By Alex Joseph, Portrait by Smiljana Peros
Artist Ebony Bolt draws inspiration from the subway
“I’m an extroverted introvert,” says artist Ebony Bolt, Entrepreneurship ’14 and Illustration ’11. In conversation, she has effortless charisma, but her preferred practice is sketching strangers who pose unwittingly before her pen. Bolt draws them surreptitiously on the subway, usually while they’re asleep. She’s filled many small black accordion-style notebooks with panoramas of snoozing faces. “It’s easier for me to draw people in the wintertime,” she says. “In the summer, they’re awake and alert.”
An inveterate subway traveler, Bolt sees the train as both muse and gallery. For years, she applied to open calls for artists from the MTA’s Arts & Design program, hoping they would display her work on a poster or in a station. “They have the best real estate—a lot of people take the train,” she explains. In 2017, she was a finalist in a competition to create a permanent installation for the Nostrand Avenue LIRR stop, in Brooklyn; though she didn’t win, an official from the program recommended Bolt’s work to a curator at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers. The museum exhibited her surface design, “The Botanical Dreams in the Concrete Jungle,” on printed acrylic over a custom light box. “I was inspired by the stained glass windows from the Baptist church I grew up in,” she says. Bil Donovan ’78, adjunct associate professor of Illustration. He appreciated her work but felt she needed to develop her drawing skills more. “You’ll feel better when you create consistently,” he told her. She perfected her technique on her commute to and from FIT. She’s used her BS in Entrepreneurship to create her website and market her skills. For now, she still has a day job—as a CAD artist for the wholesale fashion company Golden Touch Imports. Last fall, the MTA commissioned Bolt to create a piece for its poster program to be displayed in train stations throughout the five boroughs. That drawing, "City of Dreamers," a map of New York City filled with an eclectic assemblage of her trademark dozing denizens, appears on the cover of the most recent print issue of this magazine.