News & Politics

The Oddly Compelling, Super-Realistic, Instagram-Famous Drawings of Artist Brie Hayden

She lost her job at Madame Tussaud’s due to the pandemic. Now she’s making more selling her work.

Drawing courtesy of Brie Hayden

Until the pandemic, Arlington artist Brie Hayden had a cool but unusual job: painting wax statues of famous people at the DC branch of Madame Tussauds. But when the museum temporarily shut down last spring, she decided to focus on selling her eye-grabbing pencil drawings, which previously had been a minor side hustle.

Now Hayden has a full-fledged business cranking out hyper-realistic drawings that look just like black-and-white photographs—extraordinarily detailed renderings of everyday objects such as sneakers, liquor bottles, and animals. “People tell me they do a doubletake when they come across my pieces and learn that they are drawings,” she says.

Hayden sells the work on her website—originals are “in the four-figure range,” while prints are all less than $100—but most of her business is via Instagram (@briehaydenart). Sales have been so brisk, she’s now making more than she was at Madame Tussauds.

Part of Hayden’s success is due to a big boost from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who commissioned two drawings—and shared a video of her making one of them with his 205 million Instagram followers. But mostly, fans just gravitate to her striking images. “People are drawn to the beauty of the art,” she says, “and realism often gives people an immediate connection because they understand the art right away. Each piece captures light and shadow in a way that makes you feel like you can touch it.”

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Web Producer/Writer

Rosa joined Washingtonian in 2016 after graduating from Mount Holyoke College. She covers arts and culture for the magazine. She’s written about anti-racism efforts at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, dinosaurs in the revamped fossil hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, and the horrors of taking a digital detox. When she can, she performs with her family’s Puerto Rican folkloric music ensemble based in Jersey City. She lives in Adams Morgan.