The pandemic has completely changed how the world works. And during these crazy times, we’ve found ourselves relying on art more than ever to keep ourselves sane. Luckily, there are many artists out there who bring joy to us in their own unique ways.
As an artist, Devon Rodriguez thought it essential to capture this moment in history. So last year, he began riding the subways of New York to draw portraits of random people.
He captured his process on video and shared the clips on TikTok. Months later, his incredible works started going viral.
Although it was only recently that his “Subway Series” gained massive attention, the 25-year-old has been drawing strangers on the subway since 2010.
Back then, Devon was still a high school freshman in the South Bronx. He was hoping to transfer to a different school in midtown, so he sought help from his high school art teacher to spruce up his portfolio. The teacher showed him some subway sketches he had done, and Devon began doing similar drawings himself.
“I’ve been doing these sketches since 2010, but they really just started taking off online in the last five or six months,” he said in a February interview with TimeOut.
When the COVID crisis began, Devon had about three months’ worth of commissions that he had to finish. After those were done, he began riding the subway again to create art depicting these unique times.
Ever since returning to his “Subway Series” in August 2020, Devon has created plenty of beautiful sketches of people on the subway—most of them wearing masks as protection from the virus.
“I just thought this would be a perfect way to cover this moment in history,” he said. “I love the concept of it, and I like the idea of seeing my work before and during the pandemic. It was a no-brainer to do it with everyone wearing masks.”
He starts by sketching their rough dimensions in circles, and the result is always a stunning masterpiece on a piece of paper. Sometimes, Devon gives the art to his subjects; other times, he doesn’t.
Although he hadn’t shared much video content in the past, he began posting clips of himself creating his art on TikTok. Devon was already on the platform for about a month when he shot his first subway drawing video. Soon, his posts reached millions of people across the globe.
“I started doing them as drawings instead of paintings since they were faster and every video I put up was reaching millions and going viral,” he recalled.
Devon usually rides the 6 train for his sketches since he spent many years commuting between the Bronx and Manhattan. He does an average of one drawing per week.
The young artist usually draws on commutes, but now, he’ll get on the subway to sketch when he feels inspired, even if he doesn’t really have somewhere to go.
So how does he choose his subjects? Devon said he tries to pick “people who look nice.” Luckily, most of the people he has drawn seem to be appreciative of his art.
With its empty cars and riders keeping their distance, Devon said the subway looks a lot different now. Like many others, he hopes that the commute in New York will one day return to the way it was before the pandemic hit.
“But whether it does or doesn’t get back to normal, I’m still going to be doing this,” he said.
Devon now has 2 million followers on Instagram and a whopping 16.6 million followers on TikTok. These are really exciting times for an artist like him, and he’s just grateful to be where he is right now.
“I would’ve never expected to reach these milestones within my lifetime so I’m super excited about that,” he told The Tab. “I’m going to take things day by day and continue making art. Lots of big opportunities have been coming my way and I know more will come but I’m not sure what they’ll turn out to be.”
Here’s a video compilation of Devon’s subway sketches.