Sketching in graphite is a great way to kick off or restart your creative drive. Here we’ve sourced a selection of inspiring pencil drawings that demonstrate the wonderful (and sometimes wacky) art you can produce with a pencil. These pencil drawings span from photorealism to completely abstract. If you're so inspired you want to immediately get some new materials, then don't miss our post on the best pencils.
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01. Siberian Iris
This delicate pencil drawing is the work of Dave Brasgalla, an illustrator, graphic designer and concept artist based in Sweden. Brasgalla enjoys using traditional media for his personal projects, and finds coloured pencils a particularly versatile and satisfying medium. For this drawing Brasgalla layered up his pencil marks, leaving only a few areas of paper uncoloured.
“I love botanical and floral subjects, and the patterns that are present in the petals of the Siberian iris quickly caught my eye,” he says. “I couldn’t resist buying a bunch of them, with the aim of working on a drawing at home.”
02. Lovebird Pilaf
Remrov is a self-taught artist who creates incredibly realistic pencil drawings, often of animals (although he will draw anything he finds interesting). He has autism, which for him means he sees the whole world in tiny little details. This drawing is of Pilaf, a lovebird Remrov has owned for 17 years. “Pilaf helps me a lot with the challenges I face as an autistic person,” he says.
This mesmerising pencil drawing is the work of veteran illustrator and fine artist James Martin. Martin currently teaches illustration at Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida, and in the past has worked as a background artist for Walt Disney Studios and texture and matte painter for DreamWorks Animation.
In this life drawing, Martin wanted to play around with the edges of the figure. “Edge control is the most valuable artistic tool to control the viewer’s eye,” he explained in an interview for ImagineFX magazine. “Hard edges draw attention, while soft or lost edges give the eye a place to rest."
Melanie Phillips has been a professional pet portrait artist since 1997. She works from her garden studio in Wales, which she shares with her artist husband Nicholas and Tibetan terrier Lily.
This pencil drawing was a commissioned portrait of a dog called Poppy. “It’s my job to not only create a drawing that’s pleasing to the eye, but one that captures Poppy and not just any dog,” explains Phillips.
Her top tip for creating realistic pencil drawings? “Don’t forget you build up your layers slowly. Starting with a 4B for instance, add each layer gradually instead of using a hard pencil pressure from the outset,” she says. “You’ll find that your drawings have much more depth to them.”
05. Venetian Morning Light
In this wonderfully atmospheric drawing, artist Ian Murphy uses graphite pencil to explore how light disperses around Venice’s confined waterways. Murphy works mostly in pencil and oil paint, and focuses particularly on architecture, emphasising the layers and textures of the buildings he recreates. To see more of his sketches and his paintings, visit his website.
Steven E Hughes is an associate professor of illustration at Northern Michigan University. His paintings and illustrations have been featured in many exhibitions and publications, including The New York Times.
The research process for this mouthwatering still life piece began with a visit to one of the best doughnut shops in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan: Huron Bakery. “Looking at the contrasts between props guides the still life setup for me. If something is dark, put it against something light, and vice versa. Play pattern against solid areas and look for repetitions to move the eye across the composition.”
Hughes also advises photographing your still life from several angles before you start work. “You never know when a hungry kid will run into your studio and grab that carefully positioned doughnut!” he smiles.
This striking portrait was drawn by artist Jake Spicer, a passionate advocate of drawing as a tool for communication and inquiry. This particular portrait was created over two hours, using a combination of photographs of the model, Gigi, and sketches done during an hour-long portrait sitting.
“The best portrait drawings aren’t just pictures of faces, but records of a long moment shared between artist and sitter,” he explains. “Whether you are able to ask friends or family to sit for a portrait, or can attend a drawing class with a model, it is always an engaging and exciting experience to draw another person from life.”
08. Estudios internos (Internal studies)
Many of Colombian artist Juan Osorno’s surreal pencil studies depict voided human faces with unusual objects, landscapes or natural phenomena in the place of facial features. You can view the full collection of these abstract sketches on Osorno’s Behance page.
09. Standing Man & Stretch
We just couldn’t pick a favourite from Mike Lee’s superb pencil drawing collection Repose, so we chose two. Lee uses only simple lines and shapes, reducing his subjects to their most basic forms. He has an extensive portfolio of pencil artwork, and you can discover more here.
Is it a bird? Is it an eye? Or could it even be a pencil? This weirdly wonderful sketch was created by Danish illustrator Fotini Tikkou, whose Instagram is full of bright and bold illustrations, favouring coloured pencils and gouache. We love the contrast between the foreground image, drawn in solid lines, and the wavy lines of the now-empty cage.
Less weird but no less wonderful, our next choice is Belgian artist Els Dufourmount’s untitled sketch of a girl. Combining a close-up focus and bold shading, Dufourmount uses light and dark to add life to the girl’s face.
Gillian Lambert’s Self Deception series is stunning, and we struggled to chose just one illustration to feature. In the end we went for Hands because we love the simultaneous indifference and exasperation of the subject’s face as it is moulded by the hands.To see the full series, and Lambert’s other work, visit her website.
This sketch of a commuter on a train uses watercolour pencil, which we think conveys the artist/commuter relationship brilliantly. It provides enough detail to give the subject an individual face, but detail is deliberately missing. Artist Josu Maroto works in a variety of mediums, and you can explore more of his work here.
14. Self portrait with a cup of tea
French illustrator Cécile Metzger’s quirky self-portrait is fascinating for its use of colour. The hint of red pattern on the cup immediately attracts the eye, and together with the contrasting blue cup and orange top – opposite colours on the colour wheel – keeps focus away from the girl herself. To see more, check out Metzger's Tumblr.
15. The Least Likely Thing
Composed using soft and therefore much darker graphite, this sketch by Charlie Mackesy shows how effective blurring can be through two indistinct figures. Mackesy is a master of painting and sculpture, as well as drawing, and you can browse his portfolio here.