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Lessons from NYC: Sketching on the Subway

4:11 PM PST on February 7, 2014

(I'll be back in L.A. in about a week, and really covering L.A. stories then. Right now we're packing, so here's the third installment in my NYC stories.)

People on the NYC subway, July 2013
Brushpen sketch of people on the NYC 2 train subway, 2013. All drawings by Joe Linton

Today's post is not actually a lesson at all. I'm just going to share some of the drawings that I've been doing in New York City.

For most of the past year, I've been commuting just over an hour a day, taking the subway train from Jersey City to the Bronx. I keep a sketchbook and often draw the folks sitting across from me on the train. The NYC subways and the PATH subway (connecting NYC and NJ) are great: extensive coverage, frequent service, and so many riders of all shapes and sizes.

When I draw on the train, I try to spot someone who isn't likely to be able to tell that I am looking at them. I've almost never had anyone get offended by my sketching them. If they do notice, then they'll often become self conscious and try to pose for me, which isn't as good as being observed candidly. It's a bit like the difference between a candid photo and a fake-smile photo. I like the candid version.

Lately it's easier to get people to hold still, because many of them are absorbed in video games, smart phones or other electronic devices.

I pretty much always sketch/draw directly in pen. Mostly I use a black Uni-ball Vision Micro or a refillable Pentell brush pen.

These are all people I sketched on the NYC Subway over the course of the last year: (click on any of the images to make them bigger)

Sketch of one-armed man on the 2 train, 2013
Pen sketch of one-armed man on the NYC 2 train subway, 2013
Sketches of people on the 2 Train, 2013
Pen sketches of people on the 2 Train and the PATH, 2013
Sketch of man playing a videogame, 2013
Brushpen sketch of man playing a videogame, on the NYC 2 train subway, 2013

Below are my favorite drawings of the ones I've done recently in New York City. They're pretty different from the transit drawings in that I was able to return to these sites over and over to complete the pieces. Drawing on transit forces me to work quickly and loosely - the person can get off at any moment. It's really good practice, because, as you can see, I can get pretty bogged down in lots of detail sometimes.

Here is a view of the elevated train tracks in the South Bronx.

Drawing of Bronx streetscape with elevated subway tracks, 2013
Pen drawing of Bronx streetscape with elevated subway tracks, 2013

This is the view southeast from the roof of the Chelsea building where my wife works.

Drawing of New York City from roooftop, 2013
Pen drawing of New York City from roooftop, 2013

If you enjoy these drawings, there's plenty more (mostly from Los Angeles) at my art blog Handmade Ransom Notes, my Art by Joe Linton Facebook page, and in this L.A. Transit drawing article at Metro's The Source. If this drawings article gets a good response, I am hoping to share my transit-related sketches now and then at L.A. Streetsblog. Let us know what you think.

My daughter riding the stroller on board the subway, 2013
Sketch of my daughter riding the stroller on board the PATH subway, 2013

And one last sketch to close on.  This one is my 6-month-old daughter Maeve.

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