Most artists begin their creative journey by picking up a pencil. While some may ultimately choose another medium, others will spend a lifetime learning how to draw and honing their skills. My Modern Met regularly features talented draftspeople from across the globe, and now that the year is coming to an end, it's the perfect time to look back at some of the most impactful, beautiful, and overall best drawings of 2022.
Just like flipping through a sketchbook, our selection of artwork is an archive of the many accomplishments artists achieved over the course of 12 months. Some of these works are made entirely in graphite or charcoal, while others incorporate the rainbow through pastels and colored pencils. Furthermore, many of these pieces explore the possibilities of what drawing can do: like optical illusions, immersive installations, and even how to create a portrait with a single line. What all of these works have in common, however, is a remarkable mastery of line.
From Sally Edmonds‘ vibrant pastel portraits of birds—whose feathers look real enough to touch—to Clio Newton‘s large-scale hyperrealistic drawings that explore gender and feminity, these illustrations demonstrate the breadth of talent among contemporary artists. Some of our picks even show how drawing can be mixed with other materials and mediums, like Sofia Bonati‘s ethereal figures that are rendered in graphite and watercolor, and Ed Fairburn‘s unique approach of drawing portraits on top of maps of cities, merging people and place.
Scroll down and immerse yourself in our gallery of the best drawings of 2022.
We've selected the top 10 best drawings of 2022: from optical illusions to hyperrealistic portraits.
Drawing Illusion: Catfish Illustration by Aria
The year of 2022 started off strong with this mind-boggling catfish drawing by Aria. The self-taught Japanese artist is famous on social media for creating head-turning illustrations of animals and objects that look like they're about to pop off the page, and this work is no exception. Rendered completely in colored pencil, it captures the whiskery form of a catfish whose tail magically escapes the boundary of the paper.
While the hyperrealistic rendering is impressive in itself, the real gem of this drawing lies in its illusory execution. After completing the drawing, she cut out an upper section of the silhouette from the paper. This small touch is what fools the eyes of viewers, making it seem like her illustrations are real objects and creatures merely sitting atop or leaping off the flat paper.
Drawing on Unconventional Paper: The Vatican Girl by Ed Fairburn
UK-based artist Ed Fairburn is no stranger to My Modern Met. His unconventional portraits, which are drawn on hand-picked maps from his collection, thoughtfully commemorate the connection between people and place. To do this, he blends the delicate planes of people's faces with the cartographical elements of the map, finding natural ways to merge the lines of rivers, mountains, and streets with the contours of someone's chin, eyes, and other facial features.
This year, his portrait of Emanuela Orlandi—commissioned by creative agency dude.it—became world-famous as the cover of the Netflix documentary series Vatican Girl. Fairburn depicted the young Italian teenager who went missing in 1983, aptly merging Orlandi's “missing” poster with a map of Rome, the city where she lived and where she disappeared.
Pastel Portrait: Big Blue Too by Sally Edmonds
Birdwatchers aren't the only ones drawn to the beauty of feathered creatures. Artist Sally Edmonds became interested in birds as subjects when she began keeping them at her home in Australia and learned about their unique personalities and mannerisms. “Until you live with a bird, you don't realize how individual and complex they are,” Edmonds told My Modern Met.
She translates her intimate understanding of birds into vibrant portraits, typically featuring close-ups of the bird's face, where Edmonds layers various pastel and colored pencil hues to replicate the luster of their feathers and alert eyes. She tends to set the illustrations against a blank or pared-down background so that the image of the bird is clearly emphasized, similar to a formal portrait that a human would have.
Drawing Installation: Come Home Again by Es Devlin
Drawing is a two-dimensional art form. But some artists, like Es Devlin, are creating new ways to experience it. In 2022, Devlin opened an immersive public installation called Come Home Again in the Tate Modern Garden. She drew 243 endangered species on London's priority conservation list, nestled all of them within an illuminated sculpture reminiscent of the dome of Saint Paul's Cathedral.
To enhance the experience, a London-based choral group performed inside the sculpture every evening, so that human voices would unite with the sounds of birds, bats, and insects. Then, during the day, a soundscape with the noises and names of the species Devlin drew filled the sculpture.
Drawing and Watercolor: Naruna by Sofia Bonati
While graphite drawing is beautiful on its own, Argentinian artist Sofia Bonati shows how it can be incorporated with other media. Her ongoing series of portrait paintings combine graphite pencils, watercolor, and sometimes gouache to render female figures in ornately patterned environments that are full of color and delicate details.
“I enjoy capturing human emotions through figure paintings,” she told My Modern Met. “I find it easier to express myself through this theme.” All of the young women—most of whom are based on models or the artist herself—stare unabashedly at the viewer with neutral but open expressions. Their bodies are adorned with garments that complement the arrangement of flora and abstract shapes behind them.
Figurative Portrait: Drawing from Venus series by Clio Newton
American artist Clio Newton explored gender and femininity in her series of hyperrealistic charcoal drawings called Venus. Inspired by the art of Renaissance masters like Michelangelo and Botticelli, she depicts an array of young subjects with female heads and male bodies. The seamless transition is intended to speak to the gender fluidity of this era.
To emphasize the realism of these hand-drawn portraits, Newton bases all of the heads and bodies on real-life people. In this way, she is able to capture the depth of their personalities as they direct their gazes in the direction of the viewer, as well as render all of the subtleties in their facial features, hair, and bodies.
Architecture Drawing: Illustrations of Historic Façades by Demi Lang
We've already talked about artists who drew spectacular people and animals, but there are many other beautiful and challenging subjects out there. Architecture, for instance, is one of the most meticulous things that you can sketch; yet, artist Demi Lang makes drawing buildings appear effortless with her incredible mixed-media illustrations that incorporate ink, pens, and pencils.
Lang highlights façades—particularly historical structures—by employing deep contrast in her drawing. In doing this, she shows the hard edges of flourishes on columns, brick finishes, towers, and steep grooves and makes them easier to visually understand.
This year, Land debuted an exclusive online course with My Modern Met Academy, our e-learning platform. Her class, called Architectural Illustration for Everyone: Draw Buildings in Ink and Colored Pencil, takes students step by step through her process. When complete, they will have created their own architectural illustration.
Photorealistic Drawing: Nothing But a Foundation by Dylan Eakin
Some works of art are realistic, while others appear so true to life that they blow your mind. New York-based artist Dylan Eakin spent 25 days—approximately 200 hours—working on a large-scale hyperrealistic drawing that looks just like a real person. Using a combination of graphite and charcoal pencils, he rendered the young woman cupping her face between her hands while expertly sketching the texture of her skin, hair, and clothes so that they fool the eye.
“I'm absurdly proud of this one,” he said on Instagram. To bring such a spectacular portrait to life, the artist based the figure on a real person (known on Instagram as @iamtheforest). Over the course of a couple of weeks and countless hours, he studied the model's likeness and translated it onto paper.
Ink Drawing: Black Cat Illustration by Endre Penovác
One of the many facets of drawing is working with ink. Depending on your utensil, this medium can be pretty unpredictable to work with. Serbian artist Endre Penovác, however, embraces the effortless twists and turns in his series of cat illustrations. Beginning with a blot of black pigment, Penovác manipulates the flow until it mimics the sinuous shape of a feline.
Each of these striking minimalist depictions highlights the understated beauty of black ink, particularly how it interacts with water, the brush, and paper. One long brushstroke becomes a sinuate tail, for instance, and a daub of black ink that bleeds into lighter gray hues is easily transformed into the body of a cat. Even the feathering of the paint—which Penovác delicately accentuates with his tools—is harnessed by the artist to enhance the texture of the fur.
Drawing in One Line: Portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Tyler Foust
We've looked at all kinds of drawings: each of which is made up of numerous lines, hatches, and marks. However, we've included the art of Tyler Foust on our list because he finds ways to create captivating portraits with just one long continuous line that never intersects. Last year, he showed us his puzzle-like pieces that contained hidden images; but in 2022, his work explored the best way to render portraits in one line.
In his drawing of Abraham Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe, the artist started at the very corner of the page, and from there, created multiple wobbly bars until he filled the page and reached the other far corner. The details of the person's face are formed from the number of fissures in the line, and the degree to which these crevices protrude.