By Ashley Alleluya
Appreciate boredom. Illustrator Ben Rubin of Brooklyn, NY owes his popularity to it. Boring rides in the tube led to the creation of Ben’s private underground fantasy world that is the New York subway system. A world where fuzzy monsters sit among us as invisible equals. Ben’s work as Subway Doodle is the manifestation of his extraordinary imagination brought to life for all of us to enjoy.
And what work it is. His drawings of the distinctive blue creatures interacting with commuters on the subway are at once hilarious and relatable. Judging by the almost 170,000 fans on Instagram, there are many others who feel the same way. But how does Ben Rubin feel about his novel endeavor?
Has doodling (or any form of drawing or art) always been a creative outlet for you?
The first picture I remember drawing as a child was a picture of Godzilla. I must have been about five or six years old. By the age of seven, I knew I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up. At the age of 12, I started working The Museum of Cartoon Art in Rye Brook, NY every Sunday until I went off to college. I studied Fine Arts and pursued a career as an illustrator and a cartoonist.
I started drawing on the subway commute about five years ago when I bought my first iPad, sketching to pass the time. One day I took a picture with my iPad on the train and drew over the picture. It was fun so I did another, and another. Subway Doodle evolved from there.
The blue creatures that feature in most of your doodles – do they have distinct personalities in your mind?
As a child, I consumed an abundance of comic books, TV and movies. Now, my brain is just smashing it all together and regurgitating it. Initially, the creatures didn’t have much significance, but as Subway Doodle evolved, they became fairly accurate representations of what one encounters on the subway every day. The creatures I draw are mostly blue because I don’t want them to be interpreted as a criticism or representation of any particular race or nationality.
How do you choose the perfect candidates for your doodles? Does the doodle come first or does the subject inspire the drawing?
Sometimes I take a picture with an idea in mind, but most of the time I just take pictures and start drawing without knowing where I’ll end up. I take a lot of pictures, but only a fraction of them become doodles.
How long does each piece on an average take to complete?
I went through a phase where I challenged myself to create one doodle a day. The pressure to keep up started to take the fun out of it, so I slowed down. I probably spend four to eight hours on each doodle and aim to complete two or three doodles a week.
How do unsuspecting individuals usually react to your doodles?
When I had a very small audience, I didn’t worry about taking pictures of strangers without their knowledge. These days I only use shots where no one is clearly recognizable or I change their facial features. All of the children in my Subway Doodles are my kids or friends’ kids. They are willing participants in my doodles, but are also my toughest critics! My mother, father, girlfriend and friends have also appeared in my doodles. The doodles featuring my friends and family are my favorites.
Most of the comments on your social media praise your work for being so relatable. What is it about the animated form of art that you think affects people this deeply?
Sometimes my doodles illustrate a common subway experience that a lot of riders can relate to. Yet sometimes I’m just drawing for the sake of drawing. I’m not trying to say anything. It’s interesting how some people find something relatable in the doodles that weren’t intended to be anything at all.
Do you get collaboration requests from other artists often?
I receive collaboration requests from other artists from time to time. I enjoy collaborations if I think their style compliments and adds an interesting dimension to my work. My goal as an artist is to feel creatively fulfilled. I am happiest when I am creating something.