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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:

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YoungJerks’ Dan Cassaro Shows Off His Sharpie Stuff

New Yorkers are just cool; especially when they can list designer, animator and illustrator on their resume, work from a camper while travelling across the country with their main squeeze and oh yeah, paint a mural in a New York hotel using none other than Sharpie Paint Markers. Oh, so maybe it’s not ALL New Yorkers (althoughhhhhh it is one sweet city) but Dan Cassaro is definitely one of the coolest guys I have had the chance to interview for this humble blog.

Keep on scrollin’ to see what Dan has to say about his life in the design world and his AWESOME Sharpie chart…( it may have been the best thing to happen to my week)

ENJOY!

Sharpie Artist Interview– Dan Cassaro

WHAT. A. STUD. Dan Cassaro, Sharpie world.

Tell me about yourself! Where are you from? Interests? Likes? Dislikes? Pet Peeves?

I’m a designer, animator and illustrator living and working in Brooklyn. I live in the adorable Italian section of Williamsburg and I love it. The area seems to have acclimated to the gentrification more organically than other parts of Williamsburg. There are tons of great old butcher shops and old neighborhood mainstays that seem to exist pretty harmoniously with the new restaurants and bad art school haircuts. I grew up in Long Island and still have complicated feelings about the mall because of that. 

Instead of typing out a list of my likes/dislikes I decided to make a little chart for you (using a Sharpie, natch). 

 

 What inspires you and your work?

 Powerful rock and roll music, old train cars, Dads, the bric-a-brac section at the thrift store and various other ephemera. I think it’s important to try and pull from things that go deeper than a aesthetic level. Bruce Springsteen’s music is good because it sounds great and is fun to sing along to but there is something happening on a much more visceral level. I think it’s good to try to create work from that angle instead of just trying to make visually pleasing images. You don’t want to be making graphic design elevator music you know? 

How would you describe your style?

I don’t know, this is hard. As a designer I’d like to think that style is adapted and applied depending on the project. The illustrator part of me definitely has a common thread that runs through all my work though. I’ve been thinking that “clumsy modernism” is a pretty good way of explaining what I’d like to achieve with my work. I like the economy and boldness of modernism but all the pretentiousness surrounding it makes me want to barf a little. I want my work to be succinct but just “off” enough to give it charm and approachability. I spent a lot of time in college learning how to kern a headline and now I feel like maybe I’ll earned the right to intentionally UN-kern it. A little wonk goes a long way. 

 You seem to be quite the jack-of-all-trades; working as a designer, animator, and illustrator, what IS it about your work that gets you goin’?

 It’s a gift to be able to do this for a living. To be able to explore a bunch of different things and put them all under one roof. I’m kind of a poster child of a very non-committal ADD generation and it’s a real stroke of luck that I found a career that allows and often rewards that sort of eclecticism. Honestly, I am equal parts overachiever and lazy teenager. Doing something that I love for a living helps me bridge that gap I think and find a middle ground between the two. 

 How did you get started?

 I went to School of Visual Arts when I was a bit older (23) because as I mentioned before, I am a really non-committal person. I fell in love with design because it was so open ended. After school I started freelancing right away. I didn’t make a ton of “connections” at school (read: smooching your famous design teacher’s butt) but the Internet is the most democratic tool we have and I just tried to get a lot of my personal work out there. I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of that personal work eventually turn into a paycheck. That sounds too romantic though. I have also taken tons of s****ty ( gotta keep it PG, here folks) soul-sucking jobs and made tons of things I am not proud of just to pay the bills. A little bit of both.

How did you come to contribute to the ACE Hotel’s (NYC) décor?

That place is so cool. I had worked on a project called 50 and 50 and had been talking to some people there about having an opening to showcase all the pieces. They invited me to work on a piece for one of the rooms because of that. It was a really fun project for me. I got to stay at the hotel for a couple of nights and draw all over their walls with Sharpie Oil based paint markers. They last time I got to draw on someones wall was at my friend Dan Volpe’s house when I was 16. That was mostly inappropriate reference drawings though. (sorry for the edits… This is a family establishment!)

 

 Any cool new projects you can tell us about?

This is a dream project but I really want to do it. I want to put on a classic rock laser light show. Like rent out the planetarium and serve beer and blast some Zeppelin while watching some amazing animated horses or something. Wouldn’t that be great? I think that there are a lot of outdated but brilliant art forms out their that are just waiting to be brought into a more modern context. These are the kind of projects that I dream about. 

 Your designs are have a cool edginess to them; how do you come up with new ideas?

 I try to stay open to things just happening. Too many people treat design like an assembly line and it makes for a lot of visually acceptable, but flaccid design. I’d like to treat it more like an adventure, more like fine art. I don’t stay too married to the sketches that I do (if I sketch at all) and that lets me discover new ways of working. I like having that moment when you discover that you can create something that you didn’t know you were capable of before and have it happen almost by accident. My end results often looks very different from my original intentions. That system isn’t really conducive to the standard system of client approvals but it’s a very exciting way to work. Adventure! 

How do you use Sharpie markers in your work? Favorite Sharpie? Why?

I do a lot of my pen work and doodling with Sharpe Fine Point. I usually like using cheap paper and letting the ink pool up in the edges and bleed a bit. It’s nice to take those drawings that show a human hand and bring them into the computer and add that dimension. Using pen on paper helps keep me tied to the physical which is something I never want to lose touch with. I used Sharpie paint markers for the mural at the Ace Hotel. It was all kind of fancy type work so I wanted to keep the line work loose and fun. I made sure to only use really wide tip pens for this to keep myself from getting too fussy. 

Mural for the Ace Hotel... I know where I WILL be staying...

 Best part of your “day job” and if you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?

The best part of my day job is that I don’t have one. It’s more of this amorphous work blob that floats around and gloms onto other parts of my life infiltrating weekends and late nights. I mean that in a really good way. I’m sure I end up working a lot more than 40 hours a week but there is nothing better than fitting your work life into your regular life and not the other way around. This summer I spent three months driving around the country in an old camper with my girlfriend and a laptop, seeing America and doing design work. It really got me excited about work in a totally new way; driving across the country is like being in the most amazing graphic design inspiration blog. I feel like I am the luckiest guy in the world to be able to do my job in my basement or on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. 

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

To have a magic playlist that plays the right song all the time, even when you don’t know what the right song is. I am willing to accept that 90% of that playlist would be Heart’s “Crazy on You.”

 What trends do you see making it big in 2012/ what are you pumped about in 2012?

More pizza parties, true love triumphing over evil, and a renewed interest in Brenden Fraiser’s “earlier, funny films.” 

 Umm who doesnt love a solid pizza party!?! Aka count me in for Dan’s 2012 plans, FO SHO! And that, ladies and gentleman, concludes one of my favorite interviews to date; to check out more on Dan, his work and his sparkly personality- pop on over and check out his website and follow him on Twitter and tumblr!