If you’re a complete novice, you should have a look at our seven fundamental pencil drawing techniques and our 100 drawing and painting tips and tutorials. But if you’re ready to go, here some of the artists that contributed to the Beginner’s Guide to Sketching offer some expert advice to get you off to a flying start…
“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.”
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 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.
If you want to sketch a sky, artist Marisa Lewis has some advice: “Sometimes it’s preferable for your shading to be less sketchy and more smooth and subtle. Pencil lines don’t blend perfectly unless you’re very careful. We don’t want a sky full of scribbles, unless it’s on purpose.
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.
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.
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.
Keep a nice contrast going between a finished look and a more of a sketchy feel
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.
Take control of your pencil by holding it correctly, says illustrator Sylwia Bomba. “If you position your hand closer to the end of the pencil, you have more control and precision, but heavier strokes (darker markings). Gripping further up the pencil will give you less control and precision, but lighter strokes (lighter markings).”
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“Instead, use spare paper to doodle a big swatch of soft graphite or charcoal pencil, then use a large blending stick to pick up the soft dust to use for your image. Keep using the blending stick and adding more scribbles as you need more graphite. Using the same technique, start darkening some areas of the sky to define the tops of the clouds.”
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“To test out whether your characters are readable as silhouettes, grab a piece of tracing paper and trace around your character, filling it in with a solid colour. A great way to test your silhouettes is to show them to your friends or colleagues and ask them what they see.”
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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.
“Have you ever noticed that every important character in an animation movie is recognisable from their shadow alone?”, says artist Leonardo Sala. “This magic has a name: the silhouette. The purpose of finding a strong and interesting silhouette is to create an easily recognisable character that will remain clear in the visual memory of the viewer.
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.
Jake Spicer thinks the best portraits are created when you can meet and sketch the model in person
Shifts in the width and darkness of your lines will create interest
“When shading, use an extra piece of paper underneath your hand,” advises artist Brun Croes. “This will minimise the amount your hand smudges your pencil lines. If you’re right-handed, start shading from left to right; if you’re left-handed, start at the right and move to the left.
The Beginner’s Guide to Sketching is a book that offers lots of inspiration and advice for anyone looking to take their first creative steps or wanting to add a new piece to their design portfolio. The comprehensive guide covers everything from choosing the right drawing tools to understanding shading and value, adding colour, and creating a finished scene.
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.
If you look at the examples here, it’s clear that the first girl is holding a mug, but what about the second one? It’s not as clear!
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.
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.
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.”
Use varied lines, says illustrator Rovina Cai. “Not all lines are equal. Subtle shifts in the width and darkness of your lines will create a dynamic, visually interesting drawing. Controlling the kind of mark you put down can be tricky in the beginning, but with practice you will be able to create a variety of marks that work together to make a cohesive image. Experiment with different pencil grades (from 3H to 6B) and with holding the pencil at different angles.”
“A benefit of tracing paper is that you can flip it over to see how your drawing looks from the reverse angle,” advises artist Justin Gerard. “This can help reveal errors in proportion. As you work, take advantage of this in order to arrive at a more successful drawing.”
This sketch is a great example of wonderfully weird pencil art
This mouthwatering still life was created by Steven E Hughes
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.
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“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
“Double this wavy line a little below the first. You can already see a curly ribbon forming before you. Now connect the open parts on the sides, remove the guidelines, and add some details.”
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.
How to draw a faceHow to hold a pencil properlyUse negative space to create water effects in pencil
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.
Use an extra piece of paper under your hand to avoid smudging your work
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.
Dave Brasgalla layered up his pencil marks to create this delicate iris
Designer Patricia Ann Lewis-MacDougall suggests keeping some texture. “Some artists might find using watercolour pencils a little on the grainy side; however I like the added life the grain gives to a sketch. You don’t have to add water over the whole image. Leave some areas untouched to add a bit of texture to your sketch.”
James Martin played around with lost and found edges in this life drawing
“The use of irregular lines when shading adds a lot of dynamism to your sketch,” Bomba says. “If you want to create a fresh and unique sketch of a portrait, architecture, or concept art, you should definitely use this technique. I use it to sketch loosely, flat backgrounds (if there is no texture, this technique will add some), bushes, or grass.”
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.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to make a clean-looking drawing that loses its brilliance and value thanks to smudging. Instead, use smudging to your advantage every now and then to smooth out shading. You can do this with several tools. I use a simple piece of tissue paper to get the job done.”
Want to draw curly hair? Illustrator Eva Widermann suggests these sketching tips: “Draw two straight vertical lines; these will be your guidelines for the width and length of the curl. Now loosely draw a wavy line down between the two lines.
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.
Create subtle shading by smudging large areas of soft charcoal
“I like symmetrical drawings but they often look boring all too quickly,” says Croes. “A good way to prevent this is to add some subtle changes and only keep the general lines symmetrical instead of mirroring every small part. Keeping some elements asymmetrical helps to avoid boring repetition.”
Illustration 15 beautiful pencil drawings to inspire you 15 beautiful pencil drawings to inspire you