First, he posted time-lapse videos of his work in progress sketches, set to a catchy song, and gave viewers the chance to compare his portraits with real-life inspirations – the pencil shadow precision of crumpled jeans or crooked jeans Protective mask. He was starting to get more views, but not as many as he had hoped. “I posted and thought, 'Oh, I'm talented. It's going to go viral. ”But none of that went viral. If it's not a spectacle, people don't care. "
Then he noticed a comment on one of the videos: "You should give it to them at the end."
Initially, Mr. Rodriguez rejected the idea. “I thought, 'I'm not giving away my art,” he said. "This is how I make a living."
But soon the comment itself received more than 32,000 likes and he knew he had to try.
This was the second time his life suddenly changed.
"When I did that, it exploded," he says. The first video, released in August 2020, showed a young woman in a private security uniform. In it, Mr. Rodriguez sketched her portrait based on the melody of “Renee” von Sales and even with her mask, which hindered her reaction, it is easy to see that the young woman was affected by the sketch – and impressed by the detail: “You have even … my tattoo. "
In just over a day, the video had 8 million views. It soon climbed to 49 million.
"The interaction just added a whole other layer," said Mr. Rodriguez. "So I thought, 'Okay, I'll keep giving them away." And the videos kept going viral. I was so hyped. That was all I wanted – all my life – all those eyeballs. "
He has refined his process. He is now getting the permission of the person he wants to draw in advance and asking how long they are likely to stay on the subway. He's taught himself to complete a portrait in 15 minutes, including breaks so he can film his progress along the way.
Mr Rodriguez has accumulated more than 225 million likes on TikTok and when he started posting his videos on other platforms, his number grew there too – 2.7 million followers on Instagram, 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube.