Home Magazine Famous Hyper-realist Artists working in Pencil

Learning how to draw the objects which surround us is a basic skill for artists. However, for some it is the main medium of their work, the tool to create more than a simple copy of the real world.

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Drawing is one of the first ways we capture our surroundings. It is the first essential skill for many artists. Apparently a simple technique, it relies on the association between what is depicted and the visual composition - lines, signs and textures.

It is an intuitive technique, which comes naturally to humankind. Although beautiful sketches and artworks on paper may seem like something impossible to master, drawing is not at all complex – it just involves a pencil and perhaps a rubber, a piece of chalk or a stick of charcoal.

It answers our need to observe, communicate and construct. Even children have an urge to draw. It makes us human.

However, it can also be an incredibly challenging skill to master. Leonardo Da Vinci's sketches meticulously depict the construction of military, hydraulic, or flight machines and human body parts, muscles and skeletons – they are an example of how drawing can be painstakingly studious. 

Robert Hooke, Illustration of flee in Micrographia, 1665, Courtesy of UCL Library Services.


For Renaissance artists preparatory pencil sketches have always been considered only an initial step, used to study the subject, muscular positions, facial expressions and objectual compositions. But nowadays this form of expression is respected by artists and experts as a technique in its own right – central and fundamental to many artists.

Today, for an amateur artist the essential tools are a sketch pad and a couple of pencils. If you want to experiment you can put colour on paper with a variety of premium graphite pencils. However, no need to rush out to buy a complete drawing set as most artists use what is available.

A simple first step for a beginner artist, but drawing is rightfully an art form in itself. Drawing remains central, even if many other precise tools and techniques have been developed - such as photography. But this artistic technique has become one which challenges us as observers.

More and more drawings are driving us to question the simplicity of this art form and its function of representation. In fact, some talented artists have created – through apparently simple drawings - an illusion of reality which is even more convincing than the real object itself. 

They have created an amplified version of reality, which reconstructs and analyses simple objects, views and details. The artworks are a hyper-reality on paper.


Leonardo Da Vinci, pencil sketch of a flying machine, ca. 1480, Courtesy of leonardodavinci.net


What is pencil art?

Pencil artworks could be either very simple or extremely elaborate. From the first sketches produced in cave-man paintings, to 20th century’s abstract art where drawings and compositions broke free with Klee, Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky or Mondrian – even nowadays with art, lines, colours and shapes have covered all types of surfaces, whether rough or brittle like rocks, porous paper, parchment, even wood or panels. Throughout the history of art, science and technology, drawings have always been central. 

The tool which is used now is the modern-day graphite pencil, a graphite core fitted into a hollow wooden case. In medieval times, a drawing was made with a metallic stylus, with a lead or silver point. The discovery of graphite, and the introduction of the cylindrical pencil, was a revolution not only for artists and scientists – but everyone! Who does not use pencils to scribble things down?

Success was caused by the fact that graphite pencils provided a substantial range of dark and light shading and tonal modelling. Hard graphite pencils are used to produce marked lines of figures and landscape details, while softer and darker graphite pencils offer rich colours and textures to artists - as we can see in the works by Eugène Delacroix and Vincent Van Gogh. 

Understanding the Power of Realistic drawings

Initially graphite was used for preliminary sketch lines for drawings to be completed in other media, but gradually its use increased among painters, miniaturists, architects, and designers. They started to use graphite for studies but, due to its flexibility, it was soon used for more complex artworks. 

The great masters of pencil drawing always kept the elements of lucid contours and limited shading. They were able to create a strong effect with only a few lines – like in the works of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Picasso. 

Nowadays pencil drawing is a vital skill that artists must learn. Mastering the technique every artist tries to replicate photographs. It is the ultimate objective of an aspiring artist. 

With coloured pencils, charcoal pencils, or the classic graphite pencil, some talented artists achieve more than an exact replica of the real world. The artwork on paper can appear as simple imitation, but the process, concept and the resulting effect is more powerful.

Since the ancient Greek artists ‘Mimesis’, copying reality in such a way that it mimics the real object – creating an extraordinary illusion – has been the aspiration of art. Continuing throughout history, the idea of art as imitation has always remained at the core.

For a great part of artistic tradition, the imitation of reality served the function of representing religious or mythological subjects, but with the advent in the 19th century Realism presented a naturalistic approach to imitation. With oil paints and big stretched canvases, artists started to create artworks which truthfully represented the reality around them. 

Depicting scenes of peasant and working-class life, the focus was on the outside world and the real life of people. These were depicted with humble honesty by the artists. For them they were the true subjects of the surrounding world.

Nowadays pencil drawing is a vital skill that artists must learn. Mastering the technique every artist tries to replicate photographs. It is the ultimate objective of an aspiring artist. With coloured pencils, charcoal pencils, or the classic graphite pencil, some talented artists achieve more than an exact replica of the real world. The artwork on paper can appear as simple imitation, but the process, concept and the resulting effect is extremely powerful


Hyper realistic drawing 

Hyper-realism is one of the biggest and most successful artistic genres of recent contemporary history. Known also as photorealism in painting, but even expanding to sculpture, this genre was born from a need to redefine Art itself. At the same time, in the 70s we already had Abstract Expressionism, Colour Field Art and Pop Art. These movements were pushing the boundaries of painting and art. 

With avant-garde movements, photography, and the following rise of Abstract Art, the focus on imitation became somewhat futile. Artists started to focus on the work, the medium, and how they could transform reality – rather than just create copies. Artists felt the need to search for a new purpose which would surpass the scope of photography. Photography had become extremely widespread, and this gradually shifted the purpose of Art as artists started to focus first on the act of painting and the quality of the paint textures and power of the materials, and then on the dissemination and production of their works.
As photographs slowly became more than a way of documenting the world around us, this fast medium was soon seen as a starting point – a tool for artists to reach a new purpose, which lay beyond the need to capture important moments or real life. Hyper-realistic drawings and paintings used photography to their advantage as the artist’s works captured and created more than what one could see in a photograph. 
It is not only the idea of drawing to imitate which returned in the 1960s-70s, with Photorealism and Hyper-realism artists also created illusionary, even exaggerated scenes in their works. In fact, these works attempted to replicate an augmented version of an object. In some way this re-centred the artist as the sole figure who could actually give more to the viewer, playing with light, the atmosphere and obsessively searching for details.  
The artist started to assume an inquisitive view on the imperfections and intensity of human existence and the balance of natural landscapes or still life compositions. Drawings, graphite, charcoal, oil and chalk were reaffirmed as superior to Photography, as pure Fine Art. Many artists in fact became used to shifting between these techniques becoming skilful geniuses dedicated to the creation of truly shocking masterpieces.  Hyper-realistic drawings and paintings had the ability of feeling overwhelmingly powerful, often emphasised by the large-scale dimension of the works. They present a raw and. delicate representation of humans and the world around us.
Many hyper-realist artists specialised in drawing, taking pencils to the extreme and making great use of the precision and flexibility of techniques in graphite pencil or coloured pencil artworks. Their drawings are over-charged images in direct opposition to photography, and in some way even to the object itself. These artworks on paper are incredible, like the way the artists have mastered coloured pencils and graphite pencils. They present us with an outstanding level of detail, rigorously created with a fine attention to all those details that a photograph or looking at the real object cannot give us.
It is the creation of a different reality which draws from a meticulous attention to what surrounds us, creating something unique and personal – far more than what we hastily and superficially see in the real world.
  Contemporary Hyper-realists working in Pencil

1. Paul Cadden

Scottish artist Paul Cadden is widely renowned for his hyper-realist drawings. Although his background is in print, illustration and animation, Cadden pursued a career in the Fine Arts. His works have been exhibited in London, New York, Glasgow, Andorra and Atlanta. 

His drawings are based on photographs and video stills. Inspired by the way media manipulates the audience by choosing certain topics over others, his intent is to portray the subject in detail, showing more than what can be perceived through a photograph. Manipulating reality, his drawings are overcharged images which carry an incredible emotional depth. 

See Cadden 2020 Solo Virtual Exhibition here.

n.d., Paul Cadden. Pencil on Paper. Courtesy of the artist.



2. Dirk Dzimirsky

Dirk Dzimirsky is a German artist known for his drawings and paintings. His technique is outstanding, which led his work to be shown in dozens of exhibitions around the globe and to enter numerous international collections.

He draws from photographs, focusing on exaggerated details and carefully constructed chiaroscuro effects. Nearly perfecting the real, his works create an emotionally charged and dramatic image which is both melancholic and enigmatic.

Dirk Dzimirsky working, n.d., Courtesy of Square Rock Group.


3. 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 work has been displayed in numerous venues, including in Edinburgh, London, Glasgow and Barcelona.

His works create imaginative settings, favouring unconventional angles. Often portraying just sections of portraits, he creates a spatial tension between the flat surface and apparent unfinished three-dimensionality of the drawing. The works present scenes which are both empty and full, precise details, incredibly realistic shadings and decontextualised images.


Jonny Shaw, Lip, 2010, Courtesy of the artist.


4. Maggie Tookmanian

Maggie Tookmanian graduated from Parsons with a BFA in Fashion. Working in fashion she took a lot from sculpture, and gradually moved towards an artistic career which combines a meticulous attention to detail and an in-depth understanding and knowledge of craft.

As well as working in sculpture, she also portrays her works in graphite drawings. Her intent is to present the subject and object in two different ways, giving two perspectives which are both an exact repetition and a completely different perspective.

Maggie Tookmanian, David Robert Jones Drawing, n.d., Courtesy of Saatchi Art.


5. Jesse Lane

From Texas, Jesse Lane studied Art both in Texas and in Italy. He has won numerous awards, including top honours from the Salmagundi Club, International Artist Magazine, the Colored Pencil Society of America and the Hudson Valley Art Association.

His portraits are made with coloured pencils because of the versatility and precision of this tool. Inspired by Caravaggio and the contrast between light rich colours and dark settings, he wants to create an extraordinary image. His works capture mystery and introspection, emotions and stories of power and vulnerability.

Jesse Lane, Adrenaline, n.d., Courtesy of veronicasart.com


6. Lewis Chamberlain

Born in East Yorkshire, Lewis Chamberlain graduated from the Slade School of Art in 1988. Exhibiting in New York and across the UK, he has been selected for six BP Portrait Awards. He won the Discerning Eye Competition and his works entered public and private collections in the UK and abroad.

His drawings and paintings are a hyper-realistic display of imaginative and playful scenes, bringing together the absurd, surreal and imaginative, with the recognisable. The closely scrutinised objects and scenes are greatly artificial, related to humans but with an emptiness which leaves the observer unsettled.

Lewis Chamberlain, Edge of the World, n.d, Courtesy of the artist.


7. CJ Hendry

Australian artist CJ Hendry is known for her hyper-realistic, large-scale works. Born in South Africa and raised in Australia, she studied Architecture before turning to the Arts.

Her subjects are luxury items and pop objects using over-saturated photographs to create her works. She translates these using colour and graphite pencil, and ink. Her work is reminiscent of the Pop Art movement, with her vivid colours, bold textures and sharp lines.

n.d., CJ Hendry, n.d., Courtesy of Grazia Magazine.


8. Armin Mersmann

Known mainly for his intense naturalistic graphite drawings, but also working with photographs and encaustic wax, Armin Mersmann is a German artist. Teaching as well as receiving multiple awards, his works have been shown across the US. 

Creating hyper-realist drawings, for him his art is a personal sanctuary. Mersmann is interested in portraying the way he sees the world rather than copying what he sees in photographs – pursuing a conceptual goal more than creating a perfect copy. 

Armin Mersmann, “Chasm”, unkown. Courtesy Artistsaday.com


9. Veri Apriyatno

Veri Apriyatno is a Indonesian artist. He graduated in Fine Art at the Bandung Institute of Technology, published six books since he graduated, and his works have been exhibited internationally in many institutions.

He is widely known for his large-scale self-portraits that play with optical illusions. Often working with mediums such as charcoal, pencil and acrylics, this Indonesian artist has a unique style characterized by the extreme photorealism in surreal and imaginative compositions. 

Veri Apriyatno drawing ‘HEIGHT WAYS Drawing’, n.d., Courtesy of Saatchi Art.


10. Arinze Stanley Egbengwu

Arinze Stanley Egbengwu is a young Nigerian artist, who graduated from IMO State University in Agricultural Engineering. Drawn to the simple tools of pencil and paper, Egbengwu’s aim is to find meticulous self-expression through a patient and persistent artistic practice.

Mostly using charcoal and graphite to complete his hyper-realist drawings, he is interested in political issues related to race, feminism and modern slavery and explores these themes in his works. He uses his personal experience for his subjects, hoping that his art can speak for those who cannot.

11. Cath Riley

Cath Riley is a British artist with a BA in Embroidery and an MA in Fine arts. Her work was been exhibited in London and New York, and won multiple awards. With a focus on the three-dimensional potential of the drawings, she has had many commissions over the years.

Most of Riley’s works have an emphasis on texture, shading and shape. She portrays various subjects, from still life to portraits, and studies of the human figure. Her works are very illustrative with an outstanding technique. For her, the drawings are part of an ongoing exploration and artistic development.


Cath Riley, “Doc Martens”, unknown. Courtesy debutart.com.


12. DiegoKoi

Known as DiegoKoi, Diego Fazio is a self-taught Italian artist who has developed a particularly refined technique. Initially he exclusively drew the Koi Carp, a type of fish found in Japan and China which symbolises love and friendship. The internet influenced his success story, leading him to exhibit in many art fairs and galleries worldwide. 

His works are incredibly detailed, delicate and carefully constructed. Fazio’s works play with highlight and shade, creating a mesmerizing contrast in the figures depicted. Focusing on a variety of subjects he shows a great deal of flexibility and ease with the materials and techniques he uses. 


Diego Fazio, Riflesso, n.d. Courtesy of the artist.


13. Gottfried Helnwein

Austrian-Irish artist Gottfried Helnwein is known for his photorealistic paintings of psychological subjects. Working as a painter, photographer, muralist, sculptor, installation and performance artist, he uses a variety of media in his work. However, the power of his images, in paintings and drawings, is definitely controversial. His works present anxiously provoking scenes which refer to historical and political themes, or disturbing portraits and compositions of children often holding weapons and covered in blood.

Gottfried Helnwein, Temptation II, 1999, Courtesy of the Artist.



14. Emanuele Dascanio

Emanuele Dascanio was born in 1983, in Northern Italy at Garbagnate Milanese. He learnt traditional techniques with Gianluca Corona, who handed down the skills taught to him by Master Mario Donizetti. Continually working on improving his skills, he has been recognised as one of the most accomplished drawing artists winning numerous international awards. Extreme precision and traditional methods characterise his paintings and drawings which are photographic replicas of still life compositions. The extremely realistic drawings play with a delicate light which makes the figures appear just out of reach.

15. István Sándorfi

István Sándorfi was a Hungarian hyperrealist painter, born in Budapest in 1948. Because of his father’s affiliation with an American company, under the Communist regime his family was first deported, and then able to flee to Germany and France. The effect of the political situation drew him to drawing and painting and to study Fine Arts.

His works are mastered compositions, balanced colours and smooth shades which fade into each other. The subjects are predominantly human figures, depicted with incredible attention to detail in intensely emotional and dramatic scenes.


16. Claudio Bravo

Claudio Bravo was a Chilean painter born in 1936. He is known for his hyperrealist still life works, balancing classicism and eroticism. Fighting against his fathers will, he pursued art, painting and studying with Miguel Venegas, copying old masterpieces to develop his technique. 

In the six decades of his career he produced more than 500 works, studies and drawings, which search for an obsessive imitation of real life. His works are shaped on a uniquely refined aesthetic which combines a sculptural knowledge and sinuously flowing lines with a clean light palette.

Claudio Bravo, Papel Blanco / White Paper, 2006, Courtesy of Artsy © 2021 Artsy-


Richard Estes, Times Square, 2004, Courtesy of WikiArt ©Richard Estes.


17. Celia De Serra

Celia De Serra, born in 1973 and living in the Welsh borders, is a painter who recently has been primarily creating drawings. She chooses this art form for the sensitivity and involvement she senses when using pencils, which in her view connect her more to the subject of her work.

She pays particular attention to the light and atmosphere in her works, focusing on depicting trees to describe paths, tracks and journeys, trying to break down the ‘cramped’ visual landscape of Northern European Woodlands


18. Mary Jane Ansell

Mary Jane Ansell is an English artist. She was a finalist at the BP Portrait awards in 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2012. Her work has been selected several times by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition and The Threadneedle Prize.

Her works, paintings, prints and drawings, present intriguing narratives of dramatic intensity and her portraits are full of historical nostalgia. The history she depicts, drawing from the traditions of portraiture, is the result of a narrative constructed with the sitter, or based on personal memories. The portraits have both a personal depth and a subtle political one.

Mary Jane Ansell, Girl in a Cocked Hat, 2010, Courtesy of the Artist.


19. Chiamonwu Joy

Chiamonwu Joy was born in 1995, in the Anambra state in Nigeria. From 2014, Chiamonwu Joy has focused passionately on hyper-realism. Now, she masters graphite and charcoal pencils using these media to create artworks with an extreme level of detail. As Chiamonwu Joy explains, she draws inspiration and aims to preserve the history, heritage, beauty and uniqueness of African people and her culture, using her artworks to pass this on to future generations.


20. Richard Phillips

Richard Phillips is an immensely influential American artist, born in 1962. He is extremely well known for his large-scale photorealistic paintings. His works take from the glossy imagery of magazines. For him art and fashion are not separate, but interwoven.

His paintings use wax and oil paint to reproduce the shiny surface of a magazine page, yet his drawings are also impressive. Less famous than his paintings, there is a transparent and humble aspect to the incredibly sculptural and hazy works made with a mix of charcoal, graphite and chalk.
Richard Phillips, Old Granddad, 2000.


21. Chuck Close

American artist Chuck Close, born in 1940, is a famous hyper-realist painter. As one of the prominent authors of this movement, he is particularly well known for his large-scale portraits. According to him it is Prosopagnosia, the inability to recognise faces, which has sustained him to make portraits central to his artistic practice.

Reproducing and magnifying the images seen in photographs, his work is the result of a gradual rejection of Abstract Expressionism. All the attention is on the details of the human figure, including all the flaws and imperfections, and the blurriness and distortion found in photographs. Nevertheless, even if highlighting the defects, his large-scale works are monumental.

Chuck Close, John, 1972-3, Courtesy of the Tate and Pace Wildenstein ©Chuck Close.


Cover image: Gottfried Helnwein, Temptation II, 1999, Courtesy of the Artist.

Written by Zoë Rivas Zanello

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