This past weekend was art-packed. Saturday, I met a group of teachers from school for the ebru workshop at Les Arts Turcs, in Sultanhamet. We met in front of the Hagia Sophia and walked to the studio, which was just across the street. The studio was on the second floor and felt cozy- more like someone’s house than an art center. Right outside the window was a view of the Hagia Sophia and a little to the right was the Blue Mosque. ‘Not bad,” I thought.
|View from Les Arts Turcs' studio|
Everything was set up for us when we arrived and we learned a little bit about the materials and the process for making the water the right consistency. It seems that this is one of the most important parts of the process, because it affects the way the ink spreads once it hits the water and therefore the design. Some consistencies will make the ink spread more quickly and become harder to manage, whereas other consistencies will allow the ink blotches to stay together and make them easier to manipulate. I would need to research a bit to find out exactly how to prepare the water, though.
While sipping on frequently replenished tea, we watched as the two artists demonstrated the process: splattering various colored inks across the surface of the water, winding the pin tools through the water to tease the colors into patterns, and making flower designs once a background had been made. The artists also occasionally took a longer wooden bar with nails sticking out along one edge- a sort of rake- and ran it through the water, leaving a pattern reminiscent of leaves, feathers, or reptile scales in its wake. Then, we got to try. It was incredible to see the most complex patterns created by the simplest movement. It was also very soothing to watch beautiful swirls emerge with the slightest movement, making the accidental a happy surprise and putting the emphasis on the exploration rather than the end result. Two hours and several glasses of tea later, we had covered most of the workshop’s floor in our prints and were all enthusiastic about this new art. We scheduled another workshop for the following Saturday.
After the workshop, one of my colleagues from Istanbul, took us to get coffee in a traditional art center that was just down a small and cobblestone offshoot from the Hagia Sophia. We walked down the steep little street, which opened up into a charming atrium, with tables in the middle and tiny studios along the galleries. Before sitting down for a coffee, we walked the perimeter, poking our noses into each studio. In one of studio, a row of neatly aligned pliers and files caught my eye and made my heart jump. Was it what I thought it was? Had I stumbled upon a jewelry studio? This is exactly what I’d been looking for, ever since I came to Istanbul! This was what I had worried I wouldn’t find before taking the job here, and had resigned myself to go without.
I shared my excitement with my colleague, who brought me to the administrative office, to enquire about the class. “Does she speak Turkish?” was the immediate question, when they noticed my colleague was doing all the talking. When I fessed up to speaking only about an inch between my fingers’ worth (which was pretty apparent from my muteness), the administrator shook her head and said that there was no possible way that I could follow the instructions and that the teacher would not allow it. The vocabulary was too specialized and there was no way that she would let me sign up. It didn’t matter that I’d taken metals classes before. She said I could take the beading class, but otherwise, the answer was no. “Come back in a year,” she said, “When your Turkish is better.”
I glumly went to sit and have a coffee with my colleagues. Would my Turkish ever be at an adequate level to understand a class completely taught in Turkish? I seriously doubted it. As we chatted and drank our Turkish joe, I kept looking over in the direction of the studio and caught the teacher’s eye multiple times. “Let’s go talk to him,” I said to my friend. She agreed to translate for me and after taking the last sip of coffee, I rallied my courage, and we walked over to the teacher. He had a friendly face and a twinkle in his eye. My friend talked up a Turkish flurry of words, convincing him that I could take the class. He was pretty easy to convince. She used the argument that if I were a deaf student, would they turn me away? I could learn by observation, she insisted, as she banged her hand in the air as if with a hammer, to illustrate her point. I stood next to her and nodded eagerly when he looked my way. When he gave the ‘ok’, we hurried back to the administrative building to convince them.
They weren’t immediately convinced, but my friend did not back down. After another swarm of Turkish words, along with the promise that I would not ask for my money back if I was frustrated by the language barrier, the administrator finally relented and agreed to let me take the class. I was ecstatic! I paid everything up front, emptying my wallet of most of its contents, and couldn’t wait to come back for class the next day. Before that time, though, I had a lot of Turkish words to look up…