Timothy Ho 'Captures Drawings in Space' Deep Underground in NYC.


Interview by Patrick Morgan 
PM - Describe a day when you plan to go and capture live drawings?
TH - To be honest, I rarely ever make plans to go and capture live drawings. The entire impetus for this exercise came from me trying to find a way to occupy my time while traveling between Brooklyn and Manhattan every day for work. I'm originally from California (the land of cars), so when I moved to New York five years ago one of the biggest adjustments was the public commute. I've always enjoyed drawing and started carrying a small notebook with me everywhere I went to make doodles throughout the day to sort of document my life in a new environment. Eventually, I started using that notebook to draw other people underground, waiting on the platform or riding in a subway car throughout the city. That practice stuck as a way to creatively challenge myself, stay observant, and keep a record of my time here. In a way, just by carrying that notebook, I'm always prepared to capture live drawings every time I go out.  

"That practice stuck as a way to creatively challenge myself, stay observant, and keep a record of my time here." TH

PM - What interested you in people and capturing them live on the street on on the subway. 

TH - I think it's safe to say that New York has some of the most vibrant people in the world, and all of those people are thrown together on the streets or moving at high speeds in the subway. I'm always looking around, partially to be aware of my surroundings, but also because there's just so much to see everywhere. There isn't a boring place in this city, and the subway is no exception. Where else would you be able to find such a diverse group of people all sharing the same space?


I believe that everybody leaves the house wanting to convey a certain attitude to the world, whether it's in the clothes they decide to wear that day or how they carry themselves. Since the subway is just a mode of transit, the people riding are more relaxed, falling into casual poses of sitting, standing, slouching, or even lying down in some instances. They aren't performing or showing off yet like they might be at their final destination. It's that juxtaposition between dressing to impress and acting like nobody's watching in-transit that fascinates me, and that's what I try to capture in my drawings.

PM - is this all self initiated or commissioned?

TH - This is a completely self-initiated project, originally inspired by two blogs I found in college: Jason Polan's 'Every Person in New York' and Richard Haines's 'What I Saw Today.' I found the rigour of their work incredibly appealing, the way they both developed their own distinct styles through constant observation and daily practice. This was something I also wanted to challenge myself with when I moved to New York.  

"Over time, drawing every day has made commuting two of my favourite parts of the day."TH

PM - whats your background in the arts and what was your journey to where you are now.? has instagram been the start of this journey?

TH - I've always been interested in the arts and have been drawing constantly since I was a child. My background is actually in architecture though, so I spend most of my days working on the exact opposite types of drawings to the ones I post. I'm on the computer all day working very precisely, so drawing on the subway is my respite from day-to-day work, something I can do almost without thinking that allows my eyes and hands to work loosely and freely. Over time, drawing every day has made commuting two of my favourite parts of the day. 


Instagram has definitely played a huge part in my journey, not only as a means of putting my drawings out there in the world, but also as a way to hold myself accountable to practicing every day and exercising my skills of observation and documentation. The way I publish my drawings on Instagram is very regimented, but, if you scroll all the way back to the beginnings of my page, you can see how my drawing style has changed within the past five years. The beauty of Instagram is that it has allowed me to engage with other artists and illustrators in the city, who have subsequently introduced me to various live figure drawing sessions. Given the current state of the world, the sessions have thankfully moved onto virtual platforms and have become regular fixtures in my weekly drawing schedule. Funnily enough, given my Instagram handle, I still end up getting humorous comments asking which subway line has the nude people on it.

PM - colour or other tools, or are you mastering the pen.. do you take photos too?

TH - The types of drawings I try to do out in the world are quick and dynamic. When I'm drawing someone on the subway, I have no idea whether they are getting off the train in one stop or ten, so if I see someone who catches my eye I have to be able to immediately grab hold of my tools before the moment passes. My drawing tool of choice is a 0.38 black Muji ink pen, which gives me nice crisp lines. It's perfect for capturing anything, from an intricate plaid pattern to colouring in an entire pair of pants. 


Even my image-editing is done in transit. Once I'm done with a drawing, I take a photo, edit it on my phone, write a caption, and post it to Instagram in a matter of minutes. I've figured out by now which spots in the subway station have the best lighting, and I've worked out a system for editing my photos so I can prepare my drawing to post as I'm walking from the station to my apartment. Eventually, I'd like to somehow incorporate color into my work, but for now the challenge of expressing patterns and textures with strong intentional lines and a singular palette works best for capturing those fleeting moments on-the-go.

"Given the current state of the world, the sessions have thankfully moved onto virtual platforms and have become regular fixtures in my weekly drawing schedule."TH

PM - what size are these drawings and do you play with scale or blow them up to try them life size?

TH - My commuting notebook is only 3.5"x5.5" (9x14 cm), a nice pocket-size Moleskine that's very easy to keep on hand. I've been working slightly larger since being at home, but for the most part my drawings are pretty small, which probably helps with establishing a consistent look to all of the work I post on my Instagram. I've had a few chances to work in larger scales over the years and would certainly hope to try my hand at bigger drawings in the future. I'd love to hang up huge sheets of paper and make life-size drawings, if only I had the space for that in my apartment!

PM - you talk about making people uncomfortable from drawing them any fun stories?

TH - Most of the time people don't even know they're being drawn; they're usually completely focused on their phones. Once I was drawing someone who turned out to be sitting with a friend, and he ended up noticing me drawing his companion and asked to see. There have been a few other cases where someone who was sitting or standing next to me would watch over my shoulder as I drew and would eventually comment on it, but in five years I've been able to draw somewhere around 500 people without getting yelled at once, so I guess that's a good enough reason to carry on.

PM - you have just done some work in isolation of the opera house? many people? have your thought about animating this in the future?

TH - While this time of isolation has taken away my usual sources of inspiration, it's been interesting to find different drawing subjects from the comfort of my own home. In addition to the various online figure drawing groups that have sprung up in the past couple of months, I've also looked to Instagram to find new people to draw. I saw an image advertising the Royal Opera House's #OurHouseToYourHouse screening of the 2013 Arthur Pita adaptation of 'The Metamorphosis' and was immediately intrigued by the arresting photo of Edward Watson. Being in New York meant that it premiered in the middle of the day, so I only caught parts of it as it was being broadcast. But I was so blown away by the bit I had seen that I knew I wanted to revisit it once I had more time to fully devote my attention. I hadn't intended to draw anything as I settled in to watch but ended up grabbing my notebook and drawing throughout the entire performance, stopping the YouTube video every ten seconds because every move was electrifying and incredibly inspiring. I'd love to continue finding inspiration through other dance productions or even runway shows where I'm not just drawing what I see but rather trying to capture an emotional response on the page. 

"I settled in to watch but ended up grabbing my notebook and drawing throughout the entire performance, stopping the YouTube video every ten seconds because every move was electrifying and incredibly inspiring."TH

PM- We at Fida look at fashion drawing, you capture people in fashion? do you look at a person how they wear their clothes or are you likiing the pose or shape? what makes you select your model?

TM - I don't have any specific criteria for who I choose to draw. Sometimes, it's as simple as a particularly fashionable person wearing a textured or patterned statement piece, standing at the platform or walking down the street with the confidence of knowing that all eyes are on them. I'm particularly drawn to intricate fashion items, stripes or pleats or prints where I can really spend time capturing details. Other times, I'm struck by a person's posture in various states of repose, whether it's someone slouched against the pole in the subway at the end of a long day, sitting with their leg up on the seat, or even two people wrapped up in each other completely unaware of anyone else in a crowded subway car. The exciting thing about using the people of New York as my drawing muse is that I will always be able to find someone interesting to capture, whether that person is incredibly stylish or unintentionally un-stylish. Even though I ride the same trains every day, the city around me is different and new every time I push through the turnstile. 

Timothy Ho Studio. 

@drawingonthesubway