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Artist Jason Polan Sketches 10,000 New Yorkers for 'Every Person' Project

By DNAinfo Staff on July 20, 2010 1:50pm

By Liz Borod Wright

Special to DNAinfo

MANHATTAN — If you’ve been to the Museum of Modern Art, Grand Central, the Taco Bell by Union Square or any other myriad of locations across the city in the past two years, there’s a good chance that Jason Polan may have sketched you. And you’d probably have no idea that you were one of more than 10,000 people he’s drawn as part of his ongoing project Every Person in New York.

Since March 2008, Polan, a 28-year-old freelance illustrator, has drawn people from all walks of life every day that he’s in NYC.

"Usually it’s something that they’re wearing or their haircut that will initially get my attention," he said. "But there’s no particular kind of person that I’m looking for."

In under an hour one recent Friday afternoon, Polan sketched approximately 20 people inside and around the MoMA. Armed with just a sketchpad and pen, he stood an unobtrusive distance away from his subjects. Only one young couple standing outside the museum noticed they were being drawn. Afterward, they walked over to see the results and learned about the project.

"That’s brilliant," said Colin Anthony, who approved of his likeness, calling it "really nice."

The couple turned out to be visiting from Alberta, Canada. But sketching tourists is OK by Polan, a Michigan native.

"The project is set up so that anybody who is in New York when I’m drawing them counts," he said.

Indeed, Polan says that many of the people who contact him through his blog Every Person in New York  asking for him to draw them are out-of-towners heading to the city. His project has gained attention worldwide, and has been shown at galleries in California, Europe and Asia, as well as closer to home at Soho’s Jen Bekman Gallery and at East Hampton’s Glenn Horowitz Bookseller.

But it’s usually New Yorkers he finds himself chasing down at specific spots and times around town, several times a week. He prefers to draw everyone on the sly.

"I like the idea of people not knowing whether I drew them, and then hopefully having a pleasant surprise when they go to the blog that night," he said.

In December, he celebrated his first milestone when he hit 8,300 drawings, which is "one-tenth of one percent" of the 8 million-plus he hopes to achieve. At the rate he’s going, it will take him more than 1,500 years to reach his goal.

"It’s a bit ridiculous now to think I’m going to finish," Polan conceded.

But he doesn’t plan to quit.

"I’ll be working on the project forever," he said. "I plan on making more books and showing the drawings in different places as the project progresses."

In April, he created two books based on drawings done at the MoMA: 100 People I Saw Today and One Person I Saw Today 100 Times, which depicts performance artist Marina Abramović.

Polan admitted his eyes are always peeled for celebrities. He’s drawn Jerry Seinfeld eating at Burger Joint. He spotted Kristen Wiig, who uses the portrait on her website, at an event in Rockefeller Center.

He’s also on the lookout for irony. One of his all-time favorite drawings is of a man cleaning bones at the Museum of Natural History.

"He was wearing a t-shirt that just said ‘size.’ And I thought that was so interesting because he’s dusting this huge dinosaur and I didn’t know how could he have planned that so nicely."