Over the summer (for my internship) I had to take the subway and then the shuttle to Grand Central in order to catch my train home. I would always try to take the shuttle at a certain time, because there was occasionally a guy there who would sit down and draw people.
The guy was young, and black and lanky. In the heat of summer he wore a charcoal-stained tank top and long denim shorts many of the times that I saw him, with his hair shaved close to his head. He had a pencil tucked behind his ear (a common stereotype of the image of an artist), a sketchpad under his arm, and nothing else on his person. I assumed he was an art student who just needed some practice for the summer. He would sit in the middle of a shuttle car and stare right at the person sitting across from him. And then as soon as the shuttle started to move, he would ask to draw them, no charge, and give them the portrait when he was done.
Now, the shuttle ride is about a minute and a half long. So he would have a minute and a half to draw an incredibly detailed portrait of the person sitting right across from him. I thought it was amazing and ridiculous at the same time, because how can you really capture a person in a minute and a half of drawing them? But he did it. Sometimes he would only be able to draw the inner parts of a person’s face, like their eyes, nose and mouth and pieces of their hair. But other times he would capture the shape of their face, their body, the sparkle in their eyes. It was amazing. And ridiculous. But mostly amazing.
Sometimes people would say no, so he would just sit there. I guess that he would exclusively draw the person sitting directly across from him. Not really sure why.
Once, he asked to draw an old woman who didn’t really understand what he was asking her. She was obviously not from the United States and had a heavy German accent, and she blatantly refused because she didn’t want to have to pay him for the picture. But he convinced her that she wouldn’t have to, and then proceeded to draw her. And he made her look beautiful and young, and not like herself but still herself at the same time. She shook his hand with tears in her eyes when he handed it over to her at the end of the ride. The drawing was beautiful, and she was beautiful. And it made me happy.