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Friday, May 22, 2009

The Leonardo of the L-Taraval: Sunset District Man Draws on Train, But People Are Happy

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2009 at 7:30 AM

Jimmy La, with his sketch of your humble narrator - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • Jimmy La, with his sketch of your humble narrator
In times of economic hardship, folks who draw on buses and trains become social pariahs (power washings ain't free). So, when folks spy Jimmy La drawing on the L-Taraval -- which he's done incessantly for the past two years -- at times they "get freaky." Some shout. Some leave the train. But, for the most part, people laugh.

That's because all the drawing La does on the train is kept in his sketchbook. The 25-year-old will be the first to tell you that, when you live on 48th Avenue, you're going to spend a lot of time idling on the Muni. A couple years back, he began doing his homework for City College art classes while sitting on the train. His subjects, naturally, were other folks enduring the L's shambling ride toward downtown. On a recent trip, La peered through a crowd of chattering, future acne-scarred St. Ignatius Prep students at a white-haired older woman. He was only about halfway done with her sketch when she got up to leave the train -- and give him a piece of her mind.

"I'm flattered!" she gushed. She'd noticed him drawing folks on the train for months and months -- and, finally, he got to her. The two chatted for a couple of minutes before the woman left the train. She didn't ask for her portrait. Most people dont; La has notebooks full of them at home.

La admits he hasn't yet converted any of his Muni sketches to paint on canvas -- but that he's always meant to. He also doesn't have a Web page  -- a rarity among even amateur artists in this city, it would seem. (By the way -- you can make a career out of painting mass transit subjects).

For the artist, drawing folks is a great ice-breaker -- and it sure has made two years of slow rides on the L go by faster.

"I just want to get a nice picture out of it," he says. "Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn't. But either way, it's all good practice for me."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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