Eight amazing sketches by the urban artists secretly drawing people on the TTC

Eight amazing sketches by the urban artists secretly drawing people on the TTC

For most Torontonians, the TTC is just a way to get around. But for some, it’s an artistic gold mine. Armed with Moleskine notebooks, sketch pads, pens and pencils, these urban doodlers draw the everyday people and experiences they see on subways, buses and streetcars—sometimes without their subjects even noticing. Beginning this month, commuters will get to see these drawings (and maybe even spot a caricature of themselves) in ad spaces on the TTC as part of the second annual Sketching the Line art series. We asked some of the artists to tell us about their sketches.

Shoora Majedian

Occupation: Painter and art instructor
the spot: Bloor-Danforth line
the inspiration: “This work is called The Questioners. Young kids represent the most truthful age. They have a million unanswered questions.”
HER favourite sketching story: “To me, the subway is a magnified picture of the society I live in. It’s a small place with people in a variety of colours, cultures, looks, feelings and thoughts. Painting enables me to catch glimpses of truthful moments in the most mundane and unexpected places and times.”


Melody Wang

Occupation: Storyboard artist
THE SPOT: Bloor-Yonge station
THE INSPIRATION: “I’m always impressed by the quality of busking in the subway stations. I sketched this one with pen and then touched it up with watercolour afterward.”
HOW PEOPLE REACT TO HER SKETCHES: “I try to hide the fact that I’m drawing people, but they can usually tell. Most people don’t mind, but some do find it invasive. Once, I went with a big group of sketchers, and we were all fixated on drawing the same man because he had fabulous Santa Claus hair. Poor guy, he tried to hide behind a newspaper.”


Andrew Morrow

Occupation: Administrative assistant at the Toronto General Hospital
THE SPOT: 41 Keele bus
THE INSPIRATION: “There was something striking about the way the light was hitting him and how he sat there, hunched over, completely detached from everything.”
HIS favourite sketching story: “This mailman. I had just rented an apartment near High Park, and I planned to ride the bus up to the Junction to get some supplies for my new place. I sat down, looked up and there he was. I can’t say how long I sketched him for – it could have been hours. It was late in the afternoon, there was traffic, and it seemed like he was going as far north as the bus would take him. By the time he finally got off we were at the end of the line and I had no idea where I was. Later on, I realized I went all the way up to Steeles.”


Kathryn Durst

Occupation: Artist
THE SPOT: 63 Ossington bus
THE INSPIRATION: “I wanted to capture this sweet moment and show the relationship between the father and child. I illustrate children’s books, so doing sketches of kids really informs my work. They tend to move around a lot, though, so it’s a rare moment to catch them sitting still. I completed the sketch on the bus, but I coloured it later.”
How people react to her sketches: “I get mixed reactions. I’ve seen some people actually cover their faces with newspapers or their hands to avoid being drawn. Most people don’t really notice, though, and some of the ones that do are interested or understand that I’m just an artist practising my craft and don’t mean any harm. I once had a stranger ask me to draw a caricature of him on the subway. I had to get off at the next stop, but I drew him a super speedy sketch, handed it to him quickly and then jumped off the subway.”


Denny Kurien

Occupation: Creative director at an ad agency
THE SPOT: Bloor-Danforth line. “This was part of a series of sketches I did while on the subway, usually on my way back from work.”
THE INSPIRATION: “I’m into geek and nerd art, so my doodles all portray that in some manner. I like to think of Torontonians as superheroes, going out every day to do their jobs. But on the trains, they pretty much keep to themselves, not interfering in anyone’s business.”
What HE ENJOYS ABOUT sketching: “I like the fact that the people I’m drawing don’t know that I’m drawing them. It’s almost voyeuristic, but, of course, with the superhero outfits, they can’t tell it’s them.”


Diane Aarts

Occupation: Animator
THE SPOT: Yonge-University line
THE INSPIRATION: “When I sketch, I look for someone in my clear line of sight, and I try to capture their personality or show a story. I like the way this guy held himself and wanted to capture that.”
How Often doES SHE sketch: “On a weekly basis. I try to keep my sketchbook hidden because I’m worried about creeping folks out. But when people spot my drawings, they usually have nice things to say about them. The best reactions are from kids. I’ve been told I’m a ‘good drawer’ on multiple occasions.”


Nae Phillips

Occupation: Graphic designer
THE SPOT: Yonge-University line, between Eglinton and Union. “I work a late shift off rush hours, so I can usually find a seat, which is great for my pastime.”
Inspiration for sketch: “This is a small collection of the many sketches I’ve done over the past year. I tried to convey the fascinating variety of people I witness on my daily commute.”
How people react to his sketches: “I’ve had awesome discussions with teachers, tattoo artists, news anchors, recent immigrants—you name it. Kids are my favourite, because they seem the most interested and don’t hesitate to interrupt and ask me questions.”


Ken Yuen

Occupation: Senior software developer, and owner and illustrator of a stationary brand
the spot: Yorkdale station.
the inspiration: “This was before a meet-up with the Kitchener/Waterloo Urban Sketchers and Toronto Urban Sketchers groups. I was the first to arrive at the station and decided to sketch while waiting for other members to arrive. I noticed the TTC station collector was actively helping and engaging with commuters and giving out high-fives to kids as they passed the gate. It was a grey, chilly day, so his actions definitely brightened up their days.”
What he enjoys about sketching: “I love sketching the natural expressions and gestures of people, where they are not intentionally posing. It’s also a great way to bond with complete strangers. I’ve had some wonderful conversations as a result.”