Stephen Wiltshire MBE - Biography

Stephen Wiltshire MBE - Biography
Stephen Wiltshire is an artist who draws and paints detailed cityscapes. He has a particular talent for drawing lifelike, accurate representations of cities, sometimes after having only observed them briefly. He was awarded an MBE for services to the art world in 2006. He studied Fine Art at City & Guilds Art College. His work is popular all over the world, and is held in a number of important collections.

Stephen was born in London, United Kingdom to West Indian parents on 24th April, 1974. As a child he was mute, and did not relate to other people. Aged three, he was diagnosed as autistic. He had no language and lived entirely in his own world.

At the age of five, Stephen was sent to Queensmill School in London, where it was noticed that the only pastime he enjoyed was drawing. It soon became apparent he communicated with the world through the language of drawing; first animals, then London buses, and finally buildings. These drawings show a masterful perspective, a whimsical line, and reveal a natural innate artistry.

The instructors at Queensmill School encouraged him to speak by temporarily taking away his art supplies so that he would be forced to ask for them. Stephen responded by making sounds and eventually uttered his first word - "paper." He learned to speak fully at the age of nine. His early illustrations depicted animals and cars; he is still extremely interested in american cars and is said to have an encyclopedic knowledge of them. When he was about seven, Stephen became fascinated with sketching landmark London buildings.

Stephen Wiltshire - child artist
One of Stephen's teachers took a particular interest in him, who later accompanied his young student on drawing excursions and entered his work in children's art competitions, many of which garnered Stephen awards. The local press became increasingly suspicious as to how a young child could produce such masterful drawings.

The media interest soon turned nationwide and the 7 year old Stephen Wiltshire made his first steps to launch his lifelong career. The same year he sold his first work and by the time he turned 8, he received his first commission from the British Prime Minister to create a drawing of Salisbury Cathedral.

In February 1987 Stephen appeared in The Foolish Wise Ones. (The show also featured savants with musical and mathematical talents.) During his segment Hugh Casson, a former president of London's Royal Academy of Arts, referred to him as "possibly the best child artist in Britain."

Casson introduced Stephen to Margaret Hewson, a literary agent who helped Stephen field incoming book deals and soon became a trusted mentor. She helped Stephen publish his first book, Drawings (1987), a volume of his early sketches that featured a preface by Casson. Hewson, known for her careful stewardship of her clients' financial interests, made sure a trust was established in Stephen's name so that his fees and royalties were used wisely.

Hewson arranged Stephen's first trip abroad, to New York City, where he sketched such legendary skyscrapers as the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, as part of a feature being prepared by the London-based International Television News. While in New York Stephen met Oliver Sacks.

Sacks was fascinated by the young artist, and the two struck up a long friendship; Sacks would ultimately write extensively about Stephen. The resulting illustrations from his visit - along with sketches of sites in the London Docklands, Paris, and Edinburgh - formed the basis for his second book, Cities (1989), which also included some drawings of purely imaginary metropolises.

Stephen Wiltshire - Drawings
At about this time Stephen embarked on a drawing tour of Venice, Amsterdam, Leningrad, and Moscow, attracting crowds wherever he stopped to draw. He was accompanied part of the time by Sacks, who was conducting research for a new book on Stephen's story. These drawings testify to an assured draughtsmanship and an ability to convey complex perspective with consummate ease. But more importantly, they reveal his mysterious creative ability to capture the sensibility of a building and that which determines its character and its voice. It is this genius which sets him apart and confers upon him the status of artist. His third book, Floating Cities (1991), contains the elaborate drawings he made on the tour.

In 1992 Stephen accepted the invitation of a Tokyo-based television company to tour Japan and make drawings of various landmark structures, including the Tokyo metropolitan government building, in Shinjuku, and the Ginza shopping district. He then traveled to America once again, a trip that resulted in the book American Dream (1993), which featured cityscapes of Chicago, San Francisco, and New York, as well as the desert landscape of Arizona.

Stephen Wiltshire with Dustin Hoffman
Meanwhile, Stephen's artwork was being exhibited frequently in venues all over the world.

In 2001 he appeared in another BBC documentary, Fragments of Genius, for which he was filmed flying over London aboard a helicopter and subsequently completing a detailed and perfectly scaled aerial illustration of a four-square-mile area within three hours; his drawing included 12 historic landmarks and 200 other structures.

In late 2003 the Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham, England, held the first major retrospective of Wiltshire's works, spanning a period of 20 years; more than 40,000 visitors attended the exhibit, shattering the gallery's attendance records.

Stephen took on his largest project to date in May 2005, when he returned to Tokyo to make a panoramic drawing - the largest of his career - of the city. Two months later he drew a similarly detailed picture of Rome, including the Vatican and St. Peter's Cathedral, entirely from memory.

In December, after a 20-minute helicopter ride, Stephen spent a week creating a 10-meter-long drawing of Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour and the surrounding urban scene. (He dedicated the work as a Christmas present to the city's residents.) Later on he added Frankfurt, Madrid, Dubai, Jerusalem and London to his collection.

The following drawing in the series was of his spiritual home, New York where he embarked a five day marathon drawing on a 6 metres canvas live on television.

Further trips followed to Syndey, Shanghai, Brisbane, Singapore and Istanbul later.

Stephen Wiltshire City Panoramas
Contrary to the popular misconception that Stephen is only interested in capturing architecture and classic american cars, he often draws portraits of celebrities and close friends in his private sketchbook. Stephen started creating caricatures of his teachers at primary school, and has since then produced many caricature 'snap shots' documenting amusing incidents encountered on his trips abroad as well.

Stephen Wiltshire's passion for buildings, citiscapes and skylines continuously inspires him to revisit his favourite cities as well as discover new destinations while travelling the world. In a recent interview in New York he revealed that the most intriguing qualities of an exciting city must have 'chaos and order at the same time, the avenues and squares, skyscrapers as well as traffic jams, the chaotic rush hour and people'.

In January 2006 it was announced that Stephen was being named by Queen Elizabeth II as a Member of the Order of the British Empire, in recognition of his services to the art world. "It's an absolute honour," his sister, Annette, told Geoffrey Wansell for the London Daily Mail (January 3, 2006). "It brought tears to my Mum's eyes and to mine, because we've all worked so hard for Stephen."

Later that year, with the encouragement of Annette and her husband, Zoltan, Stephen Wiltshire founded his own permanent art gallery in London's Royal Opera Arcade, London's oldest shopping arcade.

Stephen Wiltshire receives MBE for services to art

In July 2014, Stephen was commissioned by Singapore PH to create a panoramic drawing of the city, which became part of the National Collection of Singapore to celebrate the nation's 50th birthday.

150,000 visitors attend his exhibition in just 5 days, setting an attendance record in the history of the country.

Did you know?

Favourite artist

Stephen's favourite artist is Richard Estes. He likes almost anything from the hyper-realist painter.

New York penthouse

Stephen was still a teenager when he first designed his own penthouse in New York.

Drawing people

He draws more portraits of people than buildings. Although, he keeps these compositions to his private sketchbook.

Racing driver

Stephen has driven a racing car before. He drove a sport coupe on Brands Hatch and broke the clutch several times. The film crew in the car had never been more terrified.

His first words

Stephen's first words were paper and pencil (just like Picasso) and he fully learnt to speak at the age of nine.

Just a normal guy

Despite Stephen's astounding memory, whilst in Manhattan he still managed to get lost and walk 45 minutes in the wrong direction before finding Cheyenne's Diner.


He completed a 2 year course in desktop publishing and created a retro disco cartoon for his course work, passing it a year before all other students.

Stephen Wiltshire Phd

He earnt his postgraduate degree in drawing and printmaking at the prestigious City & Guilds Art School in 1998.


Stephen has perfect pitch and had been endorsed by The Royal College of Music to perform his piano and singing skills. Although, his true passion remains with drawing and painting.

First sale

Stephen was first commissioned at the age of 8 by the British Prime Minister.


Stephen's first calendar was released in 1988, shortly after his first book Drawings was published.

American cars

Stephen owns more than 70 classic American cars including his favourites a 1969 Cadillac Sedan De Ville, a 1974 Dodge Monaco Police car and the Blues Brothers mobile. He has been collecting his model cars since 2002.


He admits to a preference for blondes, most notably the actress Jennie Garth from Beverly Hills 90210 as well as Cameron Diaz.

What he listens

Stephen listens mostly 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's music, rock n' roll, motown, funk, soul, r'n'b and also pop on his iPhone while drawing.


His largest ever drawing has been a panoramic view of Tokyo, measuring 10 metres in length. It took Stephen 8 days to complete the artwork using pen only.

Favourite films

Stephen's favourite films are Rain Man and Saturday Night Fever.

Quick on the draw

The shortest time Stephen finished a drawing was two minutes, a quick sketch of a bus, also Statue of Liberty.


Stephen's favourite brands are Nike, Adidas, Timberland and Apple.

Drawing pen

Stephen uses Staedtler pens for his pen and ink drawings, they are one of the biggest pen makers in the world. They also supply Stephen with his must have pigment liners.

Words of inspiration

Stephen's motto is "Do the best you can and never stop".


Stephen's shows attract large number of visitors world wide. Will your city be the next in his diary?


View articles dating back from the 1980's about Stephen starting his career and more recent press cutting in our archive section.

Image library

Photographs of a Genius in action from the late 1970's to today for press use or illustration purposes.

London store

The Stephen Wiltshire Gallery will open at 10:00 today. Plan your visit by finding us on the map. View our opening hours.

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