Bee Johnson is an artist in Harlem, originally from Memphis, Tennessee, whose work I first caught in the Tumblr spotlight — an illustration of a man lying down on a subway bench, titled “This is what not caring looks like.”
It’s part of her beautifully-rendered series, “The Illustrated Train,” which basically involves spying on the commuters around her and recording her observations in her sketchbook.
“If I happen to be standing on a crowded train and can’t comfortably draw or only have a stop before I have to get off,” she wrote, “I’ll try to discreetly snap a photo (no flash!) with my phone and base my illo on that. (I know I sound like a total creep, but what can you do? Sometimes the best ones are gone in a flash.)”
She held forth on a few of the images from the series.
“I noticed this girl near Park Slope on the F train,” she wrote about the girl below. “She was sitting there bundled up in her scarf and mittens, and all I could think was that a little gold leaf halo was the only thing standing between her and sainthood. And because my imagination is a little wild, there was a part of me that suspected she may have tumbled out of a painting at the Met.”
The couple below, she wrote, “boarded the train together, sat down across from me, and then the woman started to cry. The two didn’t seem to be fighting with each other because the man turned to her with tremendous tenderness as soon as he saw the tears. He held her face in his hands until she began to smile again. It was such an intimate moment - and beautiful to see her mood improve in the time it takes to travel two stops.”
“When this mother-daughter duo stepped onto the 2 train in Harlem, the little girl’s hair was loose and wild. I’m talking about some serious bedhead. By the time they stepped off at 14th street, it was in perfect braids. I loved watching the mother multi-tasking on her morning commute, and it reminded me of how different it must be to grow up in the city.”
“When you’re stressed for time, what you might normally do in the privacy of your own home simply has to happen mid-commute. (And as a people watcher, I am so glad this is the case.) This guy got on at Wall Street, and based on his costume change, I can only assume he’s dating a Brooklyn gal. Off went the black suit and on went the vintage velvet blazer. I watched him transform from Stock Broker to Hipster in three short stops. Wanted to wish him well on his date, but I thought better of it and held my tongue.”