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Learning how to draw is a primary skill that every artist tries to master before diving deep into the creative world. And some of these artists make drawing their only form of creativity, being experts of the pencil technique and challenging the reality of its real object.

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Drawing is probably the most archaic form of expression that is still in use today. It is the simplest way to communicate through visual elements and association, and probably it is the most genuine skill ever. People that draw as an extensive part of their daily lives have a different and more intimate outlook on the world. Think about children, and how they learn how to draw and assemble shapes, colours and lines before they know how to communicate properly. Drawing is indeed an integral part of our communicative beings. 

Drawing may be an intuitive skill when needed, but also an incredibly challenging skill to master. 

Drawing is the first and an essential skill of any artist. The preparatory pencil sketches of Renaissance artists, for example, have always been considered only as initial elements of the creative process. But today, this form of expression is taken very seriously by the art market. Why? because the medium of drawing is, in all respects, a form of art. Leonardo da Vinci's sketches that meticulously depict the construction of military, hydraulic, or flight machines and the representation of parts of the human body, such as muscles and skeleton, are really impressive.

Leonardo da vinci, pencil sketch of a flying machine, 1480 ca.


What is pencil art?

Throughout art, history, science and technology, we are faced with the dominance of drawings. From the cave-man paintings - the first pencil sketches produced by the human hand - until 20th century’s abstract art (Klee, Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Mondrian), lines, colors and shapes have always crossed any type of drawing surfaces, rough and brittle like rocks, or porous like paper, parchment, or wood. Pencil art could be a simple or elaborate drawing executed with an instrument composed of graphite: the medieval metallic drawing stylus, the cylindrical graphite pencil, a natural graphite fitted into a hollow cylinder of wood, until the modern graphite pencil. During the 17th Century and most of the 18th, graphite was used to make preliminary sketch lines for drawings to be completed in other media, but gradually its use increased among painters, miniaturists, architects, and designers for studies and more complex, autonomous artworks in the artist’s studio. The success was due to the fact that graphite pencils provided a substantial range of darkness and lightness shading and tonal modeling. Despite that, the greatest masters of pencil drawing always kept the elements of lucid contours and limited shading. Simple linearity to create a spirit of elegance, like in Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Picasso’s drawings. Moderately hard graphite pencil to produce marked delineations of figures and landscape’s details, while softer and darker graphite pencils offered a flamboyant attitude, freedom and spontaneity, to artists such as Eugène Delacroix and Vincent Van Gogh.


Pablo Picasso, portrait of Igor Stravinsky. Image via


A self-portrait of a sunburned Van Gogh. Photograph: Éditions du Seuil. Image via The Guardian.


Mastering technique through different forms of realism

Nowadays, pencil drawing is still a vital skill that the artist should master when entering traditional forms of creative education. To master the technique, it does not necessarily mean that one should pursue any type of realism. But when in the initial stages of learning, it is something that every artist tries to achieve- to replicate a photograph because that means that the artist is inherently good, an expert of the technique. With the rise of photography in the contemporary world, artists started feeling this need to create a new kind of movement. Hyperrealism succeeded the Realism and Photorealism movements in the ’60s, but it sought very different convictions. While in Realism and Photorealism, the artist sought to distance themselves from the subject, only focusing on portraying the seen, Hyperrealism aimed for its complete opposite. Hyperrealism was about the connection with the subject, rendering emotive narratives though its compositions. Photorealism was more about the accuracy, while Hyperrealism was more about a consciousness of the subjects through extreme attention to detail. Hyperrealism creates worlds close to ours but somewhat illusionary, exposing a new reality of the existent subjects into an extreme perfection of the real. 

Most of these drawings are done using dry mediums such as graphite or coloured pencils, charcoals and pastels. Some artists also enjoy using ink to either finish some details of work on its entirety. 


Contemporary Pencil Artists

1. Paul Cadden

Started drawing at the age of 6, Cadden is a widely renowned Scottish artist for his hyperrealist drawings. Although his background is in print, illustration and animation, Cadden has pursued a Fine Arts pathway. He is inspired by the way media manipulates the audience through favouring specific arguments over others. His drawings are based on photographs and video stills, using various mediums with a preference for the pencil. The artist wants his works to portrait the subject in detail, often showing more than the eye could perceive through a photograph. His drawings are overcharged images with an incredible emotional depth. Cadden has been exhibited in London, New York, Glasgow, Andorra and Atlanta.

See Cadden 2020 Solo Virtual Exhibition here.


Paul Cadden working in his studio, undated. Courtesy Paul Cadden Facebook Page.


 Paul Cadden, “After Dzimirsky”, undated. Courtesy


2. Adonna Khare

Adonna Khare is an American artist, widely known for her realistic pencil compositions of wild animals. She creates surreal worlds where different animals inhabit her spatial imagination. Khare won the ArtPrize competition in 2012, which was a significant step in her career towards long-term success. Now the artist is actively using social media to spread her surreal worlds to a bigger audience. 


Adonna Khare, “Play with Matches”, 2015. Courtesy


3. CJ Hendry

CJ Hendry is a freshly new recognized artist that spread her talent throughout Instagram and other social media platforms. She is a Contemporary Australian artist that is interested in drawing luxury and pop culture objects in colour/graphite pencil or ink. Hendry uses over-saturated photographs to create her hyperrealistic, large-scaled works. The artist is often related to the Pop-Art movement because of the subjects she depicts. Also, the vivid colours, textures and sharp lines fascinate every viewer, making her possibly one of the biggest females leading the movement nowadays. 


CJ Hendry, undated.  Courtesy of the artist through Grazia Magazine.


CJ Hendry posing with her work. Courtesy The Cool Hunter.


4. Diego Fazzio

Diego Fazzio is a self-taught Italian artist that successfully has been impressing the art world with his outstanding hyperrealist technique. Internet was a massive influence in his success story, which led him to exhibit in many Art fairs and galleries worldwide. His works are incredibly detailed, and he often varies the subject of compositions. Fazzio’s technique is praised especially for the way he works with highlights and shades, creating a mesmerizing contract in the depicted figures. 


Diego Fazzio, “Riflesso”, undated. Courtesy @Diego Koi’s Instagram.


5. Dirk Dzimirsky

Dirk Dzimirsky is a German professional artist who is often confused with Paul Cadden. His drawings are very emotive and dramatic, enhancing the feelings of the depicted subject. He draws from photographs, focusing on exaggerating details to its extreme, perfecting the real. Dzimirsky images have a very melancholic feel to it, creating a “distinct atmosphere in which my characters seem to be caught up in the artificial reality of dreams”. His technique is outstanding, which led him to dozens of exhibitions around the globe. 


Dirk Dzimirsky, “Magnetic Field”, 2014. Courtesy


6. Monica Lee

Monica Lee is a Malaysian artist that is passionate about creating photo-realistic pencil drawings. Her work is largely praised worldwide, which can be seen through the community that actively follows her on social media. The artist intentionally likes to play with the reality of an object, engaging the viewer in questioning if what they are seeing is a photo or a drawing. 


Monica Lee, “Connor”, 2017. Courtesy @zephyrxavier


7. Hector Gonzalez

Hector Gonzalez is a Columbian artist that is passionate about graphite pencil drawing. The photorealist artist enjoys portraying emotion through the eyes. One of his signature images is the surrealist composition of the eyes with hands coming out of it. His drawings often feature a very smooth contrasting between shade but with sharp endings. 


Hector Gonzalez, “The eyes have it”, undated. Courtesy


8.Kelvin Okafor

Kelvin Okafor is a graduate Fine Art student at Middlesex University, London that is mostly admired nowadays. In his website, he offers webinars and courses to teach others how to master the drawing as he does. Okafor is a humble and highly emotional individual in his practice, which can be perceived by the dreamy atmosphere he creates through his pencils. The artist is passionate about drawing portraits; Okafor loves to tell a story and that through faces, he can do to that regardless of gender or race.


Kelvin Okafor, “Jasmin’s Interlude”, 2015. Courtesy Kelvin Okafor Twitter.


9. Franco Clun

Franco Clun is a self-taught Italian artist that is a master of the hyperrealist movement through graphite. He produces photographic level drawings with extreme attention to detail. Although his works are often confused with photographs, through his compositions, he manages to represent the soul of the subjects demonstrating that the artist is a very humble and sensitive individual. Clun recurrently draws celebrities or well-known figures, but he also draws animals, landscapes and everyday sceneries. 


Franco Clun, “Daria Meadow”, 2012. Courtesy Franco Clun Deviantart.


10. Paul Lung

Paul Lung is a graphite pencil artist from Hong Kong that has a unique technique in his practice. His drawings usually take around 60 hours to complete, and he never uses the eraser. His favourite subject is his cat. 


Paul Lung, Untitled, 2006. Courtesy


11. David Kao

Starting to draw cars at the age of three, David Kao is a self-taught artist and an enthusiast for car portraiture. He considers himself a perfectionist, and he perfected his drawing skills through experimentation of different techniques. Although Kao started at a very young age to develop this passion, it was not only until he was 19 that he began to pursue a more photorealist pathway in his drawings. Currently, he is now drawing anymore as a full-time artist, but his drawings are still widely admired. 


David Kao at a early age showing his drawing, unknown. Courtesy David Kao – Pencil Cars Website.


David Kao, “Widebody BMW E46 M3 with Vossen wheels”, unknown. Courtesy


12. Cath Riley

Cath Riley is a British artist with a BA in Embroidery and an MA in Fine arts. With a focus on the three-dimensional potential of the drawings, she has won over many clients over the years such as Nike, Adidas, The New York Times, Aston Martin, The Economist, etc. Most of Riley’s works have an emphasis on texture, shading and shape. She portraits various subjects, from still life to portraits, her works are very illustrative with an outstanding technique. 


Cath Riley, “Doc Martens”, unknown. Courtesy


13. Jonny Shaw

Jonny Shaw is a Fine Art graduate from The Glasgow School of Art with a meticulous eye for three-dimensionality contrasts and textures. His works blend an imaginative setting between Hyperrealism and time. Shaw favours unconventional angles and shading techniques, often portraying just abstract portions of a particular portrait, creating a spatial tension between the flat surface and apparent unfinished three-dimensionality of the drawing. 


Jonny Shaw, Untitled, Unknown. Courtesy


14. Giacomo Burattini

Giacomo Burattini is an Italian artist that fell in love with hyperrealism only a few years ago. In his drawings, he chases the imperfections of the body, representing them in a genuine, raw and breath-taking combination of techniques. He uses charcoal and graphite to complete his compositions. 


Giacomo Burattini, “Apnoea”, 2013. Courtesy


15. Stan Bossard

Stan Bossard is a French artist who loves drawing with graphite pencils since the age of 14. He enjoys capturing the essence of photography through the play of contrasts and textures. Bossard’s main subjects are celebrities in which he prefers drawing iconic female figures such as Marilyn Monroe. Although relatively young (born in 1993), he likes to draw older celebrities rather than fresher, trendier pop culture stars. 


Stan Bossard, “Marilyn Monroe”, 2009. Courtesy Stan Bossard Deviantart.


16. Glenn Keelan

Glenn Keelan is an Ireland based artist working with pastels and coloured pencil. As is guessed, achieving hyperrealist drawing through the use of black and white mediums is already hard, and Keelan exceeds this difficulty with his coloured compositions. The artist states that the use of pencils allows him to have control over the artwork, depicting raw and organic images. Keelan is interested in the fragility and imperfections of the human condition being it the main reason why he draws portraits. 


Glenn Keelan, Untitled, 2019. Courtesy Glenn


17. Jeannette Sirois

Jeannette Sirois is a professional artist working with coloured pencils as a full-time job. She creates large vivid, and realistic scale botanical drawings and portraits. The artist has been exhibited worldwide, and she has also been a finalist for the Kingston Portrait Prize. Through her botanical drawings, she captures the blooming essence of nature in a poetic gesture of colours. Sirois is able to represent movement in her still images through the use of various textures and compositions. Although more recognized for her botanical drawings, Sirois is incredibly good with portraits as well. 


Jeannette Sirois, “Blue Iris”, Undated. Courtesy West End Gallery.


18. Arinze Stanley Egbengwu

Arinze Stanley Egbengwu is a young Nigerian artist. He started drawing when he was only six and has developed his passion since then. Egbengwu uses mostly charcoal and graphite to complete his hyperrealist drawings. He is very intrigued by political issues related to race, feminism and modern slavery to which he explores in his works. The artists state that he uses his personal experience for his subjects and hopes that his art can speak for those who cannot. 


Arinze Stanley Egbengwu, “WAILING WAILING AND WAILING”, 2017. Courtesy



19. Veri Apriyatno

Veri Apriyatno is a graduate Fine Art (Painting), Indonesian artist. He is widely known for his large-scale self-portraits that play with optical illusion. The artist often works with mediums such as charcoal, pencil, and acrylics. The Indonesian artist has a unique style characterized by the extreme photorealism in surreal and imaginative compositions. He has published six books since he graduated and also has exhibited in many institutions internationally.


Veri Apriyatno, “Window to the Soul”, unknown. Courtesy Daily Mail.


20. Armin Mersmann

Armin Mersmann is a German graphite pencil artist born in 1955. He grew up in an artistic setting which heavily influenced his passion for drawing from an early age. Mersmann not only works in Hyperrealism but also works in photography and encaustic wax. The artist states that his works can take more than 1800 hours to finish each, and those hours feel like he is in a sacred state of mind. Mersmann says that he is interested in portraying the way he sees the worlds, rather than translating whatever he sees in photography. Not interested in pursuing any kind of realism, the artist wants to reinvent his creative language as a map towards himself.


Armin Mersmann, “Chasm”, unkown. Courtesy



21. Jono Dry

Jono Dry is a self-taught artist from South Africa. He is known to be a photo-realistic-surrealist artist working in large scale graphite drawings. Dry spends around two months working in each drawing, and his subjects are inspired by collected photographs and everyday objects. His practice aims to speak up about mental health issues and the complexities of identity. Primarily influenced by mythology, Dry creates surreal drawings with exceptional attention to detail.


Jono Dry, “Autumn”, 2016. Courtesy


Jono Dry posing with his work at his studio, 2019. Courtesy @jonodry


Cover image: Franco Clun, unknown, undated. Courtesy Aviat Studios

Written by Tania Teixeira and Petra Chiodi

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