Sketch | Nick Luzietti’s Subway Sketchbooks

When I’m sketching on the train, I enter a dream world where I can be who I want to be.


I get lost easily in it now. It’s a world where I can go. The train sketches are a void, where I can go where I need to go. It’s pure expression, like Jimi Hendrix playing basketball.

I started the subway books in 1992 with this idea. My mom died in 1991. My life changed. I was really trying to figure out who I was going to be. I reverted to being a kid. I got on the train and wrote.


My home was a great family, but I was part of a partnership there. Work was a great place for me, but I was part of a team there as well. I needed a place where I could go by myself and be what I wanted to be. That’s what a hobby really means. And it became the train for me. When my mom died, I started to write about it on the train with the front half of the book about writing, the back half about drawings. It progressed to dropping into the moment and becoming immersed in the idea of being in a trance, being in a dream.

Now, I have 75 books, one has gone missing.

That train ride is my spot, that’s my stage center. Two pages, double color, White Out. It’s creative, I can get lost easily in it now. I get lost more easily in it than being in the real world. The moment I get close to the train, I begin to lose consciousness. I don’t know what to draw, I start scribbling and it turns into stuff. The earphones are critical. It’s like action painting. I go into this trance, a dream state between chaos and order, no idea where it will go. Sometimes, I almost don’t look, I draw upside down, far away, close, in big strokes. Then at some point, I take a step back and try to understand what the drawings are saying to me. When I get off the train, I’m exhausted. I need to drink water.

You would think it would become abstract but it isn’t. They’re kind of like graffiti characters, like Heckle and Jeckle at times. They have a human component to them. Sometimes the subject matter is universal, but a lot of the time it’s about me and the people closest to me, the group around me and my little world Chicago. There’s a few fantasy characters. The rest of them, like Little Heart Boy, are about me trying to find my way through life. I play with everything from the Batman logo to Film Noir to textures, even my Children’s First Missal. Some recent pieces are collaborations with my grandson Max. He shows me how to draw again.

I was born to be a star on stage. When they ring the bell, that’s where I want to be. That’s been a part of me for a long time. My performances weren’t always successes, but I believed it’s where I was supposed to be. That’s what I was conditioned for by my grandma and by my mom. If you go to [my grandmother] Little Nonna’s world, where everyone is speaking Italian, making food all day and praying, that’s a different world from the world of today. She’s from the 1800s, and even in 1950, we got to see how they celebrated family, kids and food in the previous century. She wasn’t in the same world. She let us join her in her imaginary world.

Picasso said, “It took me three years to learn to draw like the masters, but it took me a lifetime to learn to draw like a child.” The kid’s stuff is the ticket to who we really are. With the sketchbooks, I can cut the chains for 20 minutes in on the Blue Line or 12 minutes in on the Metra.

And no one has arrested me yet.


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