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NYT Metropolitan Diary: Pen & Ink Illustrations

Metropolitan Diary, Casey Roonan
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Illustrate a New York Times “Metropolitan Diary” column.

Core Ideas

composition, concept, mood, point of view, action, positive and negative shapes.

Recommended Tutorials


Art Supplies: Strathmore Softcover Sketchbook

5” x 7” – 9” x 12”

Art Supplies: Strathmore Bristol Board

8 .5″ x 11″

Art Supplies: Eraser Stick
Art Supplies: Non-Photo Blue Pencils
Art Supplies: Ruler
Art Supplies: Pencil
Art Supplies: Brush Pen


Pick a “Metropolitan Diary” article. In this case, the article is “Veteran of the Crowded Car.”

“Dear Diary:

I was on a crowded subway car in the middle of the day. The doors opened, and an older gentleman got on. He was carrying two heavy bags.

He navigated past several people, and then managed to grip one of the poles. He leaned the bags against his leg.

I kept an eye on him. I was impressed by his masterful display of subway dexterity. I had been trying to eat a bagel and hold on to the pole at the same time. I was failing miserably.

The train began to move. After a moment there was a jolt, and the passengers who were standing were all wrenched to one side. I stumbled and nearly fell, regaining my balance at just the last second.

I turned to make sure the older man was O.K.

He was standing in exactly the same position as he had been before, as immovable as a block of granite. I noticed something else: He had taken out a small pencil and a crumpled piece of paper and was doing a crossword puzzle.”

Metropolitan Diary, Casey Roonan

Count the number of paragraphs in the article.  In this case, there are 6 paragraphs in the article.

Metropolitan Diary, Casey Roonan

Measure out several rectangles small enough to fit on a single sketchbook page that is about 9″ x 12″, and equal to the number of paragraphs in your chosen “Metropolitan Diary” entry.

In each of these thumbnails, lightly sketch the main idea of each paragraph.

Art Supplies: Pencil
Thumbnail Sketches, Editorial Spot Illustration, Casey Roonan

For tips on thumbnail sketches, watch this video below starting at 07:47 min. 

Pick which sketch best illustrates the article.

Thumbnail Sketches, Editorial Spot Illustration, Casey Roonan

On a second sketchbook page, measure out another, larger rectangle, approximately 4” on it’s longest side, and draw a more refined version of your chosen sketch.

Metropolitan Diary process

Consider how you can use black and white shapes to visually communicate.

Thumbnail Sketches, Editorial Spot Illustration, Casey Roonan

On an 8 ½” x 11” piece of bristol board, use a non-photo blue pencil to copy the drawing from this last sketch. 

Watch the video below starting at 02:24 min. to see how to use the non-photo blue pencil.

Use the brush pen to draw over the non-photo blue pencil, creating a finished black and white illustration.

Metropolitan Diary, Casey Roonan
Art Supplies: Non-Photo Blue Pencils
Metropolitan Diary, Casey Roonan

Related Artists

Editorial Illustration by Brian Rea, spot illustrations by Richard McGuire and Pablo Amargo, single-panel cartoons by Bruce Eric Kaplan, Roz Chast and Liana Finck.


Julie Sharpe

Julie Sharpe
Project Assistant

“This project was rewarding but challenging; I tend to enjoy illustrating editorial and narrative writing, but choosing a scene from the “Metropolitan Diary” felt like a daunting task due to the unlimited options I seemed to have.

I read quite a few “Metropolitan Diary” articles before I chose one called “I Love Your Hair!” and even then I had to create many thumbnail sketches to narrow down my selection. Once I chose a scene, I had fun drawing the character I had imagined in my mind. I used a variety of reference photos to refine this sketch and put the character in an environment, which is a skill that I have been wanting to practice.

After inking the drawing, I used markers to add shading. Normally, I would use ink, but the assignment required markers, so I compromised by using a water brush to blend out the marker. Overall, I enjoyed this project and learned a lot!

Alexia Towle

Alexia Towle
Project Assistant

The article I chose was about a person who would hear a trumpeter out their window from below, and one day they played the opening song from “The Godfather”. They wrote that suddenly they could see a black screen, with the words “Paramount Pictures Presents” fading in and out as the first lines of the film were spoken.

I tried to capture the iconic Don Corleone with movie theater curtains and the trumpet notes floating by the writer! Inking the words and Corleone’s sinister glare were probably the most stressful moments of my life, but I like how they pop out against the black “screen”.

This was a really fun assignment because it pushed me to really think about the best way to communicate an idea that is not my own. I will definitely be checking the “Metropolitan Diary” entries for inspiration in the future!

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