Pencil drawing, drawing executed with an instrument composed of graphite enclosed in a wood casing and intended either as a sketch for a more elaborate work in another medium, an exercise in visual expression, or a finished work. The cylindrical graphite pencil, because of its usefulness in easily producing linear gray-black strokes, became the successor of the older, metallic drawing stylus, with which late medieval and Renaissance artists and tradesmen sketched or wrote on paper, parchment, or wood.
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Pencil drawings can be rendered in so much photorealistic detail as to fool the eye, while a line drawing has the ability to communicate volumes more than what is shown on paper. Indeed, the humble pencil can be a powerful and versatile tool in the hands of a skilled and inspired artist. Whether you’re looking for highly detailed pencil drawings, rough sketches, colored pencil drawings, pencil with ink wash, or pencil with watercolor, we’re sure that you’ll discover works you love within our diverse selection of original pencil drawings for sale by artists from around the world.
Illustration 15 beautiful pencil drawings to inspire you 15 beautiful pencil drawings to inspire you
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.
French Neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres is known for using limited shading and precise lines to draw his pencil portraits. Adrian Ludwig Richter is similarly recognized for his sharp, wiry lines. Many painters began as draftsmen, as they sketched studies for their painted works. Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh, and Paul Cezanne, for example, sketched pencil drawings of flowers and landscape scenes. Gustav Klimt developed his own style as a draftsman, breaking away from the traditional three-dimensional shaded approach to create figures with pure line. His sketches like “Lasciviousness” for his Beethoven Frieze (1902) instead emphasize the flatness of picture’s surface. Other famous pencil drawings include Willem de Kooning’s “Two Women” (1952) and Pablo Picasso’s “Still Life with Glass, Apple, Playing Card, and Package of Tobacco” (1913). Eugene Delacroix, Amedeo Modigliani, Edgar Degas, John Singer Sargent, Walter Osbourne, William Strang, and Stephen McKenna are just a few other artists known for their pencil drawings.
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Pen drawing, artwork executed wholly or in part with pen and ink, usually on paper. Pen drawing is fundamentally a linear method of making images. In pure pen drawing in which the artist wishes to supplement his outlines with tonal suggestions of three-dimensional form, modeling must necessarily be effected by…
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.
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.”
The preciseness and clarity associated with the use of a moderately hard graphite pencil were developed in the highly selective draftsmanship of the 19th-century French Neoclassicist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. His figure sketches and portrait studies were the epitome of pencil drawing in which lucid contours and limited shading combined to create a spirit of elegance and restraint. Many artists throughout Europe accepted this manner, including such German draftsmen as Adrian Ludwig Richter, who preferred the hardest of pencils and sharpest of points to produce wirelike delineations of figures and landscapes. Softer and darker graphite pencils offered appropriate effects to artists whose tastes required more freedom and spontaneity. The sketches of the Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix, created swiftly and filled with flamboyant and undetailed strokes, had a suggestiveness of dramatic figures and compositions. Vincent van Gogh chose a broad carpenter’s pencil for powerful, blunt strokes. To emulate the brilliant atmosphere of Provence, Paul Cézanne employed the pencil, especially in his sketchbooks, to produce highly reductive landscape sketches that made expert use of graphite’s inherent silvery value.
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.
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James Martin played around with lost and found edges in this life drawing
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.
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.
Dave Brasgalla layered up his pencil marks to create this delicate 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.
How to draw a faceHow to hold a pencil properlyUse negative space to create water effects in pencil
Graphite, mineral consisting of carbon. Graphite has a layered structure that consists of rings of six carbon atoms arranged in widely spaced horizontal sheets. Graphite thus crystallizes in the hexagonal system, in contrast to the same element crystallizing in the octahedral or tetrahedral system…
“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.”
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.”
In the 17th century, graphite pencils replaces the metallic drawing styluses previously used by Medieval and Renaissance draftsmen. Dutch artists were known for their early graphite landscape drawings. In 1795, French painter Nicolas-Jacques invented what is now the modern pencil lead from a mixture of clay and graphite This invention allowed artists to have more control over the density and shade of graphite they used, and the tool subsequently increased in popularity amongst painters, architects, designers, and miniaturists. By the 19th century, pencil drawings were mainly a way for artists to sketch preliminary compositions and studies for paintings and sculptures. The introduction of other fine art pencils, including colored, watercolor, crayon, and charcoal varieties, expanded the medium’s versatility, and pencil drawings became a fine art form in their own right. Today, many artists continue the tradition and often combine pencil lead with other mediums for more dynamic drawings.
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This mouthwatering still life was created by Steven E Hughes
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.
Charcoal drawing, use of charred sticks of wood to make finished drawings and preliminary studies. The main characteristic of charcoal as a medium is that, unless it is fixed by the application of some form of gum or resin, it is impermanent, easily erased or smudged.
This characteristic determined its…
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.
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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.
Although pencil drawings were much less commonly produced by artists of those centuries than sketches in chalks, charcoal, and pen and ink, the use of graphite gradually increased among painters, miniaturists, architects, and designers. By the late 18th century, an ancestor of the modern pencil was constructed in the form of a rod of natural graphite fitted into a hollow cylinder of wood. Not until 1795, however, did the French inventor Nicolas-Jacques Conté devise a method of producing pencil rods from mixtures of graphite and clays, a true prototype of the modern graphite pencil. Conté’s technical improvement made possible the production of fine pencils the strokes of which could be controlled, varying from type to type in softness and hardness, darkness and lightness. These excellent quality graphite pencils encouraged wider use by 19th-century artists, and pencil drawing became commonly used for studies and preliminary sketches. The graphite pencil could be used on almost any type of drawing surface, a fact that helped make it indispensable in the artist’s studio.
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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.
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.
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Artists who work with graphite lead praise its versatility. Harder and darker leads produce fine lines for more detailed pencil drawings, while soft and light lead is usually reserved for modeling and shading. Artists who make dark art pencil drawings often aim for sharp precision, while softer leads are more often associated with fluid, spontaneous lines. Typical drawing techniques include hatching, crosshatching, blending shades, and scumbling, in which the artist moves the pencil along the surface of the work in small circular motions. Artists often experiment with different kinds of pencils to make charcoal, watercolor, or colored pencil drawings. They also combine graphite lead with other mediums, including pastels, watercolors, and gouache, to spruce up monochromatic images. Pencil and ink drawings are also a common approach as the ink shades complement and play off one another.
“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.”
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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.”
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.
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.
This sketch is a great example of wonderfully weird pencil art
One of the most sensitive users of the graphite pencil in the 19th century was the French artist Edgar Degas. A master pastelist and draftsman with coloured chalks and charcoal, Degas created pencil drawings of warmth and charm that were quite unlike the cool, classic works of Ingres or the highly animated, sometimes violent sketches of Delacroix. Degas, with high selectivity, combined graciously fluid outlines with soft, limpid tonal shadings.
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Ink, fluid or paste of various colours, but usually black or dark blue, used for writing and printing. It is composed of a pigment or dye dissolved or dispersed in a liquid called the vehicle.…
Into the 21st century, artists continued to use the graphite pencil as a device for autonomous artworks as well as for sketching and for making preliminary rehearsals of conceptions later carried out in painting or sculpture—e.g., Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, and others whose taste for basically linear conceptions is revealed in their graphic works.
Jake Spicer thinks the best portraits are created when you can meet and sketch the model in person
Chalk drawing, in the visual arts, technique of drawing with chalk, a prepared natural stone or earth substance that is usually available in black (made either from soft black stone or from a composition including lampblack), white (made from various types of limestone), and red, or sanguine (made from red…
Although graphite was mined in the 16th century, the use by artists of pieces of natural graphite, inserted in a porte-crayon (“pencil holder”), is not known before the 17th century. Then minor graphite details were included in sketches, notably in landscape renderings by Dutch artists. During that century and most of the 18th, graphite was used to make preliminary sketch lines for drawings to be completed in other media, but drawings completely finished with graphite were rare.
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.
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.
Untitled #27 (Waterfall) | 130 cm X 113 cm | Limited edition
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.
Although graphite pencils provided a substantial range of light–dark effects and the opportunity for tonal modeling, the greatest masters of pencil drawing always kept the elements of a simple linearism or limited shading that were appropriate to pencil drawing. This concept of pencil drawing contrasted with that sometimes employed in the 18th and 19th centuries in which extensive tonal modeling of three-dimensional forms and elaborate effects of light and shade were produced by artists and miniaturists by rubbing the soft graphite particles with a stump, a tightly rolled piece of soft paper or chamois.
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.