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Academy Instructor's BART Caricatures Attract Fans

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A collection of Hamilton Cline's BART caricatures. Image courtesy of Hamilton Cline.

Most people go to amusement parks for the thrilling rides and to escape reality. But for caricaturist and Academy of Art University instructor Hamilton Cline, they were where he learned the skills that would help him become a successful artist.  

“I started doing caricatures in Missouri at World of Fun and then moved to Minnesota and worked at a park called Valleyfair,” he said. “I was taught by the best caricature artists in the business.”

Later, he moved to Los Angeles and did caricatures at Knotts Berry Farm. Cline considers himself lucky to have trained with legendary artists such as Dino Casterline and Tom Richmond—an illustrator for MAD magazine—during the years he worked at amusement parks. 

These days, he’s following in his mentors’ footsteps and gaining recognition as a skilled caricaturist in his own right. Over the past couple of years, Cline has become increasingly well-known in the Bay Area for his portraits of BART riders. 

 “It was something to do—you don’t really have enough time to pull out a book and read for 10 minutes,” explained the artist, who began drawing his fellow BART passengers in 2015 while commuting between his home in Daly City to his job teaching in the Academy’s School of Web Design & New Media in San Francisco. “At the theme parks, I had to do five-minute caricatures, so I’m pretty fast at drawing.”

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Image courtesy of Hamilton Cline.

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Image courtesy of Hamilton Cline.

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Image courtesy of Hamilton Cline.

At first, Cline used one of the sketchbooks he always used to carry to capture his subjects. But after getting a Samsung Galaxy Note 5, he put paper aside.

“Since I started drawing digitally, I haven’t looked back,” said Cline. “It’s high quality, fast, inconspicuous and you can archive your work immediately.”

Cline regularly shares his art on social media sites such as Instagram (@bronkula) and Reddit. His caricatures often catch the eye of people who think they recognize themselves, or someone they know. A particularly popular post on Reddit received more than 100 comments—including one from an individual who dubbed him “Mr. BARTist”—and crashed his website (www.hamiltondraws.com). To date, he’s created more than 1,500 portraits of BART riders. 

Cline enjoys the bit of notoriety his caricatures have earned him. He’s been featured on KRON 4 News and in several SFGate.com articles (the latest was published in May). But soon his fame may extend beyond the Bay Area. In June, The New York Times ran a story about him in its California Today section.  

“It’s been a good month,” quipped Cline. “It’s been fun.”

He is currently working on a book of his BART caricatures that he hopes to complete before the end of the year. When he’s not sketching BART riders, he likes the challenge of teaching full-stack web development to his students at the Academy.

“I teach at the m aster’s level,” Cline said. “It’s open enrollment, so anyone from any field can take the class, which means I can be teaching people who potentially don’t have any background in programming.” 

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Image courtesy of Hamilton Cline.

When asked what advice he’d offer budding caricaturists or other artists, Cline recommended practicing their craft as much as possible. Setting a year-long goal to draw once or twice every day on his phone, as well as doing a live portrait painting on his computer every weekend, helped him grow as an artist. 

“It was incredibly helpful and kept me honest,” he said. “It burned me out, too. But it helped me learn about the style I wanted to draw in and about digital tools. Pushing myself for that year was a very good thing for me.”