Sketchbook, Studio and The People
September 11, 2008, 2:20 pm
Filed under: English | Tags: , , , , , , ,

It has been a while since my first post.  Summer has been busy and fun but it is time I get serious and seriously busy at my studio.

Today I am staying at home to get some rest after a crazy weekend and to gather my thoughts.   There is a lot going on in my life during this transition from being a student in London to becoming an artist in Istanbul.  It involves many adjustments of all sorts, some of which are personal.  So I will try and lay them all down on paper, so to speak, and to make sense of what has happened so far.

Through my “art goggles” the highlights of the past few months include a sketchbook, my studio and the people I met.

The sketchbook.

I packed a few art supplies when I went to visit my family down south.  Some tape, my pencil box, a few markers and a Moleskine sketchbook.  Since my degree show in London I hadn’t made anything so I was very anxious to ease my conscience.  In fact it had been even longer since I set out to “making” a sketchbook, as in filling one from cover to cover.  They make beautiful objects you see. I also find them very useful and friendly when easing into producing art again.  They are very intimate.  Sketchbooks are intimate because they are small and also because sketches are often spontaneous, personal and less intimidating.  I love sketchbooks!

I was quite nervous when I opened the cover and looked at the first empty page.  I wasn’t sure how to start.  Beginnings are always scary; but “good scary”, as in exciting.  I thought to myself that this fear was nonsense and that I could draw anything.  By nature sketchbooks are forgiving as they are in the end an amalgamation of trials and failures, but then in the end they do make sense as a whole.  They make sense because they are a journey.  It is like animation.  You turn one page and see a new image.  This image though is part of a whole.  The sketchbook.  There is continuity and sometimes evolution.

“An experiment on when to stop”… This is what I wrote inside the cover of my sketchbook.  I have been known to overwork my pieces and I wanted to see if I could stop working on an image before doing too much to it.  It was an experiment to overcome my old habits.  With sketches on such small scale this could be easier as it is much easier to fill up the space on a small page.  Then again it is not so much the “filling up” of a space but the use of it.  Since my friend Lucy became aware of the compositional possibilities inherent in the use of negative space as part of her mono-prints I have been interested in it as well myself.  This in mind I used the natural colour of the pages as background in most of my sketches.  This was in the end an aesthetical choice which perhaps brought all the images throughout the book together or some means to avoid overcrowding my pages.  I think it worked.  I took a minimalist approach in constructing my imagery.  Now what does that mean really.  Fewer lines, fewer colours, fewer shapes… or something completely different and not quantitative.  I would stop working on an image before I “normally” would.  I think it is a learned reaction rather than an instinct.  A new kind of aesthetics, a learned one that reduces and trims one’s own.  “Trimming”… I like that.

During my collaborations with another friend Ryo we had worked with paper.  It was at the time very refreshing to distance myself from the canvas so working on paper got me quite excited.  Starting on the first page of my sketchbook I chose to manipulate the paper rather than to draw on it.  I was definitely interested in the material.  So burnt it and made a whole through it.  Now that I think about it the burnt part of the paper that also made a whole in the paper was perhaps another negative space.  A different sort if you like that sits in the heart of the image.  Its absence is its very presence.  I could work with this again.  In another sketch, I folded the paper and painted on it while it was folded.  This is another idea we played with with my firend Ryo.  Drawing on 3D.  The folded edges interrupted my brush strokes and counter acted forming some very interesting patterns.  I tried pealing the surface of another page without much success but I am confident I will try this again with thicker paper and get some interesting results.

A few days after I started building my sketchbook I got greedy and went shopping at a local stationary shop.  This visit took me years back when in such stores we didn’t have much but very basic things.  So I found these compact water colour and oil stick kits and bought them.  I enjoyed this shortage on supplies which forced to make do with what I have got.  It is a theme that I now live on a financial level as well.  After an abundance of everything in London I now have to “make do”.  In all honesty I am finding this very exciting.  I am a romantic.

Anyway, I painted over oil with water colour and got some really interesting textures.  Yes, the water colour may not stick on oil but am I bothe’d?  I also tried smudging.  I would paint with kiddy oil pastels and smudge it with my fingers.  When smudged the oil would get this very soft, uneven, almost luminous colour.  I then decided to smudge my drawings regardless of whether they were in oil or not.  I made them dirty.  I think my friend Nir would appreciate best me being “un-precious” with my work!  I remembered how much I enjoyed getting dirty sitting on pavements and streets to draw when I first did an intensive drawing course.  This was when I was still a lawyer and it was oh so liberating to let go and indulge myself in something I love while I got dirty.

I did all sorts of things in my sketchbook.  Squashed flowers to get colour, trapped paint between tapes, pasted things into it, etc.  In short I had fun.  I was finally drawing again and thinking while I drew.  I had gotten over my fear of not being able to start making art again after graduation.  Of course, I now have that fear again as I haven’t done much since I got back from holiday but I have an excuse.  I am now setting up my studio.

The studio.

I have a flat in Tepebasi, Istanbul.  I was lucky enough to afford to buy it a couple of years ago.  Now that I am back in Istanbul and see how expensive property became I feel very wise to have bought it.  It is very close to a very central part of Istanbul with lots of cafes, restaurants, galleries and I am sure studios with a young, dynamic and creative demographic.  Once I move into my studio I hope to take advantage of my proximity to this energy.

When I bought my flat it was in pretty bad shape so my friend Timur redid the interior.  The magician that he is it became a very handsome flat.  Of course in the end it so happened that I needed it to be my work space at which point I recognized the problem of turning a nicely refurbished apartment into a studio.  I would have to be un-precious with it once I started working in it.  Frankly it is the perfect location for a studio and I am very thrilled with the idea of being able to walk there every morning on my favorite street in Istanbul, Istiklal, buying coffee on the way from the newly opened Café Nero, getting my loyalty card (in Turkish!) stamped and walking up four flights.  Yep, my flat is on the fourth floor but with the new owners upstairs we are thinking of getting a lift installed.  Time will tell if this is in fact feasible.  I would like to go back to me getting coffee.  This ritual I think will mean more to me than simply getting coffee as it will somehow connect me to my days at the Slade in London, or to London everyday.  I will be living in a parallel universe to London in Istanbul and go about making my art.  I might be loading a lot of things to the coffee I will be buying everyday but so be it.  It is a nice twist in my new reality nonetheless.

My flat has four main rooms.  I have decided to keep one room as a bedroom and to use another which was originally designed to be the dining room as storage.  Of course I can always indulge my friend Nick to think of some crazy dinner party among canvases and art supplies.  Talk about being restrained while eating… Another room will be my study.  Yesterday I spent all day taking out my art books, dusting them and placing them on shelves I inherited from my neighbour in London.  I have never been a big reader but these books with all sorts of shapes and colours to me look like candies.  Perhaps I should admit it wasn’t reading I wasn’t into but the subject matter.  Anyway, once I am in the studio I will make sure I make time to go through them every now and then for inspiration.  As they came out of boxes I have got some pretty amazing books I remembered, some even unwrapped waiting for a special moment to be unwrapped and savored.  I will have my wooden desk and computer in this room as well.  I hope I will make many drawings, collages and other things unimaginable, artistically I mean, on this big flat desk.  My friends from the Slade might remember how much I liked my desk then.  We were practically inseparable.  I look back and think I must have had some of the best times of my life creating by a desk.

In the study I hope to hang all the amazing art work my friends gave me which I hope will keep me company during this lonely time as an artist and will inspire me with their presence.  So if there is anyone out there who would like to exchange art with me I still have got more wall space.  In short, “THE STUDY” will be an intellectual recess within the studio.

I kept one of the major rooms in the front as a painting room.  The main wall is uneven with exposed brick so I am getting my architect friend to build a wooden grid in three parts/sheets which will cover the front wall and will be detachable from the wall in case I want to attach one of the three pieces to another wall within the flat.  The grid will also protect the front wall of the painting area as I will drill and hammer into the wood and not the wall to hang my canvases, etc.  I am waiting from my friend to see if this grid idea will work.  There is this fourth area which is in the middle of the other four rooms where I have a sofa and a coffee table.  I am thinking the sofa will come in handy for when I am painting “nu”s.

One major problem when converting the flat into a studio was the beautiful wooden floors.  Initially I considered getting only the floor in the ‘painting’ room covered but decided to get all the wood flooring covered in the end as I know I will carry paint to all other rooms once I start getting messy again, i.e., painting.  With this in mind me and mom went shopping to IMC, a complex full of flooring and textile shops.  It sounds funny when a 37 year old goes shopping with his mom which makes me think of something Andy, the head of painting at the Slade once told Nir and I.  Every artist needs a patron.  Really people, it is difficult to survive as a beginner artist and I am really grateful to those who are helping me now.  Back to IMC… IMC was used as one of the venues for last year’s Istanbul Bineal.  It was mostly used for video art screenings.  My cousin Zeren’s and my friend Idil’s collaborate film on volunteering was screened there as well.  I was happy to find out that one of the shops has recently been converted into an exhibition space.  The space is named after the number of the shop, 5533.  I just googled them for those who might be interested in checking it out on the web.  You can find out more about them at  It looks like an exciting new space as it is not a commercial gallery and feels independent from all the hot shot names who now dominate the Istanbul art scene.  Of course I can’t be sure as I am only a new comer in the scene.  I hope to meet them some day and see if there is anything I can do to get involved.

So, we bought this really nice bleached wood imitation pvc for my floors which was installed a few days ago.  The flat looks really nice and bright with the white flooring and I now can be as messy as I want.  For those who may want to know pvc does not absorb oil and is resistant to white spirit, etc.  In fact to clean paint you can easily wipe it off with white spirit.  Otherwise you just clean the floor with a wet mop.  I am going to IKEA, with my dad, to get some metal shelves for the room I will be using as storage and then I should be all set.  I also have this other storage space in the basement which is a bit problematic due to an opportunist superintendent but I will not bore you with the details.

I have asked my cousin Zeren, who also is an artist to come work with me in the studio.  We have very nice talks about art and life in general and I think it would good for me to have someone around while I work as I suspect it may feel lonely in my studio all by myself after having been at the Slade.  I know I will miss all the art and creative energy around me.  Then again I also look forward to being on my own and digesting what I have learned during the last four years.  I feel like I need time and space to grow into all the teachings at the Slade.  My four year education at the Slade feels like this huge gulp I still need to swallow before I can start breathing and going forward.

At long last, I am hoping that the studio will be ready by the end of next week.  I am really excited and ready to get into my Fall routine and start creating again.


I met some very interesting people in Istanbul this Summer.  It seems there is a large group of young and creative people with whom I can share my enthusiasm for art.  Having experienced the energy around last year’s Istanbul bienal I can’t say I am surprised.  I am just very happy to be discovering these people and slowly getting into their circle.

I recently met a female Swedish artist through an old friend of mine who came to my studio and talked about my work.  I was very excited to have had my first “tutorial” since Slade.  She told me she did this quite often and considered starting a business which involved counseling artists.  As an artist herself she seemed well aware of my anxieties about life as an artist.  I did of course my share of counseling her as well.

Sanaa appeared to be somewhat of a nomad.  Apparently she stayed with one hundred different people in Shanghai, Cario, New York and Sao Paolo, top four immigrant cities in the world, and asked her hosts to put an unusual object made of magazine racks in use somewhere in their homes.  She told me she came to Istanbul for a few days and had been here for six weeks already.  I was interested in her story and her enthusiasm to meet new people but I must admit I was more interested in her background as a designer and the object she made.  It was an object which looked like an alien bird; ‘an emigratory bird’ she called it.  The strangeness of the design made me think of some black and white photographs I had seen way back when of objects put together to make odd, nonfunctional things at the Camden Art Centre.  I was reminded of my interest in a list of things which together might mean something some day.  Objects, constructions, out of worldly and sci-fi things, odd and unlikely shapes…

I met another lively lady on a boat trip at a friend’s birthday.  My friends were adamant that I introduced myself to her as she worked at a Chelsea gallery called 303 Gallery.  I just looked at the gallery website and my god they have signed amazing artists!  I should have schmoozed Mary more it seems.  Eve Rothschild, an ex-tutor of mine at Slade, David Thorpe on whom I wrote a paper, Thomas Demand who lectured at the Slade and Inka Essenhigh, a painter whom I really like are all represented by the gallery.  Wow!

Anyway, I asked Mary what I should be doing as a new artist.  She was very sincere in her response.  She told me to take it easy and start meeting everybody.  She said things would happen “organically” in due time.  She said that it was especially important to invite artists/friends to my studio and that through word of mouth I would eventually get invited to shows.  I have already met a lot of people so it seems I am doing the right thing.  My main concern in the meantime is not to seem too eager and opportunistic.  I don’t think I am either so I should relax.

On a different note, Mary told me that she was a “water activist.”  There will be a water summit in Istanbul soon and she was inquiring about activism in Turkey and the tolerance of our current administration towards it.  Good luck!  I wasn’t quite sure what it meant to be a water activist so I asked her.  Apparently they try to raise awareness of the fact that fresh water is now in the hands of a small group of international companies and that we generally think it is ok to pay for something really basic and vital like fresh water and that it is not ok!  I read in an article some days later that every twenty years the global consumption of water doubles and that water unlike oil has no alternatives.  Needless to say water like oil is a limited resource.  So how does one act in the face of this phenomena I am not sure but I for one believe there is a real danger in the horizon.

Another basic and vital thing like water is galleries, right?  Right.  So I have been thinking about galleries.  When I asked my friend Ari whom he thought was the real competition of Galierist, currently the top gallery in Istanbul with artists like Haluk Akakce, Leyla Gediz, Elif Uras and Guclu Oztekin (I think his work is awesome!), he thought maybe Rodeo was.  I had never heard of this new gallery and I was intrigued.  Rodeo apparently is run buy a young Greek called Sylvia and represents among other Turkish and Greek artists Huseyin Alptekin who had represented Turkey in the last Vennice Bienale.  Alptekin was found dead in his studio on New Year’s day.  Very very tragic…. I had referenced Huseyin Alptekin in my dissertation and begun to really like his work.  May he rest in piece.

I also just heard from a friend that Leyla Gediz, a fellow Slade graduate, is about to start up her own gallery in Beyoglu.  I am told she is interested in discovering and promoting young and fresh Turkish artists.  Would she be interested in me?  I met her a few times and admire her focus.  Some of her work, especially the drawings she showed at Platform were very effective I thought.

Finally, there is Mihda’s space, URA!  Mihda give me a show, will ya?!  Oh, I think I better ask her in person… Then again, easy Irmak, easy!  Think “organic”…

Believe it or not I have come to the end of my oh-so-belated second post.  I feel I have either bored you out of your mind with this looooong entry or scared you off with potentially long future blog entries but my studio is now ready I will start being a busy bee making art.  So relax, no more tiresome essays.  Keep following and I just might manage to treat you with shorter and sweeter new stuff.  Over and out…


1 Comment so far
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Once again Irmak it is your honesty that make everything you do so exciting. I think it is inspiring. all the challenges you have been through appear to come up with interesting thoughts and new directions I like it:)
miss you a lot like always. can’t wait to see the work you are making.
as for un-precious it is great if it is in the right dosage I guess. i felt at the end that there is a very dangerous line, well not so dangerous but critical line of when the work just becomes expressive and unthoughtful. I am sure it is nothing like what you do:)
can’t wait to hear more, you write so passionately and again honestly I believe and trust the things you do will lead you the right was to be an appreciated artist which I think you are already.

Comment by Nirush

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