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Every day hundreds of people vigorously swipe at their phones on their morning commute. Some are playing brainless games like Candy Crush. Others are scrolling through social media. But one man is being far more precise with his swipes.
Meet Wilson Yau. He spends his commutes drawing his surroundings on his phone. We chatted to him about his colourful works — drawings that will feel familiar to any regular London Underground user.
When did you start drawing people on the tube and why?
I started drawing people on the tube in 2012. I wanted to experiment with new and unfamiliar media, such as digital drawing using an iPhone, and draw from life rather than photographs. The iPhone was so convenient to use, it was always in my pocket. As I drew the scenes around me, I started to realise how fascinating the tube was, and before I knew it my fellow commuters became my main inspiration — passengers do some of the weirdest and funniest things and I wanted to capture it, from couples arguing to people cutting their nails.
Working full time in an office, my drawing time is during my commutes. It means I look forward to travelling on the tube; drawing on my commutes turns that dead time travelling between home and work into a creative period where I can do something I enjoy — the tube is my studio.
Do you have a favourite line to draw on?
"I don't have a favourite tube line, but I like the Victoria line for practical reasons because it takes me home to Brixton every day. Most of my drawings tend to be from that line as a result."
Do people ever notice you drawing them, and if so, what is their response?
No one has ever spotted me drawing them. I always use a smartphone to draw on the tube. To people sitting in front of me, my hand movements on my iPhone suggest I'm playing a game, texting or using a dating app or social media.
It's why I prefer drawing on my phone to a paper sketchbook, people don't see that I'm drawing so they don't get agitated or self-conscious. Occasionally, people standing above me see what I'm doing, but the truth is most passengers are in their own world, I'm usually the only one looking around and observing in my crowded carriage. It's worth looking into the details. Even if you're not the main subject in my drawing, you might be there in the reflections in the windows!
Have people you've drawn found out about the images later, and got in touch?
"Only once have people discovered later that they're in my drawings, and they would be my family! I drew my parents and siblings when we were travelling together on the Victoria line. They didn't know about it until the finished drawing appeared on postcards and greeting cards I sent them. My sister still complains that I drew her hands too big."
Is drawing on the tube challenging, because of the moving carriages?
"It's not difficult drawing on a moving carriage at all. We've all seen people skilfully apply make-up on themselves whilst travelling on the tube. Well, it's exactly like that! I got used to it and work with the movements and occasional sudden stops of the carriages."
Why is drawing important to you?
"Being a teacher I believe everyone can and should draw. Drawing isn't just to create art for public display or an activity for a particular group of people; drawing — on paper or on a digital screen — is an activity that everyone can use for enjoyment, to improve observation skills and help with problem-solving.
Drawing has made my commutes more interesting and productive. In the process, it has turned a digital device to consume entertainment into a creative tool to make art. Drawing has really made me look at what's around me and appreciate the beauty in the seemingly mundane — I've discovered every bit of London is amazing, even the commute."