How one artist draws riders

    Here’s one commuter story with a happy ending.

    An artist who has been sketching straphangers on the NYC subway system for a decade is releasing a how-to book to teach others creative ways to find joy below ground.

    Sarah Nisbett, a 39-year-old Upper East Sider, was drawn to this singular artistic path by chance. It began with a ride on the F train.

    “I saw this older gentleman wearing a three-piece brown suit with a fedora who was going into Manhattan when everyone else was leaving for the night, and I was just like, who is this guy? He must be such a New York story.” Nisbett told The Post.

    “I tried to draw him with a pen and notepad I had. Even though I had never drawn anyone before in my life, it turned out way better than I [would have] thought. When I say I started this project accidentally, I really mean that.”

    Since then, her vivid “five-minute” pen drawings of riders whose unique characteristics pop out to Nisbett has earned her some local fame on Instagram with 27,000 followers. It would also ultimately inspire her sketch art manual “Drawn on the Way,” out Dec. 21.

    A New York artist’s picturesque subway portraits are the subject of her new instructional book “Drawn on the Way.”

    “It’s like a fashion show,” said Nisbett. “Everybody is so interesting and they bring a story with them because nobody ends up in New York by accident.”

    She’s frequently drawn to little details — such as the early morning commuter whose jacket patch read: “Good morning New York, let’s make that money.”

    When possible, she will give her sketch to the subject on the train with a card reading “you’re a work of art.”

    “Recently I gave someone their portrait and they said to me, ‘I was just having a really upside-down day and this turned it right-side up.’ That’s just all I could ever hope to do.”

    Artist Sarah Nisbett has made a name for herself from sketching passengers on the subway.
    Artist Sarah Nisbett has made a name for herself from sketching passengers on the subway.
    photo by Eian Kantor

    In her 10-year journey, the opera singer turned marketing professional turned full-time artist has grasped a great many things from her self-taught “train-ing,” such as the importance of memorizing a subject’s looks in the event they abruptly leave the subway or how the F line is a “particularly fun group of people” to covertly sketch since it runs through creative neighborhoods like the Lower East Side.

    Nisbett says there are also plenty of characters on the “workhorse” lines: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

    She’s also learned that when the subways are packed nose to nose, that’s the best opportunity for close-up art, such as her recent rendering of three “distinctly different” hands holding onto a top rail.

    The passenger mask mandate challenged Nisbett to “emphasize ways to tell stories” beyond concealed facial features.

    Ever since the subway mask mandate, Nisbett has had to emphasize other features of her drawn subjects.
    Ever since the subway mask mandate, Nisbett has had to emphasize other features of her drawn subjects.

    “There are so many ways people talk about themselves without saying a word or showing their face. Their posture, the way they shyly tuck their feet under the bench, if they manspread, the way that people hold, dress and style themselves are all very powerful ways to read that.”

    That philosophy of “always looking for the story” is a big component of “Drawn on the Way,” which, according to the author, goes above and beyond the artistic discipline.

    “It’s a book about drawing but it’s also a book about being and living. You can do a lot with a pen and you can share a lot with a few lines,” Nisbett said.

    “I suggest people draw in pen because there’s no erasers, which means you have to be bold and confident even if you aren’t feeling that way. Practicing that day in and day out has an effect on the rest of your life.”

    "Drawn On The Way" not only teaches the art of sketch portraiture, but the passionate philosophy behind the art as well.
    “Drawn on the Way” not only teaches the art of sketch portraiture, but the passionate philosophy behind the art as well.
    photo by Hadley Whittemore
    Nisbett sketches on a bench in Central Park.
    Nisbett sketches on a bench in Central Park.
    Courtesy of Sarah Nisbett




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