23 outrageously realistic pencil drawings

A very realistic pencil drawing of a cat
(Image credit: Paul Lung)

The most realistic pencil drawings can truly leave people amazed. Very skilful use of shading and fine details in pencil, usually in black and white, can create images that are almost impossible to believe aren't photographs. Many of them also have an atmospheric quality that would be hard to achieve in photography.

Our roundup of the best realistic pencil drawings below includes celebrity portraits, animals, natural scenes, everyday objects and famous landmarks. The breadth of subjects means you should find no shortage of inspiration for your own work (see our guides to the best pencils or best mechanical pencils if you're inspired).

The most realistic pencil drawings we've seen

In the list below, we cover 23 artists who create extremely realistic pencil drawings. Many of them are so realistic that you would take them for photographs at first glance. Click at the top right of each image to enlarge.

01. Silvie Mahdal

Silvie Mahdal spend much of her time during lockdown in 2020 drawing – more than 2,500 hour. She shares some of her work in this video of some of her most realistic pencil drawings, also offering a glimpse of her sketchbook practice and a look at the rhythm she uses for creating hyperrealistic hair.

02. Veri Apriyatno – Witnesses

Realistic pencil drawings: Veri Apriyatno

How people see the world is reflected in their eyes (Image credit: Veri Apriyatno)

Indonesian artist Veri Apriyatno explores the human form and emotion through his hyper-realistic pencil drawings. This series, entitled Witnesses, presents how people feel about the world through the reflection in their eyes, drawn in pencil, acrylic and charcoal. 

The glistening pupil and image are at odds with the matte finish of the eyeball itself, resulting in a mix of textures, which jump off the page. There is stunning detail in the physicality of the eye itself, and hidden within the reflected image.

03. J.D Hilberry

Though J.D Hilberry admits he originally wanted to be a musician rather than an artist, he has become a master of realistic pencil drawings. Hilberry's website contains many stunning examples of his work, as well as tutorials and tips to help you to create your own artistic drawings. 

In the above video, Hilberry talks through some of the process behind his self-portrait pencil sketch, which is based on the idea of an artist putting themselves back together again after being torn apart by critics. It's so realistic, we have to keep looking at it to make sure the artwork has't really been ripped and stuck back together.

04. Kelvin Okafor – Nawell II

Nawell's Interlude II is one of the pencil drawings in Okafor's Interlude series (Image credit: Kelvin Okafor)

Kelvin Okafor is an artist from the UK whose intention is to invoke a real emotional response. Each piece is a pencil sketch and by using the tool he dubs a humble instrument, he created the Interlude series by drawing portraits of models when at their most serene, in comfortable environments. Nawell II (above) is one of those pencil drawings. 

Okafor explains on his website: "I love to draw faces. Each face tells me an intriguing story regardless of age, gender, race or background... I visually dissect facial features. I study them and then I put them back together again like pieces in a puzzle."

05. CJ Hendry

CJ Hendry mostly worked in black and white creating pencil drawings related to popular culture (such as this Chanel bottle) until her collaboration with Christian Louboutin in 2017. Complementary Colours was created entirely using coloured pencil, though you'd be forgiven for thinking, instead of creating a pencil sketch, she had just squirted a massive dollop of paint onto the wall. By using 12 different pencil colours to create a single hue, and layering them to create the texture and viscosity needed, she created these 'oil paint' splodges in every colour for Art Basel in Hong Kong

06. Arinze Stanley  – Black Noise

Arinze Stanley has been honing his skills since the age of six

Nigerian artist Arinze Stanley has had a long time to practise his stunning pencil art; he's been at creating artistic drawings since the age of six. Growing up around his family's paper business inspired his love of drawing, and he expresses himself through what he calls his three Ps: Patience, Practice and Persistence. "Most times it's almost like I lose control of my pencils and like energy transfer, the art flows through me from my pencil to the paper," he says.

07. Jono Dry  – Prey

Jono Dry usually works in graphite on large paper or board surfaces

Self-taught South African artist Jono Dry has quickly earned a name for himself with his unique style of drawing that blends photorealism and surrealism on a massive scale. His work has the look of vintage photography, but usually with an unsettling or incongruous twist; if you like the look of it, he has prints available to buy through his Etsy shop.

08. Franco Clun – Anne Hathaway

Amazingly, Franco Clun has had no formal artistic training

This incredible portrait of Hollywood actress Anne Hathaway is the work of Franco Clun, a self-taught artist from Italy, who has picked up everything he knows about drawing from reading manuals and plenty of practice.

09. Paul Cadden – Shower

Paul Cadden's illustrations are frighteningly realistic

When we first saw the work of Scottish artist Paul Cadden, it took a while for us to realise that they were in fact pencil drawings – the hyperrealist artist used just graphite and chalk to create these stunning images.

"Although the drawings and paintings I make are based upon a series of photographs and video stills, I use softer and more complex focuses on the subject so that the resulting art presents it as a living, tangible being," he explains. "These objects and scenes in my drawings are thus meticulously detailed to create the illusion of a new reality not seen in the original photo."

10. Cath Riley – Flesh

Realistic pencil drawings: Cath Riley

This series by Cath Riley features hyperrealistic pencil drawings of flesh

Cath Riley's artistic drawings are amazing to look at, but she regards her hyperreal work as just a stage in her ongoing evolutionary process of exploration and development. 

She's now moving in more experimental and abstract directions in her work, including very large-scale drawing projects based around the human figure.

Her incredible pencil drawings are included in collections all over the world, and she has worked with clients including Nike, GQ, M&C Saatchi, The Economist and The New York Times.

11. Armin Mersmann – Trees

Realistic pencil drawings: Armin Mersmann

Armin Mersmann's work has been featured in exhibitions all over the world

German artist Armin Mersmann is the man behind this chilly woodland scene, which elevates the humble pencil sketch to new heights. Although he also works with oils, Mersmann is best known for his intense naturalistic graphite drawings. His work has been featured in more than 150 exhibitions and has won him over 30 awards.

"The very act of drawing every branch, twig, highlight and shadow, rendering textures from the extreme winter skins to the silkiness of new-fallen snow, transforms the scene into an intimate journey. This undertaking is considerably different than merely taking a photo or simply being there," he explains on his site.

"The drawing process immersed me for hundreds of hours, interpreting and translating what I saw and felt from hundreds of reference photos, collected branches, twigs, and revisits to the site."

12. Diego Fazio – Sensazioni

It's almost impossible to believe this incredible image is a pencil drawing

Entitled Sensazioni (sensations, in English) this mind-blowing pencil drawing was created by artist Diego Fazio. Over a period of roughly 200 hours, Fazio drew this intricate piece, which we still – no matter how long we look at it – cannot believe is a drawing. Simply amazing.

13. Stefan Marcu – Gorilla

Realistic pencil drawings: Stefan Marcu

Stefan Marcu pushes himself to create his best work possible

"From the age of five, I started drawing, and over time I added more skills, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, all types of graphic design, caricature and digital photography," explains Stefan Marcu, the artist behind this stunningly realistic gorilla portrait.

"My focus is on the study of art and my personal development in all its branches, and I am obsessed with excellence in the creation of any product."

Marcu created this study of a gorilla as his entry for The National Open Art Competition UK. "I'm pleased with the piece as it personally represents a big leap in scale, detail and patience," he says. "It is roughly twice the size of my previous work and I learnt a lot working on this beast."

14. Giacomo Burattini – Apnoea

Giacomo Burattini believes his work highlights the beauty of imperfection

"Hyperrealism in my work displays the beauty of the imperfections perfectly, opening a door within the subject that is not normally depicted in real life," says Italian artist Giacomo Burattini, who drew this unusual portrait.

"I believe reality is a beauty in itself so I don't need to find ways to hide the imperfections of human nature so my work shows the perfection of the imperfections of life."

Burattini found an audience by sharing his pencil drawings on Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram, where he regularly shares his works in progress. This artistic drawing was created using black coloured pencils, graphite pencils and charcoal.

15. Paul Lung – Mui Chu

Paul Lung specialises in super-realistic fur

This mindblowingly realistic image of a cat was created by traditional artist Paul Lung. The Hong Kong-based creative's portfolio on Deviant Art is astonishing, featuring realistic portraits of both humans and animals. 

The time in which each takes depends on his subject matter, with this particular A2 pencil drawing taking Lung approximately 60 hours to complete.

16. Jay Varma – Inner Courtyard

Jay Varma captures every tiny detail in his coloured pencil drawings

Give self-taught artist Jay Varma a set of coloured pencils and a piece of paper, and you will undoubtedly get a gorgeous illustration, like this architectural study. 

Art runs throughout Varma's family, his grandfather is master oil painter Raja Ravi Varma – one of the most highly regarded artists in India. 

Varma's skills have been recognised by many, with his work featuring in various prominent publications. In his pencil drawings, Varma pays particular attention to mood and lighting.

17. Linda Huber – Light bulb

Even the most common objects can make stunning illustrations

Linda Huber has been practising the art of drawing with a pencil for several decades. Inspired by her surroundings, Huber draws everything from portraiture to inanimate objects, with each piece taking anywhere from 20 to 80 hours. 

Huber comments on her site, "Drawing in the style of realism is what I love to do, to recreate life as we see and know it with just a simple pencil is exciting to say the least."

18. Ken Lee – Girl on Fire

It took a while for us to believe this was hand-drawn. You can see why...

UK-based artist Ken Lee is the man behind this stunning pencil drawing. He was inspired to draw this image, based on the Hunger Games blockbuster Mockingjay (Part 2), as a follow up to a Spider-Man 3 drawing that earned him plenty of fans.

The level of detail in this – from the mockingjay bird to the fire effects – proved to be a particular challenge. "I must say I did have reservations about drawing this," he says on his Deviant Art page. "I knew I was in for the long road once I started it... I need a long break now!"

19. Martijn Versteeg – Audrey Hepburn

We love this realistic illustration of icon Audrey Hepburn

Martijn Versteeg is an artist from The Netherlands, who appears to have a soft spot for Audrey Hepburn, judging by the number of portraits he has drawn of the film star.

But, more importantly, he also has massive amounts of talent in the art of pencil drawing. For the past few years, he has also been experimenting with oil painting.

If you're having trouble believing that this is a drawing rather than a photograph, you can watch a making-of time-lapse video above.

20. Keith Moore – Big Ben

Practice makes perfect, as Keith Moore's hyperrealistic work shows

"I love the challenge of creating small scale hyperrealistic graphite pencil art without compromise," says artist Keith Moore

Practising his personal techniques and refining his toolset, Moore has been embracing the liberation of high definition digital photographic referencing. And we think his work is all the better for it.

21. Justin Meyers – A Door in Homer, Nebraska

This illustration makes it easy to see why Justin Meyers specialises in graphite drawings

US-based artist Justin Meyers specialises primarily in graphite and charcoal drawings on paper. And with this textured old doorway as an example of his work, we can see why.

Talking about his work on his site, Meyers says: "My works in graphite and charcoal strive to explore the use of simple material to portray simple subject matter and composition with a borderline eccentric approach to detail."

22. Dirk Dzimirsky – Magnetic Field

This Dirk Dzimirsky pencil drawing is startlingly realistic

German artist Dirk Dzimirsky draws and paints the most stunning up-close-and-personal portraits. A master of his craft, the artist captures every bit of fine detail perfectly, from the moisture in his subject's eyes to lines and fine hair.

Although, like most hyperrealist artists, he works from photos, Dzimirsky emphasises that this is only an intermediary step. "Before I take photos for a new project, I already have a precise idea of how the future work should look as a drawing or painting. I set up the photographs that I then use as templates," he explains.

23. David Kao – Audi R8

David Kao's R8 looks so realistic you can imagine it cutting you up on a motorway

David Kao first started drawing cars when he was just three years old. But it was only at the age of 19, after his father took him to his car garage, that Kao began to take his art and realism seriously. 

Now the artist has a stunning portfolio of ultra-realistic car drawings. Included is this gorgeous Audi R8, which Kao created using a graphite pencil, tissue, eraser and brush in approximately 10 hours.

For the gear you need, see the best prices on pencils below. You might also want to see our pick of the best art supplies. Also see our expert tips on pencil shading techniques and on art techniques to hone your skills for realistic drawing.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.