"The Study of Faces"

WNM instructor Hamilton Cline’s unique BART commuter portraits will be showcased in new book    


Home to one of the most heavily trafficked public transportation systems in the country, San Francisco makes for an interesting commute, and Hamilton Cline captures it almost every day. On his way to work as an instructor for the School of Web Design & New Media (WNM) at Academy of Art University, Cline continues an artistic journey he’s been on for almost two years.  

Every morning, Monday through Friday, he takes a seat on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), chooses a fellow commuter across the way and whips out his Samsung Note 3 to create a portrait illustration, adding to his archive that is now in the thousands. But for Cline, it’s about one thing and one thing only: Practice.

“If you practice something enough, you’ll be good at it,” said Cline. “You have to practice a skill, you can’t just let it go.”    

On March 26, the best of his transit illustrations will be showcased in a 200-page book, Hamilton Cline | Rapid Transit. Readers will be able to explore the artist’s striking portraits and follow his stylistic and technical progression. Cline’s illustrations have been previously featured online by The New York Times and SFGate. He has also showcased his work at the Academy’s Cannery Galleries near Fisherman’s Wharf.

Each of the 300-plus portraits in his upcoming book tell a different story, demonstrating Cline’s ability to capture the emotions, expressions and overall essence of people.

“My art is the study of faces,” he said. “Faces have very unique properties about them and I like to find and accentuate them.”

“Hamilton's mobile sketches are beautifully rendered digitally, but are really an analog version of street photography. Lines created by hand, but every one with a story,” said Michael Brunsfeld, an illustration and Photoshop instructor at the Academy and admirer of Cline’s work.

Cline’s exploration of different techniques and styles is showcased throughout his book. As a former caricaturist for Knott’s Berry Farm and Valleyfair, some of his portraits are more exaggerated and character-like, while others are very realistic. He draws some with heavy lines, others light, some in color, some in simply black and white.

“Hamilton captures in his illustrations the character, soul and personal story of his subjects,” said WNM Director Ryan Medeiros. “When I look at these illustrations I get drawn in, I feel like I know these people through their facial expressions and their clothing and accessories.”

For the most part, the people that Cline has drawn on BART have never seen their portrait, however his many Instagram followers and Reddit fans use the hashtag #DrawMeHam in hopes of being drawn by the locally-famous illustrator.


Illustrator and WNM instructor Hamilton Cline. Photo courtesy of Hamilton Cline.

Hamilton Cline | Rapid Transit is sure to be exciting for his fans and followers, alike. For Cline, the book is a testament to the old adage that “practice makes perfect”—what his entire artistic journey has been about.

“Everyone is always trying to find this deeper meaning to it,” said Cline. “To me, it’s the thing I practice. It’s not the thing I am best at, or even enjoy the most, but I am good at it because I practice.”

When asked what he has learned about people through his illustration exercise, Cline replied, “Nothing really. We are all just trying to get to work.”    

Hamilton Cline | Rapid Transit will be available on March 26.


Featured illustrations courtesy of Hamilton Cline.