The Most Famous Graphite Pencil Artists and Drawings in History


The practice of making detailed graphite pencil drawings goes back to the the 17th and 18th centuries, when Plumbago drawings were popular for minor portraits. Plumbago refers to the combination of graphite and clay that makes up the core of most graphite pencils even to this day. These plumbago portraits were primarily drawn on vellum, not paper, and their details and shading tend to be lighter than the hyper-realistic pencil portraits of today

A few hundred years later, our contemporary artists are mastering the art of pencil drawing. Unlike in those past eras when artistic masters might only have been “found” after they died, the digital era and social media allows you to see talented contemporary masters in the here and now. Whether its hyper-realism or surrealism, graphite drawing is blowing up right now, and here's what you need to know about the scene.

Adonna Khare

 The winner of 2012 ArtPrize Competition, Adonna Khare is a contemporary artist from the United States who combines realistic depictions of animals with fabulist, image-based storytelling. She tries to create work that is relevant to our world, but, in doing so, she asks us to see her messages through different perspectives. Adonna Khare's artwords are large-scale carbon and graphite pencil drawings. Adonna Khare has currently put together a coloring book of her work, so that you can join in on the beauty of her imagined animal-based world while practicing your colored pencil skills.

Marco Mazzoni

Marco Mazzoni is an Italian artist who merges design and botanical elements into modernist portraits with his pencil drawings. While his portraits of 16th-18th century Sardinian herbalists, their associated flowers, butterflies, and other assorted critters, show a knack for realistic drawing, Marco Mazzoni's colored pencil drawings make their imprint with a powerful usage of negative space and a flair for design. As an artist Mazzoni has had his work displayed in Italy, the United States, and throughout Europe.

Diego Fazio

If you're looking for him on social media, you'll probably find him under the name DiegoKoi. Diego Fazio is a self-taught artist, who is a master of understanding the dynamics of shade and light and translating them into powerfully detailed pencil drawings. Diego Fazio earned his nickname by drawing koi. While his drawings fall under the the description of hyper-realism, he tends to challenge his own realism by picking perspectives that change the appearance of his subjects or refract their images. For instance he is a master of drawing wet faces as well as faces that are reflected through wet glass. Diego Fazio has won many awards for his drawings which have been shown all over the world.

Dirk Dzimirsky

Dzimirsky is a German artist who draws hyper-realistic pencil artworks. It is easy to mistake Dirk Dzimirsky's works for photographs, as he achieves the goal of hyper-realism, which is to render in art  an image of photographic reliability. He is able to masterfully capture unique aspects of human features and human emotions through observing and translating the tiny details of human appearance. His work has been displayed in exhibitions all over the world.

Paul Lung

Paul Lung is a self-taught hyper-realistic graphite pencil artist who seeks to develop and improve his skills with each new work. He works as a designer and still postsmuch of his work in progress on DeviantArt. He renders animals, particularly cats, with careful attention to texture, shade, and light. Lung also has a great volume of excellent graphite portraits in his portfolio.

Hector Gonzales

Hector Gonzales focuses many of his graphite pencil drawings on mastering depictions of eyes. He is known to draw eyes of all types. His eyes are descriptive enough to be illustrative of faces as whole, but often enough he doesn't stop at the eyes. While his work is realistic, he is comfortable drawing from the imagining, bringing fantasy creatures to life with the same shade and light that would make any more human feature feel real. You can find his work on Instagram @hg_art.

Paul Cadden

Paul Cadden is a Scottish contemporary artist who turns his artistic eye to urban scenes and everyday people doing everyday things. He is able to represent these scenes with photographic reliability, such that his style lies in his perspective, choice of subject, and treatment of that subject. Cadden's gorgeous detail tends more toward the lighter side of graphite drawings than most hyper-realists. His dark lines and negative space tend to be less dark than you might expect, giving you the sense that you are looking at an old photo.

Cath Riley

A graphite artist from London, Cath Riley finds her niche in the intimates spaces of portrait and drawing study. These graphite artworks do not just present their subjects with photographic accuracy, but they also form meditations on human relationship and longing. With drawings of hands grasping skin and body parts, she is able to put a whole realm of need and expectation into the greyscale of graphite. She explains her drawings as continuing expansions and evolutionary development. 

Pierre-Yves Riveau

Known as PEZ on various social media websites, Pierre-Yves Riveau is a French artist who focuses his efforts on both content and detail to offer statement pieces with realistic rendering. PEZ works in many mediums, including painting, illustration, and graphic design. In each medium, his concept pieces are always fascinating. Often including social commentary, PEZ offers new perspectives on the lives we live and the things we do. These creative designs and illustrations include questions of personality and the environment. PEZ's portraits are symbolic and impressionistic rather than realistic. In all cases, he highlights the key features of his drawings with stunning and clever pencil rendering to make his point.

The masterworks of these 9 graphite artists are sure to get your creative juices flowing and give you some ideas as to what you can do with graphite, given the time and practice. Not to mention this is just the tip of the iceberg as to extremely talented contemporary graphite masters. Connect with them on social media and look for new artist to follow to start expanding your own artistic horizons in the field of pencil drawing.


Leave a comment