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Sketchbook: Tarek Merlin

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How are you filling your time in the lockdown? The AJ’s Sketchbook series is a showcase of housebound architects’ sketches and concept drawings. Today’s sketches are by Feix&Merlin Architects co-founder Tarek Merlin

We are tentatively making our way back to the studio over these next coming weeks and months, and we’ve had a few trial days recently with a reduced team. I was in the studio on my own one day and it was incredibly peaceful and quiet, nothing but the sound of birds in the trees, and the occasional train. We’re in the Bussey Building, a big industrial warehouse building in Peckham. Our studio faces north – which has been a welcome relief recently with the 30 degree heat –  so we have great diffused light and from my desk, I have a surprisingly tranquil view of trees and sky with Peckham Levels and Franks popping up through the trees, which will also hopefully emerge back into life soon.

It’s been fun drawing the studio, something I’ve not done before and I was struck by how satisfying the symmetry of the space is, the vertical lines of the crittal windows and perspective of the open panels. What I’d not been able to really bring out in the sketch, is the variety of different types of glass panels there are here – some reeded, some obscured, some painted, some clear, and some cracked or broken. Each creating a different kind of view through to the trees and buildings beyond. Sometimes you don’t really see something until you draw it.

In terms of method, I’m definitely not a purist when it comes to sketching, I’m not one of those amazing people that can draw perfectly from eye achieving the perspective and carefully picking out the details in proportion, so I tend to start on screen; setting up perspectives quickly by grabbing bits on Photoshop and making a collage. I then print this out and set up my hand sketch as an overlay, sometimes reprinting and cutting out, making physical collage along the way.

This initial digital stage is not supposed to be perfect, it’s just there to give a guide and then you have to decide what to bring out in the drawing process. Layering trace over, flipping back and forth between the two, looking back to the screen zooming and out of details, understand better how things sit on top of each other and then creating the fuzzy wobbly line to suit. Once its nearly there I stop and scan back into the computer to think about colour, sky and texture. For me, it’s always a mix of collage, tracing and freestyle drawing, using the pen and artistic licence to bend what you have set up on the screen into what you want it to be in real life.

Also, we need to talk about pens. I always sketch with pen as I find it most satisfying and I always have a bunch of different ones on hand to get the right feeling. I tend to start with a thin one like uni-ball’s Uni PIN fine line 0.1 or Pilot’s old classic V5 hi-techpoint 0.5 and then go over with thicker lines. We have also started using those amazing pens you can rub out and redraw with, (the rubbie-outties we calls them) – Pilot’s FriXion Ball – great for making mistakes and trying again, but admittedly not so great for trace or fine line work. My absolute favourite though, and as recommended and endorsed by our Julia (Feix), is the proper old-school ink Lamy pen – slightly expensive, and a little bit of an architect cliché, but it’s one of the best pens to sketch with in my opinion; lovely silky black ink pouring out of your hand.

Share your working-from-home sketches with us on Instagram 
Tag @architectsjournal and use #sketchbook

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