The Artist’s Commute – Peter Bulow

Sketching people on the subway shouldn’t be a foreign idea to readers of Subway Art Blog. Artist and psychiatrist Peter Bulow takes this concept to the next level. Dr. Bulow makes clay sculptures based on people he sees on his commute.

In an interview with NY1, he describes his experiences sculpting on the subway:

It’s thrilling. I feel like I’m connecting with people somehow, but also really calm within myself,” says Bulow. “It takes a lot of concentration. You have to get their expression, it has to be beautiful, it has to look like them. It has to be three-dimensional all the way around, has to be a composition. You have to do all that in a minute or five minutes or whatever you have. It’s like riding a roller coaster. You have something forever, of a person you once saw.

To date, Dr. Bulow has created over 400 of these mini portraits. A small selection of these works are being shown at Fort Tryon Park in Manhattan through June 30th.

Images via

The Artist’s Commute – Christopher Pace

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to the work of artist/designer Christopher Pace. Like other artists I’ve spotlighted in this feature, Chris makes portraits of people on the subway. His process, though, is unlike that of anyone I’ve interviewed before. Chris’ portraits are digital, made pixel by pixel on his phone in a video game-esque style.

Here’s more about the artist in his own words:

Where are you from? How long have you been in New York?

I am originally from New York the state, but have been in NYC for the past 15 years. Moved out here for school and stuck around.

Why do you do portraits of people on the subway?

One of my favorite classes when I was a student was location drawing, it was always interesting (and pretty challenging) to draw an environment that was alive, and had little if any idea you were there. Drawing people on the subway is an extension of that. As for choosing who I draw a portrait of, sometimes a person will just sit down and I will think “wow, I need to draw that guy/girl”. It could be anything, nice clothing, interesting face, hideous hairstyle, not too much rhyme or reason there.

What is your process like? How long does each piece take you?

Pixel portraits are kind of new for me, so I am still feeling this part out. They’re all done on my phone while on the train, using a program called TinyPixels (unsolicited plug, it’s actually a really well-done app). I start with a quick sketch using some ugly color on white, and create a few swatches of any of the standout colors in the peoples’ outfits or skin tones, stuff I might otherwise forget. This part is usually really rough, especially in pixels; only I know what the different pieces are. Then I slowly work back into it laying in color and shading. The ads or maps are usually the very last piece, they’re usually whatever happens to be around me when I get to that part. I actually have as much fun with the tiny ads as the whole rest of the piece.

Because I do them pretty much only on the train (about 30 min back and forth) and sometimes I have to focus more on holding a rail or eating a bagel, a piece can take me upwards of a month and a half.

Why do you use pixelation in your work?

I grew up with Nintendo and SNES, so the small sprite thing resonates with me, but I was always very struck by the pixel work in Roberta Williams and Lucas Arts adventure games. They were great examples of illustrators given the restrictions of VGA graphics and they were able to create amazing pieces within them. I’d say that these pieces are in homage to them, but it really wasn’t so conscious a decision.

What is your art/design background?

I went to art school, and have a degree in interactive media, but have always had a huge interest in traditional design and illustration, so I love to explore where those places can overlap. I recently started an interactive design shop called Charming Robot with a friend of mine. Outside of all that, my own illustration happens in my free time, wherever I can grab it. Like on the train.

Visit Chris’ tumblr page for more of his wonderful drawings!

The Artist’s Commute: Ramin Talaie

Ramin Talaie is an Iranian born freelance photojournalist based in Brooklyn. He has been shooting the subway for a long time and about 4-5 years ago, started a body of work he calls “Trainspotting.” For this project, he documents subway life in photos. “For me it is full of interesting subjects and places to document. I always carry my camera and look for a new photograph,” said Ramin on his inspiration for Trainspotting.

Here is our interview with Ramin:

What is your process. Do you hide your camera? What is your inspiration?

I use pro digital SLRs, so it is not easy to hide my camera, but I try to be as covert as possible. I am always ready, if I see something I take a quick photo and put the camera away. My inspiration is everything. Everything you see in the subway: different looking people, someone sleeping, even an empty car.

Does anyone ever react to you photographing them?

Sure. Sometimes I smile back and sometimes I just don’t take picture. I am not trying to catch something “bad” or do an exposé on people. I think if it is done right and covertly, no one really cares.

Do you have any fun or interesting stories from the subway?

I have photographed the old City Hall station, directly under the City Hall. I also photographed the 100th anniversary of the subway system where the MTA had old cars in service for one day. A few years back I rode one of the last Red Birds cars during a special ceremony before they were taken out of service and used as artificial reefs. I have also seen a number of accidents and emergencies which seems to be inevitable with millions of riders in NYC.

Visit Ramin’s website here and keep an eye on Subway Art Blog for more images from Trainspotting!

The Artist’s Commute: Gina Martynova

"Starry Eyed Sea"

Gina Martynova is a New York-based illustrator. Her work has a whimsical, fantastical style which has been achieved through the use of watercolor paints. One of Gina’s projects is a blog called In Transit, where she posts her studies of New Yorkers in flux. We asked her a few questions about this work which can be found below.

Why do you draw people on the subway?

I draw people on the subway because I am intrigued by the lines and shapes the human body and clothing forms while in public transit. It started out as an assignment for a drawing class and later grew into an ongoing hobby. There is just something very captivating about this situational moment in time that creates interesting lines and layout — it’s almost as if that person is my muse for the 5 minutes that they can spare. I also like to convey their emotions — it’s interesting to capture feelings because I have noticed that people can be very transparent in evoking their feelings in public places.

What is your process? How long does it usually take you to draw someone?

My process varies from person to person depending on how much time I have. It usually takes around 5-8 minutes to draw someone from head to toe. I tend to draw people that create an interesting composition and negative space. I start with the head and upper torso. If I have time and they haven’t moved or gotten up, I draw the rest of their body. I use a Faber-Castell artist pen, which is India ink in a sepia tone.

Have you ever run into a situation where the person realized you were drawing them? If so, what happened?

This happens a lot if the person is awake! When it does I get different responses. One man seemed very happy to be drawn and after I was done came to take a look. Another young man reading a religious book seemed very annoyed at my actions and got up to move as far away from me as possible! Women I draw are either complimented or become very insecure and sometimes stand up so as to prevent me from continuing. It’s very interesting. I have yet to encounter someone that is really offended or gets angry. Overall I think people in New York are curious.

You can find more of Gina’s work on her portfolio site at

The Artist’s Commute: Amitai Plasse

For Amitai Plasse, New York life is pretty hectic.  With a demanding job and three young kids, the 30 minutes of free time in the morning and evening that the subway offers him is a valuable opportunity to sketch. Of his commute, Ami says: “it keeps me loose, provides me with some good material for character drawings, and is more than just a little cathartic.”

After scanning the subway car to find an interesting subject, Ami uses his Moleskine pad and whatever other tools that happen to be in his pocket (ballpoint pens, markers and watercolor pastels) to start sketching. His mission from here is to document his subject’s essence; that is, whatever is most important about them—an expression, a gesture—as quickly as possible. The challenge, as he describes it, is that things can break up pretty quickly. “My sketches can last from anywhere between 30 seconds and 10 minutes on the train, and then often some time finishing up after the fact.”

I asked Ami if he had any fun stories of people’s reactions to his work underground. There were several occasions, he described, where you would have people striking a pose or, inversely, sliding away. Others are simply curious about how they are being depicted. “Once I was drawing a transit worker,” he said, “directing people on the platform at Fulton Street. She was a heavyset woman and I was just into the sketch when she started walking over to me to see what I was doing. All I had was a rather bubbly, quick sketch of her and she sadly said, ‘Yah, I know I have to lose a little weight.’ I felt kinda bad on that one.”

Finally, Ami had this to say about his relationship with the subway: “So many folks look at the train as an annoyance or a hassle. I look at it as a source of endless personalities and stories. As I look around the car—filled with white, black and all shades in between, jabbering away in countless languages, millionaire investment bankers shoved in with homeless people, kids on their way to school, construction workers, secretaries, professionals, whathaveyou—my mind wanders and I wonder who they all are, where are they going, where they are from, what goes on in their lives. It gets the imagination rolling.”

Ami online:

Subway Drawing Blog:
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The Artist’s Commute: Jeanne Verdoux

In our new feature, The Artist’s Commute, we will be exploring the idea of the subway as a subject and a location in which to make art. Each post will feature an artist whose work documents life underground.

Our first, Jeanne Verdoux, is a Paris-born artist living in Brooklyn. In her project “New Yorkers on the Subway,” she uses New Yorker subscription cards as her canvas and random people riding the subway as her subject. From her artist’s statement:

The ‘New Yorkers on the Subway’ project started in 2002 and is still in progress. Using the train as an art studio, I have been observing and drawing random people in everyday life traveling on the MTA trains. My interest is to explore human nature as well as attitudes and trends to create a portrait of the city.

You can find several more images from this series on Jeanne’s blog, Today’s Drawing.