that, the top layers were carefully sewn on.

It was then time for the cutting back to begin!

Although I would have liked to have got more of a curve into the edges above, this was the best I could do within this size of the design, without compromising the effectiveness of the 'bricks'.

To this I now wanted to add a frame to the centre, because I'd come up with something I felt quite excited about putting in the middle! Out came needle & thread.

As I mentioned earlier, part of the exquisite experience was the slow sipping of tea under the brick domed ceiling of this ancient cistern. Although my tea dyed fabric made the perfect lighter sections  ceilings, I also wanted to refer to the tulip shaped tea glasses that we sipped from.

Therefore, I started playing with the shape of the glassware, trying to transform it into my very own tulip-teacup  caligraphy. 

Choosing my favourites & a fine paint brush, I squeezed a dollop of gold paint onto my palette & carefully added these little treasure symbols.

This is the end result & I am so happy with it.  It does bring back a sense of the experience & atmosphere in that Cistern setting.  I love it...can't stop staring at it! What a great way to end a project, after starting it feeling so very frazzled.

Thursday, 25 January 2018


Once upon a time, very near where the Blue Mosque stands today, there was a magnificent Grand Palace.  At that time Istanbul was known as Constantinople & being a meeting point for international trade,  was very wealthy.  It was also very beautiful, and a fitting place to build a Grand Palace that would be considered a wonder of the world.  For 690 years it was home to the Emperors of Constantinople. Now, there is very little left to see, but the remains of some truly exquisite mosaics that make up the contents of the Mosaic Museum. 

I remember feeling quite overwhelmed by the artistry in the construction of these mosaics.  There were a number showing wild animals, set in interesting compositions with fabulous use of colour. My favourite mosaics though were of trees & plants, with wonderful shaped leaves & numerous bands of colour.

As my own photos were dark & not very clear, I was very grateful to have had the foresight to purchase a book about the Museum. It, thankfully, did contain good photos, so it was from these that I sourced inspiration for my art project  this week.

This was such a good opportunity to experiment with using contemporary reverse applique to create a mosaic effect.  Not something I had done before...but I was genuinely excited to give it a go!

I started with simple lines sketches of a few foliage possibilities.  The one I wanted to take further, received a splash of paint to guide me in my colour choices.

This was my colour palette & as an unusual feature, I was using the same fabric for my topmost outline layer AS WELL AS for my background colour.  Hmmmm....this was going to be interesting!  With a backing fabric layer as well, that is 10 layers of fabric my machine was going to have to stitch through!!

Once I had machine sewn the design through them all, I referred to my plan as to what colours I needed to cut back to at which point.

It was time to let the cutting back begin....

I was so pleased with how it was looking up until this point.  I was particularly pleased with the snippets of other colours I kept in some of the 'tesserae' .  It's a bit hard to see in the photos above, so here's a close up...

Now I'd reached the dangerous part.  I had noticed that time & centuries of being walked over, not to mention being buried under ground for another few centuries, meant that the grout around the paler tesserae appeared quite dark, whereas it was quite light around the coloured  tiles.  Therefore, I was hoping to achieve this effect by using my darkest colour layer to create the grout lines for the background tiles.  I held my breath & went for it!

This is A4 in size & I have to tell you, it involved a LOT of intricate cutting.  My thumb was well & truly blistering after this scissor-happy experiment.

This outcome is intriguing.  It reminds me of cellular structures!  The dark blue outlines do tend to significantly detract from the coloured section of the 'mosaic' & in hindsight, I definitely went a bit too dark with my fabric choice.  However, it's not a complete disaster & there are ways of changing that overpowering impact.

I whipped out the white paint & made a wash to painstakingly paint over all the outlines.  It is a vast improvement.

However, with a little photo manipulation on my computer, THIS is what I would have preferred it look like!  Regardless, it has been a fun experiment, which I will certainly be more open to trying again...once my thumb isn't feeling quite so tender!!