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One man and his ballpoint pen: Meet the artist behind these stunning photorealistic portraits

Euronews Copyright James Mylne
Copyright James Mylne
By Charlotte CullenBenjie Croce
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Artist James Mylne spends hundreds of hours on each of his drawings. His preferred tool is a standard Bic ballpoint pen, leaving no room for mistakes, slips or smudges.


James Mylne's hyper-realistic portraits are already incredibly impressive but when you learn that they are drawn in ballpoint pen, they become mind-boggling. 

The London-based artist's preferred tool is a standard Bic biro, which leaves no room for any mistakes, slips, smudges or retouches.

"It's a permanent mark every time," says James, "I do get a bit of a rush out of using an instrument that you can't really make any errors with."

Ballpoint pen: An unusual tool for an artist

James' love of the ballpoint pen goes back to school when he was drawn to it because of its ability to create realistic images but with a boldness that you can't get from pencil.

"The reaction I got from teachers about using ballpoint pen was a bit of perplexity. They weren't quite sure how to teach me how to use it because I don't think anyone else had been using it at all.

"I think at the beginning they also wanted to steer me away from using ballpoint because they weren't quite sure where it fit in with their curriculum... I ended up having to teach myself to do it at weekends." 

Patience is a virtue: the creative process

When James is beginning a new piece, he uses a pencil only to get the outlines before picking up his ballpoint.

"When you use a ballpoint, because it's permanent ink, you need to narrow down on the difficult parts first. I will focus on, let's say, the eyes, and then work my way from there between important features of the face and the composition.

"With shading, it's just very, very light, almost scratches on the surface. So as long as you get the contours correct with the way you're flowing the lines you can weave them together, like a tapestry, like a carpet, and they can intertwine with each other."

The technique requires incredible skill and unwavering patience. A typical drawing takes more than 100 hours but one of his larger works of art, a portrait of Malcom X, took 469 hours.

James says while drawing he sometimes feels like he's performing surgery.

"In that moment, it's almost like a machine... Like an out-of-body experience in some moments."

Reaction from the public

James says that people often do a double take when seeing his art, going back to check it is indeed drawn in pen.

"It's a really cool thing to see because every moment that happens, I get a little genuine spark of 'wow - it still works.' People still love the art and that is very special."

Some of the pieces that have captured people's attention the most are his series of political portraits, including former British Prime Minister Boris Johson as Batman's Joker and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with the fire of the Amazon burning in his eyes.

"I actually gave myself a rule a long time ago to stay away from politics and to keep my artwork figurative... but I remember one teacher saying a long time ago: We're all involved in politics. 


"You can't really separate yourself from it, it's the world we live in."

Be wowed by James Mylne's art and discover his biggest challenge when drawing with ballpoint by watching the video at the top of the page.

Additional sources • Video editor: Morade Azzouz

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