Merlyna Lim won the People’s Choice Award in our Urban Sketching Competition back in July. Her sketch of Cadiz was an ambitious composition – the city viewed from the Tavira Tower showing a multitude of different buildings, leading the eye off into the distance, using a dramatic sense of perspective to communicate the scale and energy of the city. The lines drawn in ink possess a fragile yet considered quality; a crispness that offers the perfect contrast to the washy splashes of delicate, luminous watercolour.
Lisa: How long did it take you to draw ‘Cadiz’ and did you make the drawing in a single session?
Merlyna: It took me about an hour. I did it in two sessions. First, I spent more or less 40 minutes to sketch it on site, it was the view from the Tavira Tower in Cadiz. I finished it at home in Ottawa a couple weeks later; it took me 15-20 minutes to brush it with watercolour.
Lisa: Is pen and wash always your favoured technique? If so why? Do you ever work in other media?
Merlyna: First, because I typically draw/sketch while traveling, I chose pen and wash because of its practicality. I just throw an ink-pen and a sketchbook in nearly all bags I have. A pocket watercolour kit is also very easy to travel with. However, over time as I have become very comfortable with these media, pen and wash has become my favoured technique. Pen and wash allows me to express myself more freely. Through the combination of quick, loose, or even wild, lines and quick watercolour washes, I liberate myself from the constraint of time and space, allowing myself to freely capture not only the static but also the dynamic moments, still and moving objects at the same time.
I do work in oil on canvas and, sometimes, pencil. Oil painting is not practical to do while travelling and takes much more time than pen and wash, so I only work on it when I have a good chunk of time at home.
Lisa: Do you have a favourite brand of pen/watercolours that you like to work with?
Merlyna: Sakura Pigma Micron has become my favourite brand of pen. I have been using it for over 8 years. As for watercolours, I use whatever is available from a watercolour kit bought from a dollar store to a Winsor & Newton pocket box to Holbein watercolour in tubes.
Lisa: What subjects are you most drawn to?
Merlyna: I enjoy drawing places, people/crowds, and moments. Sketching for me is a lens through which one can see how moments, memories and stories of people and places are stored and preserved. I draw from actual life using primary sources because there is more truth in that. In the series of travel sketches, I draw from my immediate surroundings where objects are depicted in their true representations as well as liberated through free, loose and sometimes wild lines and perspectives. Through my work, I wish to bring the narratives of moments and places closer to the audience and given them space to insert their own stories and interpretations.
Lisa: When did you first establish a passion for drawing and how long have you been drawing seriously for?
Merlyna: My mom told me that I was a perpetual doodler even when I was a toddler. I’ve now been drawing consistently while travelling – I am a travel sketcher – for about 16 years. That started when I left my country Indonesia, leaving my hometown, and since then I’ve been travelling a lot. Traveling has become my middle name. As soon as I started traveling around the globe, I have found my way back to my childhood habit, doodling. I used to doodle a lot when I was a kid. Thanks to my scholarly trips, I have been back to my true self, a doodler, a travel sketcher. When I travel, I sketch.
Yes, I do prefer to capture the essence of a moment, a scene, or a building on a blank page of my sketchbook rather than through other means. Every time I sketch — even though I usually just do quick sketches, 5-20 minutes — I slow down the time, I take time to see, to feel, to memorize. Every time I flip through my sketchbook, I remember what I did in a certain space and time because I took time to observe what was going on and who I was with.
Lisa: What drawing are you most proud of and why?
Merlyna: The one that I haven’t made yet! I do aspire to make better drawings in the future.
Lisa: Do you ever have off days where nothing artistically goes right? If so, how do you usually deal with them?
Merlyna: No, not really. Probably because I don’t have much time to devote myself to my artwork. I am not a professional artist. My full-time job is a professor/researcher/scholar/writer and making art is something that I always look forward to doing but I don’t always have time to do so. I am very fortunate that my scholarship (as scholar/researcher/writer) brings me places – I’ve been blessed with hundreds of speaking invitations from many great and generous individuals all over the world that enable me to experience new places and cultures and, moreover, engage with diverse people. When I travel I sketch. I also started incorporating my artwork into my scholarship. In many ways, sketching, drawing, doodling and painting have made me a better scholar/researcher.
Lisa: If you could have drawn any drawing in the world ever, which would it be and why?
Merlyna: Honestly, I don’t have any answer to this question. The world is vast and filled with so many interesting, unique, and beautiful places, people and cultures. Also, I find beauty and excitement in the mundane, the small beauty. There are just too many drawings I would love to have drawn or, hopefully, draw in the future.
Lisa: When you set off for a session of urban sketching, what’s in your kit bag?
Merlyna: Sakura Pigma Micron pen 0.1 (black).
Watercolour sketchbook (any brand).
A Winsor & Newton watercolour pocket box.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Merlyna: I am working on a multi-year project capturing the beauty of Ottawa, the city where I currently live, in 100 snapshots. Additionally, of course, I still continue do my traveling-sketching project – that’s a life time project 😀
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Merlyna: In the flesh, my work is scattered all over the globe. But online, here are some of them: http://www.merlyna.org/art-gallery/
Header Image: ‘Sunset at the Brooklyn Bridge, New York’ by Merlyna Lim, Ink & Watercolour, 11” x 17”, 2010