From Leonardo da Vinci to Picasso

Drawing is one of the oldest forms of visual art with a long and diverse history. It is widely regarded as the foundation of all art and the first medium that students should master. And although its widespread accessibility means that it continues to be a popular pursuit for creatives around the world, the designs are often overshadowed by painting and sculpture.

However, many artists famous for their color work were also exemplary designers. In fact, masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rubens made countless preparatory drawings before each painting to study their subjects and develop compositions. Likewise, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres created refined graphite portraits which are among his most famous works today.

Here we will explore 10 famous artists who have used the power of lines in their works.

Who are the most famous designers? Discover some of the greatest masters of the lineage.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci, “Vitruvian Man”, c. 1492 (Photo: Luc Viatour Going through Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Leonardo DeVinci is the quintessential Renaissance man whose endless curiosity inspired him to study art, engineering and nature. And all his interests are found in his legacy of notebooks.

In these notebooks are hundreds of detailed sketches exploring human anatomy, animals, plant life, inventions, and more. They show how Da Vinci used drawings to think critically as well as to solve problems.

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)

Drawing of hands by Albrecht Durer

‘Praying Hands’, pen and ink drawing, 1508 (Photo via Wikimedia Commons, dedication to the public domain)

northern renaissance artist Albrecht Durer was the first artist to elevate printmaking to an art form. He produced prints, woodcuts and etchings based on his meticulously detailed drawings. It was the first time anyone had attempted to reproduce such realistic illustrations, and his resounding success subsequently inspired other artists to create and distribute prints.

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 1564)

Michelangelo figure drawing

Michelangelo, “The Dream of Human Life,” c. 1500s (Photo: The Courtauld, Going through Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

For many, Michelangelo is still the greatest artist of all time. His mastery of different disciplines – painting, sculpture, architecture – is unparalleled. At the heart of his creative practice, however, was drawing.

Before each painting and sculpture, the Italian artist made many sketches of the human figure. These expressive drawings reveal a deep understanding of anatomy and physiology and provide insight into how Michelangelo approached his elaborate compositions.

Michelangelo figure drawing

Michelangelo, “Pietà”, c. 1546 (Photo: Isabella Stewardt Gardner Museum, Going through Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Rembrandt (1606 – 1669)

Rembrandt drawing

Rembrandt, “The Windmill”, 1641 (Photo: Art Gallery of South Australia Going through Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Celebrated for its successes spanning multiple media and types of topics, Rembrandt has been called a “colossus of art” by the prolific sculptor Auguste Rodin. In his drawing he was known for his ability to render both landscapes and subjects quickly and confidently.

British artist David Hockney praised Rembrandt’s gestural drawing A child learns to walk, saying, “I think this is the greatest drawing ever made… It is a beautiful, beautiful drawing.

Rembrandt character drawing

Rembrandt, “A Child Who Learns to Walk”, 1660 (Photo: The British Museum Going through Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640)

Character drawing of Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens, “Young Woman with Folded Hands,” c. 1629-1630 (Photo: Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum
Going through Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Known for his voluptuous women, opulent colors and dynamic compositions, Peter-Paul Rubens is considered one of the most influential painters of the Baroque period. Before embarking on a commissioned painting, he created several preliminary studies of his subjects.

These surviving sketches show the confident drawing ability of the Flemish artist. With just a few confident lines, he could convey gestures and emotion.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 – 1867)

Character drawing by Ingres

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, “Portrait of the Wife of Victor Baltard (née Adeline Lequeu) and of Their Daughter Paule”, c. 1800s (Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Neoclassical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was known for his larger-than-life paintings which celebrated traditional painting techniques. And while his oil work was sometimes scrutinized by contemporary critics for its Gothic undertones, his many graphite drawings and portraits were highly revered for their precision in capturing a subject’s physical appearance and personality.

Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917)

Character drawing by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas, “Two Studies of a Singer,” c. 1870-1900 (Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

While most Impressionists drew inspiration from picturesque landscapes, the French artist Edgar Degas preferred to capture human subjects, especially those in motion. In addition to his many well-known paintings, he has also completed countless pastel and pencil studies of ballerinas, singers and bathers, each displaying its finesse in rendering the human form in action.

Character drawing by Degas

Edgar Degas, “Woman Drying Her Left Leg”, 1903 (Photo: São Paulo Art Museum Going through Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918)

Character drawing by Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt, “Half-Figure of a Young Woman”, 1918 (Photo: The Met Museum CC BY 2.0,Going through Wikimedia Commons)

Most associated Gustav Klimt‘s scintillating paintings with their golden touches. But the Austrian artist was also a master designer who used strong lines in his compositions. His striking depictions of the female figure use foreshortening and perspective.

Character drawing by Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt, “Two Studies of a Seated Nude with Long Hair”, 1901-1902 (Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864 – 1901)

Drawing by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “Le Jockey”, 1899 (Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

A contemporary of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, French artist Henri from Toulouse-Lautrec spent most of his life in the theatrical slums of Paris.

In his posters, Toulouse-Lautrec masterfully uses the line to characterize well-known performers of the time, including Yvette Guilbert, Louise Weber and Jane Avril. Her design captured the movement of dance and the energy of Parisian nightlife during the Belle Époque.

Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)

With a career of 79 years, Pablo Picasso is known to have changed his painting style several times. However, throughout his many creative changes, the artist has retained a unique and decisive way of capturing the world around him in his drawings. In particular, these sketches show how the Spanish artist needed only a few bold lines to evoke the form of his subjects.

Related Articles:

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This artist creates larger-than-life flower designs with colored pencils

The importance of the famous drawing “Vitruvian Man” by Leonardo da Vinci

Talented artists share their favorite tips for improving your drawing skills


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