If you’ve strolled down the main path of the Boston Common over the past five years, you may have come across a person on a bench with a propped-up pizza box sign advertising $1 drawings.
That’s 25-year-old artist Nick Shea, who started offering index card portraits to passersby in 2017 as a way to get outside, have fun and make connections with strangers. Although the coronavirus pandemic disrupted his routine, he has been drawing portraits in the Common just about every day since last May. His popularity has only increased the past few months after passersby started sharing his work on TikTok, dubbing him the “$1 Portrait Guy.”
Shea said he appreciates how his art has organically reached more people.
“People have been telling me they come out to find me, like, I’m the reason that they’re entering the Boston Common. I think it’s awesome because it gets people outside,” said Shea.
After Shea sets up his signature cardboard sign next to a Common bench, a line quickly takes shape along the sidewalk.
“I try not to look at the lines. I try to focus on who I’m drawing, but it can be very busy out here,” said Shea. “Even in previous years, there were days where there’s lines. I’ve had days where I’ve had zero people, I feel like I’ve run the whole gamut. It’s been a bit of an adjustment in the sense that I’ve been kept very busy [consistently].”
Even after drawing for hours, sometimes finishing an entire 100-pack of index cards, Shea said he makes it a point to give everyone a positive experience.
“I treat everybody the same, whether they’re 5 months old or 78, I meet people where they’re at. Everyone’s trying to have the same positive experience as everybody else,” said Shea. “I’ve been really grateful for the widespread people coming to the park, reaching out to me on social media, and people all over the world.”
Shea said over the years, there have been days where he’s gotten zero people, but he says even on a day where he only draws one person, it’s worth it.
Drawing isn’t the only artform Shea is passionate about. He also makes music, and he said he loves meeting people in the Common who later connect with him on social media and interact with his music. What started out as a fun way to meet people has turned into more for Shea.
“I’ve been through a lot, so for me to spend some time enjoying my day, or having that intention, it’s really important to me,” said Shea.
For Shea, his art is a way to express himself and put positive energy into the world, and he encourages others to do the same.
“I don’t want to try and sound too inspirational, but if there were people listening right now, I would say, ‘Don’t be afraid to do something.’ A lot of people say ‘Live in the moment,’ which is true, but think about where these moments are leading to. You have a bunch of positive moments, there’s a positive future. If there’s a bunch of negative things, there might be a negative future,” he said. “You want to take it step by step — one drawing at a time — and try to make a positive world.”