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Subway Art Starts with Sharpie

Enrico Miguel Thomas

You know those wildly difficult-to-fold pieces of paper called maps?  Those oversized contraptions soon to go the way of GPS?  Well they’ve found new purpose. Thanks to Enrico Miguel Thomas, subway maps now have soul.

Enrico is a subway map artist.  He uses Sharpie markers to create magnificent works of art on subway maps.

Based in Brooklyn, Enrico got his start as a map artist after he discovered that Sharpie markers were the perfect medium to express his urban style. Using subway maps as his primary canvas, Enrico created a style — a genre, even – all his own.  Subway maps became the “drawing paper” that allowed him to express his unique perspective, including the incredible and inspiring views of New York City that capture his imagination.

Take a minute to get to know Enrico in our interview below — he won’t disappoint — and who knows, maybe you’ll find your way to a one-of-a-kind canvas that inspires you.

The Apple Store

Tell me about yourself. Where are you from? What are your interests, likes, dislikes? Pet Peeves welcome too. 

My name is Enrico Miguel Thomas and I was born in Los Angeles, California. I love to draw and always have. The legendary comic book artist, Stan Lee was one of my first artist role models. I used to constantly study how he drew his super heroes .

A good day for me is one hundred push-ups first thing in the morning, followed by a bottle of water and then off to my favorite cafe in Brooklyn, Le Petit, for some apple pie with an iced chai tea latte for breakfast. I am also a film fanatic and a huge X-Men fan and some day I would love to have a part in a cool action film! I am usually always a positive person and can’t stand when people don’t at least try to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. I admire people who have persevered through the greatest odds and keep going anyway!

What is inspires you to Uncap What’s Inside?

I first started using Sharpie markers in my second year at Pratt Institute. As a drawing major, I found Sharpie markers to be so easy to work with as a drawing tool. They were so compatible with virtually every drawing surface I tried whether it was paper, wood, or even foam core. After I graduated, I stuck with them and have always insisted on using them. While at Pratt and afterwards, I began to draw lots of architecture and nothing compared to the black Sharpie Marker! They always had such a smooth feel on the paper’s surface.

Eventually, I would try using a subway map as drawing paper and Sharpie markers were perfect for this new drawing surface! The beautiful architecture in New York City and the cool subway trains and stations inspired me to go out and draw. I love the challenge of creating the illusion of a three dimensional space on a two dimensional drawing surface.

Also, my childhood was very difficult so art has always been a refuge for me and always gave me a great feeling of accomplishment. It gives me a new identity as an artist instead of someone who had a difficult early life.

HSBC Bank

How do you use Sharpie markers in your work?

In my work, Sharpie markers are used in a way that I think is a metaphor for a part of my personality, which is that of a fighter and someone who perseveres. I can take a package of Sharpie markers and create a colorful drawing that looks as though it was created with the most expensive art materials. e.g. oil paints, acrylic paints, etc. For example the Sharpie Silver Metallic marker works perfectly for the color of the subway cars that I draw on the subway maps. The bottom line for me is that it doesn’t matter how much you have without. Instead, it is what is within that matters. If the will power is there you can create with anything. This is what “Uncap what’s inside” means to me.

How would you describe your style? 

My style is all about speed. The speed of New York City. I love to draw quickly so my style is definitely illustrative and architectural but can also be classified as fine art.

How did you get started?

I started drawing at the age of eight. I remember being in an art class when I was about thirteen and the teacher would say, “Enrico it is time to go”, but I would want to stay and finish my drawing because I loved art so much. I continued to take art in high school and college and always received encouragement to keep doing it from family and teachers alike.

You have really put a new spin on “following the map” – tell us the story behind using subway maps as your “canvas.”

I started using subway maps because I wanted to try a new challenge. Life without challenges is pretty stale so I gave it a go even though I wasn’t sure if I would like the result. To my surprise, using subway maps as drawing paper, added the additional challenge of working with the colors already present on the map. It wasn’t always easy collaborating with the map but I was determined to make it work. This is the message that I would like my art to send out to the world. In life you have to keep trying until you are happy with yourself. You have to refuse to give up!

The city really seems to inspire you and your art; do you have a favorite subject or a place in the Big Apple where you find inspiration?

My favorite place in the city, by far, is New York City’s upper west side at 72nd Street. There is a huge exterior subway station there with a smaller one behind it and in the background, beautiful tall buildings that provide the perfect backdrop for the negative space of the drawing. I have always found this space to be architecturally fascinating.

Your art has a really cool “sketch” effect that I can imagine is hard to create with a permanent marker! Do you free-hand your work or plan them out first? 

I definitely free-hand all of my drawings. It is just a gift that I am very thankful to have and it has been a wonderful refuge for me all my life.

The New York Philharmonic

Franklin Street Station

How do you decide what you want to tackle next, slash can you tell us what you ARE working on next?

I basically just walk around until something that I find beautiful “catches my eye.” And then watch out because Enrico Miguel Thomas goes to work on the spot and basically doesn’t leave till the drawing is complete – just like I did in Junior High School! There was this one time about two months ago, when I was working on two interior watercolors of the New York City 72nd Street Station and my work session didn’t end until about 5am! Right now I am working on a subway map drawing of the New York City Freedom Towers that are actually still under construction.

Do you have a soft spot for one of your designs in particular?

I definitely have drawings that are favorites. I love my 72nd Street drawings and my Flatiron building drawings.

72nd St on Subway Map

Best part of your “day job”?

I decided after Pratt Institute, to give my life to my art so it is all I currently do. I believe that when you make up your mind to do something nothing is impossible. “As a man thinketh, so is he.” – James Allen

If you could have one super power what would it be and why?

To fly so I could travel for free. First stop…Paris!

If you could have dinner with one person, living or dead, who and why?

Denzel Washington because I think his work is amazing!

Finally, what are you just JAZZED about for 2012 (trends, upcoming projects, personal life)?

In 2012, I am really looking to branch out even more as far as additional exhibitions of my work. I am also going to study more acting. Studied some already about five years ago at H.B. Studios here in New York City. Also looking into doing art work in Amsterdam and Paris.

Check back to see what Enrico Starts next and be sure to follow him on Twitter @NYCSubwayArtist for daily updates.

You can read more about Enrico here:

One thought on “Subway Art Starts with Sharpie

  1. Pingback: If You See Something, Buy It! | be mighty!

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