Subway Doodle (a.k.a. Ben Rubin, B.F.A.’92)

Embracing His Inner Blue Monster

By Stephen Shoemaker, B.A.’02
A blue monster doodle wrapped around the Carillon above the main fountain

Real or imagined, the underground denizens of New York City – giant rats, mutant turtles – occupy a unique niche in popular culture. New creatures are joining them, captured on social media as they lurk along the rails, skulk around station platforms, and even mingle among passengers throughout the subway system. The strange, usually blue monsters are now starting to pop up above ground, too, and will soon be prowling television signals. 

The critters are the spawn of artist Subway Doodle, a 1992 graduate of UAlbany’s art program, and they evolved from a daily endeavor meant to reinvigorate his artistic side. In 2011, while working as the design director at cable-television giant AMC, he took inspiration from a fellow subway commuter he noticed sketching on a tablet.

“At this point, I’d been in kind of a creative rut. I hadn’t really been doing much,” he remembered. “So I bought an iPad and started drawing on it. And it just kind of became an obsession.”

On a whim one day, Subway Doodle took a photo with that iPad and sketched over it, and the self-imposed challenge took on a new angle: Snap a photo and finish a doodle on it during the approximately 20-minute ride from Brooklyn into Manhattan. The creatures roaming his imagination lent themselves to the task. 

Rubin's blue monster with bulging eyes caught in the subway B door

“The great thing about monsters is you can’t draw them wrong. They’re just easy to draw, because they can be anything you want,” he said. 

The creatures are at times impish, irreverent, or irrepressible. They include a monster looming over a sleeping passenger, ready to pop an inflated paper bag over the rider; a wispy four-armed, three-eyed creature with another eye and mouth set in its chest, dressed in genie garb; and a beastie wearing a contented smile, curling up for a nap beneath a flowering tree, the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.

Blue monster DJ with a backwards red cap plays a record on top of a carousel in New York City

In 2014, SWD, as he tags his works, started his Instagram account (@subwaydoodle) as a way to archive his growing portfolio. But as often happens with quirky things on the Internet, Subway Doodle’s work was noticed, and his account steadily gained followers. He recalled that the account hit a turning point during a week he was working extra-long hours. 

“I kind of missed that flash moment where it really just exploded. It was very bizarre,” he said. “All of a sudden, people are calling, and they want to interview me.” Among the calls Subway Doodle took were some from Hollywood: He recently finished a 10-second network identification for TBS, and has an animated show based on his creatures in development at another network.

Blue monster wearing tube while walking in the water near Manhattan

In 2016, he left AMC to found The Mint Farm, a Brooklyn-based marketing studio specializing in video and digital graphics. There, Subway Doodle works alongside fellow UAlbany graduate Ben Rubin, B.F.A.’92, who has an eerily similar resume, to produce work for clients that include the History Channel, Audible, HBO, Crunchyroll, Marvel, and Comedy Central. 

The Mint Farm hit the ground running and hasn’t slowed. While Subway Doodle’s original sketches were done over the span of his commute, he now works on them where and when he can. He’s also done several murals in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood and one just north of the city in Mount Vernon. His three eyes are now set on some prime wall space in Manhattan. 

Blue monster with bulging eyes stuck in a folding seat in the handicap section of the subway car

As his distinctive beasts spread across New York City and beyond, SWD credits a valuable lesson on self-expression learned as a student at UAlbany: After weeks spent laboring on an oil painting, he knocked another out in a few days. His professor expressed a resounding preference for the latter piece.

“He was right. The second one was much more expressive, as opposed to the first one being in a style that wasn’t quite mine. It was really the first time I thought about, instead of copying other people’s styles, really starting to develop my own.” 

It’s a good time to be a blue monster, and Subway Doodle is embracing the success and opportunities his coterie of creatures provided. “People are always like, ‘What do you do?’ On the professional side, with the production company, it’s a really long story [about] what I do,” he said.

“But only recently, for the first time in my life, when people say, ‘What do you do?’ the answer can simply be, ‘I’m an artist.’ That’s pretty great, because I feel like that’s really what I’m meant to be doing.”

Cartoon 3 Feet Deep
One of Ben Rubin’s early artistic endeavors, published in the ASP in early 1992.

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