New York City-based artist Devon Rodriguez has become a viral sensation. Over the last year, he has amassed nearly 20 million followers on TikTok by posting videos of himself drawing portraits of people riding on the subway and then giving his subjects the finished work of art. He is now the most followed artist on the social media platform.
“This is my favorite thing to do,” Rodriguez told The Today Show. “I always said, if I could draw portraits for the rest of my life, I’d be happy.”
In the videos, Rodriguez starts seated in front of a person on the subway. The camera recording the scene is positioned from his vantage point. First, he takes a quick look at the individual across from him and then starts sketching.
By the end of the edited 30-second video, Rodriguez has finished a realistic and impressive drawing. He then stands up, gets the attention of his subject, and hands them the artwork. “I drew you” is the phrase he typically uses when presenting the gift.
Rodriguez started out as a graffiti artist in the Bronx but soon realized he liked creating realistic drawings and paintings more. When the pandemic hit last year, he decided to use the subway as his art studio and capture the comings and goings of everyday New Yorkers. He posted his first video of the subway series in August 2020. His most-watched video has been seen nearly 134 million times.
“I try to get a whole variety of people – every background [and] every age group,” Rodriguez says. “It’s kind of random.”
What’s not random are the reactions Rodriguez gets when he hands over the drawing to people. Each response – from shock to pure happiness – makes for a satisfying ending to each video. He’s even made one woman cry.
“People message me like…‘I watch your videos and it helps me get through my anxiety and depression and it just makes me smile,’” Rodriguez says. “I never thought it would lead to that.”
To see all of Rodriguez’s videos, visit his TikTok page and give him a follow while you’re there.