How Devon Rodriguez Captivated the World With His Subway Sketch Drawings

We sat down with the artist last week

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If you are heavily into the art scene, then you’ve probably stumbled across a sketch, video, or some piece of artwork from Devon Rodriguez—a famed internet sketch artist known for his subway portraits series on Instagram and Facebook. Boasting a total of over 8 million followers and counting, making him the most followed visual artist on IG, you never know where exactly you may end up spotting Rodriguez as he goes through the process of creating his artwork (which he soon plans on taking global). Most recently, Rodriguez was spotted at Meta’s Sonic Listening Party as a part of Miami Music Week, where he teamed up with 10x Grammy nominated artist Victoria Monét to learn how to play the piano using PianoVision on the Meta Quest 3.

Monét and Rodriguez also collaborated on a first-of-its-kind mixed reality jam session, a continuation of Meta’s “It’s Your World” campaign, which brought together emerging artists, musicians and creators to reimagine the next generation of creative expression through a range of experiences across Miami during the week. We chatted with Rodriguez after the event to talk all things art, Meta, and more.

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Ever since I can remember, I have always been drawing. I've always gravitated towards creatives.

- Devon Rodriguez

"It was amazing," Rodriguez tells ONE37pm as we kick off our conversation off with a recap of his time with Meta in Miami. He continues: "It was an introduction to some of Meta's technology like the Meta Quest 3 and the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses, which allows creatives to play around with them and use their own voice for certain things. It was great—I learned how to play piano on the Quest, and it was guided in a certain way that made it the easiest and most acceptable to learn." While discussing his incredible weekend with Meta, Rodriguez briefly mentions the past graffiti works he used to create early on in his career, which kickstarts our rewind to his journey as an artist up to this point.

Born and raised in NYC, Rodriguez has been dabbling in art for as long as he can remember, and while he tried embarking on a "traditional path" after graduating high school, the artist knew all along that a freeflowing career in art was his true calling. "I've been into art since I was like five or six-years-old," he tells me adding: "Ever since I can remember, I have always been drawing. I've always gravitated towards creatives, so I began hanging out with this crew that did graffiti in the Bronx."

I went to college for one year, dropped out, and decided I was going to become an Instagram artist, because on there I wouldn't need a degree to become successful.

- Devon Rodriguez

When Rodriguez was fourteen he was accepted into an art design high school, which is where he says he first began dabbling in portraits. "I realized it was way better than graffiti, and ever since then I've been doing portraits everyday." Portraits were also a safe way to avoid unnecessary headaches, as he notes that doing graffiti got him arrested on one occasion. "I realized I needed to find an art-form that didn't get me in trouble," he jokes. Following his stint at the design school he attended, Rodriguez says he initially tried going down the "traditional" route of college, but quickly realized that wasn't for him. "I tried going to school with the intent of graduating and trying to get involved with a gallery, but with social media I thought I could do it in a faster way," he recalls.

"I went to college for one year, dropped out, and decided I was going to become an Instagram artist, because on there I wouldn't need a degree to become successful by getting clients and things of that nature." That, however, was the year 2015. While Rodriguez now has over 8 million followers, it took some years before he really started blowing up on the platform; he didn't go viral until 2020. So how did he survive during that five year in-between period? Rodriguez credits his grandmother for the support.

Nothing was working until I started drawing people on the subway. That was millions of views right off the bat, and everything changed from there.

- Devon Rodriguez

"Going viral in 2020 was amazing because becoming an artist is one of the hardest careers to succeed in and get attention," he explains, noting that he tried posting many different versions and variations of his art before going viral. "Nothing was working until I started drawing people on the subway. That was millions of views right off the bat, and everything changed from there so I could grow, become self-sustaining, and do the type of work I wanted to do without compromising my art. In that in-between time, I was fortunate enough to live with my grandma in the Bronx, and she just always supported my decisions. From 2015 to 2020, I was nineteen to twenty-four living with my grandma, and she never pressured me to go 'get a real job.' She told me to keep going until it worked. Without her support, I don't know what I would have done."

Well, they always say grandma knows best, and clearly she knew what she was talking about when it came to the trajectory of her beloved grandson. In the past four years since Rodriguez went viral for the first time, life has been a whirlwind for the artist with nothing but successful venture after successful venture. "It's been amazing! Everything I've done in the last four years is something I would have never imagined doing in my entire lifetime. It seems like everything is continuing to grow and I'm very happy," Rodriguez adds.

Upon those recent successful ventures is, of course, his latest collaboration with Meta, who has always been invested in arming artists and emerging creatives with new technology to advance their authentic expression, inspire creativity, and create their own worlds. We caught up with KidSuper earlier this year to hear about how Meta and their "It's Your World" campaign were empowering him.

Their latest innovations brings forth a mixed reality that unlocks the ability to blend the virtual and physical world, along being able to work together to build a future of human connection created by people. These tools are ones Rodriguez says are especially helpful for artists of all levels. "The Meta Quest 3 is so innovative. You can't fully describe it unless you've used it, so I recommend everyone try it out along with the different apps. I use this painting game on there and it's so real. You don't even have to have real paint and brushes for it work—it's just way more accessible to dive in."

No doubt Rodriguez has had an awesome 2023 that will always be remembered. As for 2024, the plan is for him to take his sketches globally. "I started a series recently where I go up to strangers and draw them all around New York City, and for 2024, my goal is to go to different countries and take my sketches all around the world. My plan is to visit a different country every single month. One of the places I plan on going to is Japan, but I'm still doing research on the other countries, because I also want to do a bunch of subway drawings. I want to find all of the cool subways around the world and go to them—Japan is definitely top of mind though!"

You can continue to keep up with Rodriguez and his art via Instagram.

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