Life is a strange thing. Who would have thought that an artist who started out as a painter would only make it big (in more ways than one) when he started drawing huge lifelike pen drawings based on photographs of his friends – drawings that now appear at sold-out gallery shows around the world.

Juan Francisco Casas manages to make one of the most unforgiving (no erasing!) and potentially boring tools (black on white if about all it can do) into a potent artistic device – perhaps even more powerful than the sword, as the saying goes. The results look remarkably three-dimensional, the people in the photo-drawings like solid forms in real space.

One of the most impressive aspects of these works is their sheer scale – they look like little drawings or standard-sized photos until you see them in context, like in the image above with the artist hovering over his huge half-finished canvas.

Partly as a joke and in part to make a statement about the potential of simple materials, the artist began doing these works five years ago. He submitted one on a whim to a competition and expected immediate rejection. Instead, his pieces quickly made their way to the mainstream museum scene and have since launched his successful career.