In October 2009, Stephen Wiltshire went on a 20-minute helicopter ride above the New York City skyline. Let's just say he really took it in. From his brief encounter, the British artist created a 19-foot canvas drawing of NYC's cityscape with photographic accuracy. How? Wiltshire has autism. It's considered a disability, but it has also been his gift.
Wiltshire was diagnosed with autism at three years old. Until age five, he didn't utter his first words (appropriately, they were "paper" and "pen"). He did, however, sketch impressive caricatures and wilderness images that caught the eye of one teacher. After entering various art competitions, Wiltshire appeared on the radar of the British prime minister, who commissioned him to draw the Salisbury Cathedral. Wiltshire was only eight years old. According to the National Geographic, he didn't get the hang of spoken language until a year later, but published his first book of drawings by the tender age of 13. Not too shabby.
Wiltshire is now considered one of Britain's best-known artists with a 4–8-month waiting list for commissions. Often called a savant by the media, the artist has been booked for several TV shows and documentaries to showcase his amazing talent. So how does Wiltshire draw panoramic city views in perfect scale? He hops on a helicopter, of course. No, really—Wiltshire claims that he always memorizes by helicopter ride.
On top of all of that, Wiltshire is extremely humble. As his sister, Annette Wiltshire, told the New York Times, "That he has a gift makes no sense at all to Stephen. He knows that he draws very well, but he picks that up from other people — he sees the warmth on their faces, they tell him how much they like his work, and that makes him very happy." You can view Stephen Wiltshire's work and videos of his process on his website.