Ceylan Sahin Eker makes watercolors of such depth that a person could gaze at them for days and still continue to notice new details and tiny facets of the worlds she depicts. She works on a small scale, so that each painting is an intimate experience, a tiny universe that invites us to dive deep and come out the other side transformed by a shimmering otherworldly beauty. A graduate of Pratt Institute (in Brooklyn), Ceylan returned to her native Turkey only moving back to New York with her son and husband just two and a half months ago. She works regularly as an illustrator, making paintings for Monacle’s travel guides as well as various other projects.
Every day until Valentine's Day we will be featuring Ceylan's shimmeringly breathtaking paintings of Jill’s pieces on our Instagram account. More than “just” illustrations, they are like a series of hand-painted love letters to the jewels, a deep dive into what it means to actually take these chunks of metal and fashion them into wearable art. And after spending a little time with the watercolors, you’ll want to revisit the jewelry with a new set of eyes — almost as if you are seeing it for the first time.
We got together with Ceylan to learn a bit more about her process, her inspirations and her life in general. Here’s some of what she had to say:
On her personal path to painting:
In Turkey, if you want to be an artist, you need to figure out how to make money. I got my degree in graphic design but I always loved painting. When I went back to Istanbul, I worked as an art director for awhile and then started helping my father as a marketing manager. Now I had this lovely job where I could go home early and focus on my painting and I went back to watercolors because that was my favorite. My husband said I should just do one thing, and if I keep doing it over and over, I will get somewhere someday. So I followed his advice and started doing it for fun, and then I posted things on Behance, and then Monacle found me and other clients found me and all of a sudden I expanded my surroundings by making all of these contacts and connections through my painting. I wasn’t stuck in a little place anymore, I was all over the world! So when things got a little shady in Turkey and we decided to leave, my husband got a job here in New York and I was so happy! All my friends from school — my second family — are here. It’s really exciting.
On life in Brooklyn vs Istanbul:
Back in Turkey my life was more restricted. I felt like my area of possibility was much smaller than it is here. I feel liberated here. The sidewalks are so much bigger and there is the subway! Even in rush hour you can get wherever you want to go with your kid. In Istanbul you have to drive and there is such a big hassle with the traffic. There is so much history there, but it’s not very well preserved — I think people take it for granted. It feels a bit stuck in the past. I feel so much more artistically inspired when I am in New York because there is so much to look at and so much to do. I love this place.
On her inspiration:
I love Norman Rockwell. He works from photographs, just like I do. I found a print of his in a thrift store and I’ve had it with me wherever I go — for 18 years! It’s still in Turkey, but I’m bringing it over as soon as I can. I had to buy a book of his paintings to put on my shelf here so I can have him near me. Back in Turkey, I felt small, like I couldn’t expand, so I decided to look for vintage photographs — for moments in history where people were having fun — and paint from those. If my real life was restricted, I could go places with my work. I looked for fun moments like unicyclists with 20 people piled on top of them! Just moments of true freedom. And that’s what I started to paint. Sometimes from just one photograph, or sometimes I combine parts of many different images to create a new moment.
On making art and motherhood:
I stopped painting for a year after I gave birth and I focused on photographs instead. I had a photo project that I did with my son. Every week I took a photo of Timur wearing a different onesie. Some of them I bought or found on Etsy and some I designed myself and had them printed. It went viral and was on Huffington Post and ABC news! They are really funny. After that was finished, I decided it was time to go back to my paintings. My son actually forced me to focus on my paintings, because I realized that if I was going to give him something to be really proud of, as his mom, it should be something that I create.
I still have to find a little rhythm for working though. I am a night person, so I usually work at night when everybody is asleep, but every night it’s the same thing. Just when I think I’m going to start working and everything is quiet, my son calls out and I need to go to him even though I’ve just dipped my brush into water… But it’s still the best time to work because during the day, when Timur is around, it’s impossible to get anything done! You start something and then you realize “Oh my god, I have to call the pediatrician”… or “Oh my god, He’s pooped his pants”… or “Oh my god! I have to cook for him.” It’s endless! But now the he’s starting school, I’m going to try and work during the day and then maybe a couple of hours at night too. If that works, I’ll have a full day of painting!
On painting Jill’s jewelry:
Jill’s pieces are like Nature. With both this jewelry and with nature, I have to really study and learn from them. For example the starling bracelet looks like you have all these flat pieces just put together- but it’s not like that. When you look at the shadows you can see how each piece has a different curve and each piece is slightly different from the other… a little bit bigger, a little bit smaller… like you can see the hand giving the shape to it because it was sanded a different way or it was shaped a different way. I can really see that while I’m painting it. I’m also exploring which brushes I use with the pieces because the finishes are so different from each other. There is a world in each one of those these pieces. It was eye opening for me. With each painting you have to think about how to use the brush in a new way to give that finish the right look. It’s my little journey to explore how the watercolor works too, because it reacts a different way in every situation. Right now, I’m painting a rock and seeing what kind of transformations it might have gone through while it was being formed under the earth. And then you have this handmade piece on top of this natural thing… And then the flowers behind it. It really makes you think about all the different textures, which I love. I’m having so much fun with these!