02/22/2013 04:42 EST | Updated 02/22/2013 04:43 EST

Animals On The Underground: Finding Critters Using London Underground Routes


There's a good chance you're familiar with the phrase "there's an elephant in the room." But what about the saying "there's an elephant in the London Underground?" OK, so nobody actually says that, but that doesn't make it any less true if a 24-year-old art project has anything to do with it.

It all dates back to 1988 when Paul Middlewick was riding on the London's subway system. During his train ride home, Middlewick spotted an elephant "hiding" within the lines of the subway routes, the spots and junctions of the London Underground, according to Visual News. Since then, more animals have been discovered and joined "Elephant and Castle," the cartoon sketch Middlewick named after the subway stop with the same name. There's even a few Canadian-friendly ones, like Chorleywood, the beaver, White Chapel, the polar bear, and Canada Water, the goose.

Animals On the Underground. Story continues below.

London Underground Animals

Middlewick's characters have also been turned into a book, according to the Animals on the Underground website, with Elephant and Castle getting the treatment first in the picture book Lost Property. According to the Daily Mail, the books have caught on around the world with interest from countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain. Even Sweden, a country famous for having over 100 subway stations with art installations, according to the Matador Network, is interested in the book.

'It's been great to bring the characters to life; they're more fun, cuddly and lovable and it opens up a bigger market," Middlewick told the Daily Mail, adding that, "I thought it may be an issue getting the Tube map worldwide but it's so well known internationally there's no difficulty — it's an iconic design."

With his characters, Middlewick joins a group of artists and designers who've found inspiration in subway maps. There's Alex Chen's musical and animated musical rendition of the New York City's subway map using data provided by New York City Transit. In Canada, Spacing, an urban landscaping magazine, has immortalized Toronto's subway system as one-inch buttons, one for each of the city's 69 stations. Then there's Lineposters, a U.S. design company, which takes subway maps from cities around the world and turns them into maps and t-shirts.

But as far as the Tube goes, if the subway's colourful criss-cross doesn't scream British icon, then perhaps all it needs is some star power, like say, having Camilla Parker Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Charles riding in one of its cars on its 150th birthday.