I accidentally started the Drawn On The Way project while commuting on the subway in New York City one evening in 2012.
At the time, I was a professional opera singer working as a temp in gloomy midtown offices between singing gigs.
I was definitely not an illustrator and I certainly would not have called myself an artist. I liked to doodle, and while I could happily draw a cat in a space helmet, the idea (or appeal) of drawing anything “real” seemed as impossible to me as seeing an actual cat in a space helmet walking down the street
But that particular October evening, while commuting back to Brooklyn on the F train, I found myself bored and desperate to pass the time by doing anything other than staring at a screen. That’s when I remembered the notebook I’d packed in my bag that morning. I pulled it out and dug through my purse until I found one of the plain blue rollerball pens that I’d stolen from the office supply closet at my temp job. I sat there with the pen and paper in my lap, closed my eyes and waited for an idea of something to draw to pop into my head.
I opened my eyes and looked around the train for inspiration and that’s when I noticed a dapper, but slightly rumpled old man sitting across from me. He wore a three-piece-suit, a fedora and an overly loud tie that poked through the bottom of his jacket. His head was bent and his chin rested on his chest as he nodded in and out of sleep on the bouncing train. HIs hands rested in his lap, loosely folded around a small umbrella. He was at once tired and lively. Dressed in a brown suit that would have been stylish and crisp when he was a young man, it was now worn at the edges and out of place on a train full of businessmen in slim black suits on their way to fancy dinners.
I wondered who he was now, and who he might have been when that suit was new.
I sketched him as the train hurtled down the tracks and under the river, bracing my pen against every lurch and bump. It felt brave to sketch him. Brave to look at someone I didn’t know. Brave to try something I didn’t think I was good at. Brave to draw in pen with no way to erase my mistakes. And brave to record the date and place in the bottom right hand corner of the page as if this drawing meant anything at all.
The next morning, remembering how fun and daring it had felt, I pulled out my stolen office pen and drew another stranger. And then on my way home that night I drew another, and then again the next morning and the next evening until it became a cherished daily ritual to commune with strangers through my sketchbook.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, that drawing of the old man on the F train was the first of thousands I would make on the train.
Six years later, this project has filled over 50 notebooks, and spanned across the country. Sharing my live sketches on Instagram and with the people I’ve drawn (I often gift the drawing on the spot to my “muse”) has allowed me to meet and connect with people from around the world. This project has taught me a lot - and I’m excited to be sharing what I’ve learned “on the way” with this blog.
In a places like New York, where people are crowded together, perpetually in motion, we often choose to be anonymous strangers — to look past each other as we make our way. This daily ritual of creating live sketches requires me to pause to look at the world around me with deep curiosity and care — a practice I find to be a profound act of connection and humanity.
To me, Drawn On The Way is a daily reminder that each one of us, just we are, is a work of art.
I invite you to see the people around you with compassionate curiosity — as more than a stranger, as someone with a story worth knowing or imagining, and worthy of being translated into art.
If you never read another entry beyond this (though I hope you will) please take this one, most important, lesson with you:
You are a work of art.