Screenshots via devonrodriguezart/TikTok

Devon Rodriguez may not be a household name yet, but practically everyone in America has seen his TikTok videos at some point. Last year, Rodriguez became a viral sensation for drawing hyper-realistic portraits of New York subway passengers in minutes. And to make things even sweeter, Rodriguez always gifts the portraits to his subjects.

By giving portraits to strangers on a train, Devon Rodriguez has warmed the hearts of millions of viewers. His message to his subjects is very clear: I see you. You matter.


You never know when someone is in need of an act of kindness 🥺♥️ let’s all do something kind for a stranger today

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Rodriguez manages to capture the spirit, the simplicity, and the humanity of his subjects. But aside from ogling his beautiful drawings, people flock to Devon’s TikToks because of his subjects’ reactions. They usually go through phases of suspicion, surprise, shock, awe, and raw emotion. And lately, because of Rodriguez’s massive success, people are often star-struck.

In an interview with TODAY, Devon admitted that he never could’ve dreamed that his subway drawings would have such an emotional impact on people. And not just the subjects he draws, but the millions of people who follow him on TikTok. “[Fans will] send me paragraphs and paragraphs, and I read a lot of the DMs, so I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s so crazy that they think that I’ll never see this but they still feel compelled to send it because they feel like they have to. It’s so amazing,” he told TODAY.

Devon Rodriguez has been passionate about art his entire life, even so far as getting into graffiti as a teen.

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But when he got in trouble for graffiti, Rodriguez decided to channel his creative impulses to something else: art class. It was in art class that an influential teacher, Mr. Harper, assigned students to draw riders on the subway. Mr. Harper was also the teacher who taught Devon so much about drawing and painting that he was able to the High School of Art and Design in midtown Manhattan.

And while his days in art class are far behind him, Devon still likes to sit and observe strangers and catch their likeness on paper. Before Rodriguez was doing his subway drawings, he was already an accomplished artist, painting for publications like The New Yorker and The New York Times. But it was his TikTok videos that catapulted him into the big leagues.

And while Bronx-born Devon Rodriguez may now be an internet star with millions of admirers, his life up until now has been far from perfect.

In an interview with the TODAY show, Rodriguez revealed just how challenging his childhood was. His father was absent and his mother was abusive, so he moved in with his abuela when he was 14 years old. And while he was now in a loving, supportive household, they still struggled. But now that he’s successful, she doesn’t struggle any longer.

“My grandma saved me from that terrible situation,” he told TODAY. “She was always extremely poor. She came here from Honduras 30 years ago and was always in poverty in the Bronx so I get to help her financially.” Now, there’s a happy ending if we ever heard one.