Dubai: How a subway artist from New York became one of the most followed visual artists on TikTok

He has collaborated with major Fortune 500 brands and sketched A-list personalities like US President Biden and The Rock, Dwayne Johnson


Lamya Tawfik

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Published: Sun 4 Dec 2022, 6:33 PM

Last updated: Sun 4 Dec 2022, 7:25 PM

From a struggling artist in the Bronx to becoming the most followed visual artists on TikTok, one with A-list clients and a following of nearly 36 million, Devon Rodriguez’s story is one that wows and inspires.

Devon made his name in the social media world at the start of the pandemic. “The year was 2020 and I was at home during the lockdown seeing people getting rich and famous on social media and I thought to myself, ‘Why am I stuck in poverty in the Bronx?’,” he said. This is when he decided to turn his story around.

Initially, Devon started posting pictures of himself painting his clients but that got very little interest from netizens. He thought the reason might be that no one knew his clients, so he then started posting pictures of celebrities before hitting gold with an idea: sketching strangers on the subway and giving them their portraits. “The first video that I posted got me 100,000 followers on the first day,” he said. This is when he knew he had stumbled on a formula that works.

He initially never downloaded TikTok for entertainment, thinking that it was for children but then he saw its potential when he saw that people made a career out of it. So armed with his sketchbook, pencils, a phone and his knowledge of editing using InShot, Devon launched a successful career as a TikTok content creator.


While working on his paintings, he would watch YouTube videos that talk about the algorithms of TikTok. His dedication and hard work paid off. “I know that feel good content worked and that people like the fact that my sketches brought joy to others. My content had to be mainstream enough for people to care,” he said.

His advice to content creators is to experiment and, in the beginning, to even replicate content that is already viral on social media. “I was lucky to find my own format that works. I think once you do, just repeat it over and over,” he said.

But his journey wasn’t one that came with no challenges. The main one is staying consistent and motivated. “It’s hard to remain motivated when you don’t get views,” he said, adding that when he looks at the analytics, he focuses on the number of new followers.

Another challenge is the competition with the increasing number of creators on the app. “As more creators joined, it became harder because now you’re competing with the best people out there,” he said.

His flourishing career as a content creator got him the chance to collaborate with major Fortune 500 brands and to sketch some A-list personalities like US President Biden, Bobby Brown and The Rock, Dwayne Johnson. “I never dreamt of meeting The Rock in my life but then I got paid by Warner Bros. to meet him and draw him,” he said. On working with the US president, he said: “Well, it doesn’t really get any bigger than that!”

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