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Top 15+ Masters of Drawing and Their Famous Drawings (Plus Contemporary Artists)

Today, I wanted to share the most famous drawing artists with a short list of these masters of drawing plus some contemporary drawings and artists.

Drawing and sketching represents a starting point for many artists, and you can guarantee if they have mastered drawing, it has certainly translated to other mediums like ink, acrylics, or oil paint.

I’m a massive fan of drawing, sketches, and all the greats of drawing – I even have a Peter Paul Rubens inspired tattoo on my arm

From Leonardo da Vinci to Picasso, and Peter Paul Rubens – let’s take a look at some of the world’s best artists and their drawings.

(title image: drawing by Edward Hopper)

Our List of The Best Drawing Artists of All Time

1. Edgar Degas

My parent’s had an Edgar Degas painting hanging in our bathroom. I remember being transfixed on it as a young child.

Even though my parent’s never pursued any of the arts, I later realized that their choice in artwork greatly affected my own artistic journey.

After the Bath Drawing by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917) is a French artist, revered for his talent in painting, sculpting, and sketching.

With a focus on ordinary life, his early sketches gave insight into his later paintings that would gain him massive popularity.

His drawings, such as “Study of a Dancer”, are filled with his distinct compositional boldness and thematic serenity, communicating a profound understanding of human nature and form. On a side note, he seemed to have an extraordinary ability to creatively distort perspectives to bring his drawings and artwork to life.

2. Leonardo da Vinci

We had to mention da Vinci toward the top of this list. Probably one of the most famous if not the mose famous artist of all time – throughout his lifetime he has produced some truly amazing drawings and sketches.

excerpt from one of Da Vinci’s notebooks

His intense curiosity and passion for various disciplines accentuated his artistic prowess, reflected heavily in his intricate sketches and drawings.

He was a man of boundless curiosity, a thinker engaged in critical analysis, and a pragmatic problem-solver—an embodiment of the enlightened mind during the Italian Renaissance.

3. Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso has said it took him 3 years to learn how to draw and paint the art in the classical sense and then one year to learn to learn how to draw and paint like himself.

drawing by Picassp

Considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, he was a Spanish painter, sculptor, ceramist, and printmaker who spent most of his adult life in France. He also produced some of the most inspiring and alluring drawings.

Of all his skills, Picasso’s proficiency in drawing cannot be overstated. The vast collection of his sketchbooks offers a valuable glimpse into his creative process and his ever-evolving artistic style.

Picasso’s command of lines and form was evident from a young age, and his early drawings showcased his adept handling of academic techniques. As Picasso matured as an artist, his drawing style took on an innovative and experimental approach, where lines morphed, geometric forms surfaced, and images distorted, enabling him to develop his unique cubist style.

4. Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) stands tall as a leading figure in 17th-century European art. His drawings and sketching on human anatomy was a massive inspiration in my own art as I’m sure it was for many others.

Anatomy Study by Rubens

Born in Siegen, Germany, he rose to fame for his rich, vibrant, and emotive works that integrated elements of high drama and dynamic movement.

What’s probably most notable about Rubens’s style is his deftness with lines. This is evident in his detailed preparatory sketches that displayed an excellent grasp of human anatomy and emotion.

Rubens’s drawings go beyond merely capturing form – they serve as telltale signs of his thought process and act as precursors to his larger works. Take a closer look at Rubens’ sketches, and you will find traces of the Flemish master’s spontaneity that seamlessly blends with his masterful execution.

5. Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh, another household name, marked an important milestone in the evolution of modern art.

His departure from traditional, realist art into a world of audacious use of color and rhythmically bold brushstrokes positioned him as a pioneer of modern art, pushing the boundaries of visual expression.

Garden with Flowers by Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh’s artistic sensibilities went much deeper than mere paintings. Sketching and drawing formed a core part of his creative process, offering him both an artistic foundation and a meditative exercise to navigate through his personal struggles. Be it vibrant landscape sketches or intimate portraits, his works resonated with the same emotional potency as his iconic oil paintings.

And for those who think they can never achieve learn to draw – even Van Gogh had his doubts, he once mentioned, “I cannot tell you how happy I am that I have taken up drawing again. I had been thinking about it for a long time, but always considered it impossible and beyond my abilities.”

6. Eugène Delacroix

Eugène Delacroix stands out as an iconic personality in French art history. Much more than just an artist, he is often considered as a vital part of the Romantic and Neoclassical movement in art.

Nude Person Seated, Facing Right by Delacroix

From an early age, Delacroix’s artistry shined bright, earning him ardent praise from those familiar with his realist expressive style, filled with fascinating detail.

Delacroix’s work was not confined to a singular style or subject matter. His travels, particularly his journey to Morocco in the 1830s, played a pivotal role in shaping his perception and expression.

It’s also important to remember that Delacroix passionately cherished the art of drawing. So much so that he considered it dearer than any other form of artistic expression, echoing his belief that “Color always occupies me, but drawing preoccupies me.” His remarkable dynamism, fiery colors, and dramatic compositions extended the allure of his art beyond mere aesthetics, allowing it to serve as a reflection of his inner thoughts and emotions.

7. Henri Matisse

Another extremely popular artist, Henri Matisse, an advocate of creative exuberance, is revered for his artistic capabilities spanning across various mediums such as painting, drawing, printmaking, and sculpture.

Arabesque by Matisse

Often sharing the spotlight with contemporary greats such as Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, Matisse stood strong as an unwavering beacon of the Fauvism movement.

Be it his mesmerizing masterpieces in painting, intricate paper cut-outs, or awe-inspiring sculptures, Matisse’s creative dexterity emerged from his skill as a draughtsman. His line drawing abilities propped him into the limelight; honed with tireless application, they formed the underpinning of his acclaimed career in the visual arts. The simplicity of Matisse’s curving lines was a testament to his unmatchable drawing skill.

8. Michelangelo

Michelangelo, an artist and visionary born in Italy, is often considered to be the epitome of an unparalleled artist, with his transcendent mastery in the fields of painting, sculpture, and architecture.

His drawings of the human anatomy were extrodinarily detailed yet fluid.

Seated male nude, separate study of his right arm by Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s notable contributions to art were often a result of his rigorous and diligent sketching. His sketches, particularly the ones focusing on the human form, exhibited his profound understanding of anatomy and physiology. These drafts provide a window into the meticulous artistic process that allowed him to construct his complex compositions.

9. Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele was another huge inspiration in my own drawings. With his non traditional drawing style and unnerving lines he was able to express the human anatomy line many have never seen before.

Aktselbstbildnis by Egon Schiele

Renowned as a trailblazer of expressionism, Egon Schiele (1890 – 1918) challenged existing norms of the art world, certainly pushed boundaries with his unconventional and emotionally intense artwork.

Primarily recognized for his raw, unfiltered portrayal of the human body, Schiele’s work is marked by a conspicuous strain of sexuality that often provokes the viewer to rethink traditional notions of beauty and discomfort.

10. Albrecht Dürer

Albrecht Dürer is a classic heavyweight in the sphere of art, with an impressive body of work that eventually gave printmaking a dignified stature in artistic expression.

Das Schweißtuch von zwei Engeln gehalten Kupferstich by Albrecht Dürer

Born in 1471 in only the Empire city of Nuremberg, Dürer breathed life into art for nearly 57 years before leaving behind a legacy that still inspires many artists. Known for his detail-oriented approach, Dürer’s drawings served as blueprints for his etchings, engravings, and woodcuts, which helped amplify the reach and influence of his art.

Dürer’s most striking contribution to art lays in his precision and flair for detail. His sketches serve as a testament to his knack for replicating intricate depictions. A shining example of this is his famous Knight, Death, and Devil, an outstanding engraving that unveils his impeccable skill. Not to mention, his passion for painting and drawing self-portraits significantly influenced other subsequent artists whose works still carry the imprints of Durer’s magnificence.

11. Charles Le Brun

Now stepping into the 1600s, we encounter Charles Le Brun, a classical figure whose artistic brilliance shone brightly amidst the burning lights of French Classicism and Baroque.

Physiognomic Heads Inspired by a Camel – Charles Le Brun

Born in 1619, Charles’ influence on French art and creative policy-making held sway over three decades of the country’s artistic life. His thorough understanding of human psychology and nuanced emphasis on body language are evident in extensive preliminary sketches that he would assemble before embarking upon the final iteration of his commissioned paintings.

Throughout his artistic journey, Le Brun did not merely follow the changing artistic trends but doled out a platter of his own unique fusion. The impact of his work extended well beyond the art scene and into the realm of policy-making, making Le Brun a notable figure in French art and political history. Thus, Charles Le Brun, with his artistic acuity and policy prowess, holds a permanent spot in the pantheon of great master draftsmen.

12. E.H. Shepard

Ernest Howard Shepard, usually known as E.H. Shepard, is most famous for his Winnie-the-Pooh illustrations and art work. Prior to his popularity, he composed several war time drawings that give us a further insight into his skill as an artist.

Close of the Italian Season. Grand ‘Peace Ballet’ Finale by E. H. Shepard

Shepard’s sketching style is both enchanting and deceptively simple, imbuing his drawings with a stickiness that remains embedded in the reader’s mind. This is evident in Pooh Bear’s illustration – his pudgy innocence, the feathery fur texture, and the endearingly perplexed expression thread a narrative, even in the absence of text.

Despite the sketch’s seemingly naïve execution, Shepard’s innovative use of varied line thickness and clever composition demonstrate his masterful control over his medium.

13. Gustav Klimt

Hailing from the Vienna Secession movement, Gustav Klimt was an iconic figure in the world of illustrations. Known for his bedazzling paintings, Klimt also left his indelible mark in the realm of drafting first.

Sketch by Gustav Klimt

His sketches were known for their firm, commanding lines that painted the portrait of his deep understanding of the world, particularly the female form. The subject of women and his portrayal of them was nothing short of enigmatic, often symbolizing the primal forces of nature.

Born in Baumgarten, Austria, Klimt’s contribution to the Art Nouveau movement remains unparalleled. His ability to combine ornamental beauty with erotic suggestiveness was one of his signature styles. Even though his works were deeply personal, they echoed profound social and cultural narratives, placing Klimt as a torchbearer of modernist aesthetics in European art.

14. Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt is a revered figure in the realm of Impressionist art. Born in America but heavily influenced by French culture, Cassatt was a skilled painter and printmaker. However, her artistic journey began with her experiments with drawing, which deepened her understanding of forms and technique.

Cassatt’s sketches focused on women in various aspects of social and private life, especially the warm mother-child relationship. Her drawings were insightful, with a certain tenderness that humanized her subjects. Cassatt’s work stood out for her progressive portrayal of women as active, complex individuals rather than just aesthetic objects.

In her drafts and sketches, one can witness an uncanny grasp of delicate details, reflecting her comprehension of human anatomy and emotional states. Each stroke Cassatt etched onto the sketch paper captured the intimacy of everyday life, encapsulating moments of tranquility, affection, and serenity. These preliminary works eventually led to her timeless paintings, reinforcing the importance of drawing as an integral part of the artistic process.

15. Joseph Mallord William Turner

Back to a more classical artist, Joseph Mallord William Turner, often simply referred to as J.M.W. Turner, is celebrated as a central figure in Romantic art, particularly renowned for his oil paintings and watercolors that revolutionized landscape painting.

Looking toward his drawings and sketches we can see some extremely intricate and detailed landscape sketches that aided his paintings.

Bridge and Goats by Turner

Born in 1775, Turner’s prodigious talent compelled him to challenge 18th-century conventions and introduce new methods of capturing light, color, and atmospheric effects.

A closer look at Turner’s sketchbooks gives us a peek into his exceptional observation skills and his willingness to experiment with new ideas. Whether it was rapidly drawing the rapidly changing weather or scrupulously detailing architectural structures, his sketches often served as preliminary studies for his larger works. Turner’s sketches, thus, are more than mere drawings; they are maps of his creative process.

16. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Another classical giant, born in late 18th century France, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres is a paragon of neoclassicism, revered for his meticulously detailed portraits and history paintings.

The Gatteaux Family by Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres

Nevertheless, he was as much a maestro with arabesque lines and dramatic compositions in his drawings as he was with his paintings. His work holds a legendary position in art history for its near-photographic precision, coupled with a surreal touch that moved beyond the strictly realistic, evoking his subjects’ personalities.

Ingres believed that good figure drawing depended on capturing the model’s core essence, a skill he likely developed during his tenure in the French Academy in Rome. He advocated that lines should not be merely a means to an end but a meaningful aspect of the artwork.

17. Käthe Kollwitz

Käthe Kollwitz, born in 1867, makes her mark in art history with her innovative use of printmaking, embracing etching and lithography, as well as mastery in sculpture.

Self Portrait by Käthe Kollwitz

Kollwitz’s art was a mirror to the socio-political upheavals and personal tragedies of her time. As a result, her work was not an escape into the world of the abstract, but a deep-dive into the realism of human suffering.

One remarkable element of Kollwitz’s work is her ability to resonate with her audience through powerful and moving depictions of pain, loss, and hope. Her collections, predominantly in black and white, were created with a few strokes yet conveyed deeply human emotions. For instance, her lithographic series, “Weavers’ Revolt”, showcases the struggle and plight of weavers in Silesian.

Worthy of special mention is her work, “Self Portrait”, (shown above) where she blurs the boundary between herself and her subject. Here, Kollwitz uses her own experience and emotion as the muse, presenting a profound exploration of human nature, pain, and resilience.

18. Rembrandt

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606–1669), one of the most distinguished figures in the Dutch Golden Age and one of the most popular artists throughout history is best known for his portraits and etchings.

Christ Walking on the Water by Rembrandt

He had an uncanny ability to imbue his subjects with deep emotion and reality, creating art pieces that were fundamentally human. This is particularly vivid in his drawing “A Child Being Taught to Walk,” wherein he captured an intimate moment of familial bonding.

What’s notable about Rembrandt’s drawings is his use of broad, sweeping strokes that tell a story beyond the canvas.

His etchings, too, are infused with a passion for capturing the essence of human existence. These drawings contain more than mere illustrations; their strokes, bold and swift, map the complexities of life and existence in the simplest terms.

Contemporary Masters of Drawing

1. Jean-Louis Sauvat

Jean-Louis Sauvat is a contemporary French artist, known for his ability to convey the grace and majesty of horses through his eloquent drawings.

Sketch by Jean-Louis Sauvat

Born in 1947, Sauvat is distinctive among artists with his stunning concentration on equine forms. If we observe his art, we find the lines are clean and calculated, capturing horses’ true strength, vitality, and spirit with an artful precision that only a true horse lover could achieve.

Sauvat’s masterful drawings often showcase the animals positioned in movement, displaying their agility and grace. Sauvat’s pieces are simple yet emotive, capturing the horse’s fluid elegance with just a few lines. The compositions are sometimes spruced up with human figures, surroundings or abstract forms, but the focus is always the equine. There are no restrictions on how he executes his drawings, which makes his work rich and versatile. One can find his exceptional work in art galleries and private collections around the world.

2. Jason Gathorne-Hardy

Jason Gathorne-Hardy is a recognized contemporary British artist, notable for his abstract interpretations of the natural world.

Bull’s Head by Gathorne-Hardy

In his drawings, Gathorne-Hardy seeks to deconstruct nature’s complexity into simpler forms, which captures the essence of the subject.

His style is a play of contrasts, utilizing light and dark, emptiness and vibrancy, to depict the fluidity of natural landscapes. The bulk of his works are created outdoors, often using charcoal and other raw material directly sourced from the environment, infusing the artwork with a tangible connection to its source.

Born in 1968, Gathorne-Hardy’s work is a testament to the artist’s foundation in observational drawing and his conscious progress towards stylized abstraction.

3. Hiroyuki Doi

Now onto an entirely different style of drawing and art – Hiroyuki Doi

A self-taught artist born in Tokyo, Japan, is heralded for his highly distinctive, even hypnotic, drawings. His signature style gravitates towards an unusual yet captivating form-he meticulously creates intricate spheres and circles in his sketches.

Abstract drawing by Hiroyuki Doi

Doi’s journey in art is deeply rooted in personal grief, as sketching served as an emotional outlet following the loss of his brother. Now, his artwork is revered globally, echoing the power of human resilience and the interlinked relationship between grief, healing, and creativity. This balance between despair and hope is visible in his drawings, demonstrating how emotions can metamorphose into tangible art forms.

Encapsulating cosmic views in simple circle formations, Doi’s approach underscores his exceptional ability to interpret universal themes through his effortless yet complex strokes.

4. Ian Murphy

Born in Wakefield, England, Ian Murphy is an award-winning artist known for his expressive landscapes and extremely intricate architectural forms.

Inspired by the derelict and the weathered, Murphy explores layers of texture and tone to create spaces that evoke a sense of decay and the inevitable passage of time.

sketch by Ian Murphy

His sketches, like the Venice Collection, reveal a fascination with old, crumbling buildings allowing viewers to witness the transformative force of nature. In his works, one can easily identify intriguing forms that emerge and recede, underscoring his multi-layered approach. Murphy’s technique also involves manipulating light and shadow to instill depth and dimension in his art.

5. Ch’ng Kiah Kiean

Ch’ng Kiah Kiean, more commonly known as Kiah Kiean, is a so-called “late bloomer” in the art world, yet his impact on the international contemporary drawing scene is irrefutable.

This Malaysian-born artist delves into the urban sketching world with an idiosyncratic style that blends architectural precision and fluid organic lines.

Kiah Kiean’s approach to sketching is a perfect demonstration of “balance”—he judiciously integrates traditional Eastern and Western techniques, building a kind of visual harmony in his drawings.

What’s fascinating about his work is his distinctive methodology. Kiah Kiean crafts his sketching tools from twigs and Chinese ink, which gives his drawings their unique unfettered style. This home-made implement, coupled with ink-and-water painting techniques, results in sketches characterized by a seamless blend of dramatic contrasts and subtle gradations. His sketches are not only visually striking, but they also have a raw, tactile appeal that makes the viewer feel connected to the subject of his drawings.

One of Kiah Kiean’s most celebrated pieces is his intricate drawing of George Town, Penang. In this piece, he successfully depicts the vibrant street life and multicultural architectural heritage of his hometown. This sketch serves to exemplify the artist’s ability to convey the essence of a locale by highlighting both its mundane and monumental aspects, producing an all-encompassing sense of place.

6. Julie Mehretu

An artist renowned for her monumental abstract paintings, Julie Mehretu stands as a leading figure in the contemporary art scene.

Mind Breath Drawing by Julie Mehretu,

Born in 1970 in Ethiopia, Mehretu’s work captures her unique perspective shaped by her multicultural background. Her paintings and prints are characterized by an enthralling combination of layered markings, architectural drawings, and varied geometric shapes. This results in complex compositions that prompt viewers to ponder upon intricate layers of time, space, and history.

Furthermore, Mehretu is widely praised for her ability to provoke thought and introspection through her sketches. Her pieces often confront pressing social, political, and cultural matters, subtly pushing viewers to engage with the inherent complexity of our interconnected world.

7. Ann Kipling

Recognized momentously for her intricate drawings, Ann Kipling is a seasoned Canadian artist born in 1934.

Head by Ann Kipling

She has dedicated her life to the sincere and intimate depiction of the landscapes and animals that surround her. Her typical style revolves around using high-velocity lines to understand space and depict life around her to complement her avid observation of the natural world.

The intimacy she perceives in her surroundings directly reflects in her work. She comprehends shifting forms and appearances through her drawings, allowing her to capture animals’ fleeting and elusive movements in her surroundings. Her characteristic fast lines help her narrate the passage of time while encapsulating motion. Her drawings exude an expressive abstraction her viewers can resonate with deep emotion.

8. Carroll Dunham

Known for his distinct abstract style and vividly surreal imagery, Carroll Dunham’s artwork is a perfect blend of the absurd and the profound.

1 by Carroll Dunham

His works encapsulate a wide array of subjects, which revolve around human figures, machines, and landscapes, all saturated in a riot of colors and vivid forms.

Dunham’s art, which includes painting, printmaking, and drawing, is notorious for its bold exploration of form and physicality.

While his works often present a psychedelic vibe, he delves deep into the psychological aspect of human experience. He masterfully portrays raw emotions, touching upon the raw nerves of anxiety, aggression, and sexual tension, breaking away from the confines of realism. Dunham’s work is described as a bridge between contemporary pop art and the abstract.

Our Other Personal Favorite Graphite Artist and Drawing Artists

Edward Hopper

I couldn’t not include Edward Hopper somewhere in this post. He is more well known for his paintings depicting isolation, melancholy, surrealism and hidden narratives.

The Lonely House by Edward Hopper

He previously studied to become a naval architect, but after graduating, he decided to pursue art full time and would soon make his mark on the world with painting. On paper — armed with nothing but pencils, charcoals, and watercolors — Hopper was a master draftsman whose drawings held a charm of their own.

In his drawings, Hopper’s eye for detail was the star of the show. For instance, his intricate drawings of ordinary American architecture – buildings, rooms, streets – emit a sense of solitude and seclusion mirroring the nature of urban life. The play of light and shadow takes center stage, creating a mood of quietude and contemplation. Precise, clean lines married with spatial composition enhance the richness and depth of his work.

Stephen Gammell

Stephen Gammell is another personal favorite of mine.

He is an artist who left a chilling impact in the world of children’s illustrations. Born in 1943, Gammell started his journey with pencil and paper, gradually immersing himself into the world of imagery and evoking a dark sense of enchantment.

artwork by Stephen Gammell

His roots lie deep in the soil of creating intricate illustrations for books, specifically the ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ series. This series holds a special place amongst aficionados of the genre, as Gammell’s eerie artistry merges seamlessly with the haunting narratives.

What made Gammell stand out from the crowd was his unique technique. He used mixed media and rubbing techniques to create dread-filled yet enticing textures, visually complimenting the bleakness of the stories. His macabre sketches, filled with blurry, ghost-like creatures, were usually garbed in shades of grayscale, which only served to further intensify their mystic aura. Remember, this isn’t your everyday art; it’s your nightmare’s dream dusted with a sprinkle of uncanny allure.

How Long Does It Take to Learn to Draw?

On average, depending on the style of drawing, it usually takes 2-3 years of daily and consistent practice to learn to draw.

If you are attempting to learn more realistic or photorealistic drawing it will usually take longer at ~4+ years.

More: See more details on how long does it take to learn to draw here

Who Are the Most Famous Drawing Artists?

The most famous drawing artists are:

  1. Leonardo da Vinci
  2. Pablo Picasso
  3. Michelangelo
  4. Vincent Van Gogh
  5. Henri Matisse
  6. Rembrandt
  7. Edgar Degas
  8. Peter Paul Rubens
  9. Egon Schiele
  10. Albrecht Dürer
  11. Charles Le Brun
  12. E.H. Shepard
  13. Gustav Klimit
  14. Mary Cassatt
  15. Joseph Mallord William Turner
  16. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
  17. Käthe Kollwitz
  18. Eugène Delacroix

What’s the Most Famous Drawing?

Chair by Van Gogh

The most famous drawings are:

  • Eugène Delacroix,“Le 28 juillet — la liberté guidant le people”
  • Leonardo Da Vinci, Portrait d’Isabelle d’Este (Portrait of Isabella d’Este)
  • Peter Paul Rubens, “Lion”
  • Vincent van Gogh, Chair Drawing

Some of these drawings were later used in famous paintings and some were stand alone drawings by some of the masters mentioned above.

What’s the Most Famous Paintings?

The most famous paintings are:

  • ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci
  • ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci
  • ‘The Starry Night’ by Vincent Van Gogh
  • ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch
  • ‘The Kiss’ by Gustav Klimt
  • ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ by Johannes Vermeer
  • ‘Creation of Adam’ by Michelangelo

These are pretty well known throughout the world as being pure examples of a certain style or time period. In addition, to being expertly crafted, they often tell a story or represent several themes often related to a time period, style, or culture

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