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 (opens in new tab) that demonstrate the wonderful (and sometimes wacky) art you can produce with a pencil. These pencil drawings span from photorealism (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab).
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01. Siberian Iris(opens in new tab)
This delicate pencil drawing is the work of Dave Brasgalla (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab) 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.
03. Sorcha(opens in new tab)
This mesmerising pencil drawing is the work of veteran illustrator and fine artist James Martin (opens in new tab). 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 (opens in new tab). “Hard edges draw attention, while soft or lost edges give the eye a place to rest."
04. Poppy(opens in new tab)
Melanie Phillips (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab).
06. Doughnuts(opens in new tab)
Steven E Hughes (opens in new tab) 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.
07. Gigi(opens in new tab)
This striking portrait was drawn by artist Jake Spicer (opens in new tab), 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)(opens in new tab)
Many of Colombian artist Juan Osorno’s (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) page.
09. Standing Man & Stretch(opens in new tab)
We just couldn’t pick a favourite from Mike Lee’s superb pencil drawing collection Repose (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab).
10. Untitled(opens in new tab)
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 (opens in new tab), whose Instagram (opens in new tab) 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.
11. Untitled(opens in new tab)
Less weird but no less wonderful, our next choice is Belgian artist Els Dufourmount’s (opens in new tab) 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.
12. Hands(opens in new tab)
Gillian Lambert’s Self Deception (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab).
13. Untitled(opens in new tab)
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 (opens in new tab).
14. Self portrait with a cup of tea(opens in new tab)
French illustrator Cécile Metzger’s (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) – keeps focus away from the girl herself. To see more, check out Metzger's Tumblr (opens in new tab).
15. The Least Likely Thing(opens in new tab)
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 (opens in new tab).
- How to draw a face (opens in new tab)
- How to hold a pencil properly (opens in new tab)
- Use negative space to create water effects in pencil (opens in new tab)