Four men standing at the back of a DART train car may look unremarkable, but to Dallas Illustrator Gustavo Zapata, the scene creates a perfect composition developing right before his eyes. He quickly sketches them.
Zapata started drawing at a young age in his hometown of Medellín, Colombia. Mountain valleys, lush trees and multi-colored buildings backdropped Zapata’s childhood, and, along with his family, fueled Zapata’s bent toward creativity.
“I think my enjoyment for drawing is sort of a legacy from my family, and it’s part of my decision to choose a career in illustration,” Zapata said.
Now living in North Texas, Zapata works as the head of art at Dieste, Inc., an advertising and marketing firm in Downtown Dallas. He rides the Red and Orange lines to and from Plano and Dallas, and uses the people he sees on his DART commute as inspiration for his art.
“I can see Dallas’ melting pot when I ride,” he said. “In the morning, in the evening and at night, it’s like looking at a photograph of the region. It’s like watching a documentary in silence about the richness of the culture.”
Whether it’s sketching a student gazing out the window as the sunlight hits his face or two women conversing or a businessman typing away on his laptop, Zapata said creating a successful illustration on DART means finding people who let their activities absorb them.
“It’s wonderful when you get the perfect scene,” he said.
You can find Zapata’s #DARTpeople illustrations on his Instagram page, @zdezapata, where he’s gained more than 1,000 followers.
Zapata said he considers himself an old-school art director. Before executing a project, he first sketches, explores and crosses some lines on paper or in his sketchbook to develop an idea. As he created these illustrations, he soon developed a process for adding definition, lighting and color to his drawings.
After finding a subject on board his commute and quickly capturing the scene in his sketchbook, the next phase of Zapata’s process involves adding definition to each piece, using tracing paper to trace over the sketch with black ink. He then scans those ink tracings and uses computer design software to add color, lighting and life to his drawings.
“I enjoy each moment of the process,” he said.