Pencil Shading
The Key to Depth

I remember the first lesson in shading I received while I was in art class. I'm sure if you've taken art in grade school or college you've had to do something similar. Our first lesson was shading rounded objects.

Maybe you had to shade a sphere or a cylinder, but the idea still applies: light effects shading. It's important to understand how a light source can effect the shading of your drawing before you need to worry about learning certain techniques.

Basically, you'll get by if you remember the principle that "the farther something is away from a light source, the darker it will be."

Watch the video below. It will introduce you to five common shading techniques.

Pencil shading is one of the most important aspects of learning how to draw. Basically, shading is a grouping of lines that creates a specific tone, from shadows to a variety of midtones. Without shading, we would be unable to make our drawings look three dimensional, a good reason to learn how to shade.

There are many techniques/styles of pencil shading, and all serve their own purpose. I will cover most of these techniques, but focus on the ones I use the most (and the one’s I recommend if you want realistic looking drawings).

The Art of Pencil Shading

Although there are many techniques to shading an image, you will find that you are most comfortable with one or two methods. This is okay, but don't forget that you have all of the techniques at your disposal. While your favorite method may be hatching, don't forget that "squiggling" can create certain textures that hatching cannot.


Pencil Shading - Cross Hatching
Pencil Shading - Tight Cross Hatching

Cross Hatching for More Realistic Shading

Cross-hatching is the same as hatching, only the lines can go in multiple directions. Depending on your style you can be as subtle as you want with your cross-hatching. Loose cross-hatching is good for beginners or specific styles (for example, comics or any ink drawings). You can tighten the cross-hatching to make darker values, or loosen it the create light values. Tight cross-hatching is the same, but your lines are drawn so close together that it looks smooth. The individual strokes aren't obvious, and it makes your drawing look more photo-realistic.


Pencil Shading - Hatching

Hatching: The Most Basic Form of Shading

The first pencil shading technique we're going to talk about hatching. Hatching is a basic form of shading where you use single-directional lines to create your values. In a drawing, you shouldn't be able to see your individual strokes. For the sake of this demonstration, I didn't refine the hatching in the picture to the left. Notice where it is smooth, and where you can see the individual strokes. 


Pencil Shading to create shadows

Creating Shadows for Excellent Contrast

One problem with graphite is that it can be hard to get deep blacks in your drawings to create contrasting shadows. Charcoal drawing pencils are excellent for this, but they can be very messy. If you're not careful, the charcoal could get all over your drawing. 


Pencil Shading with a Blending Stump

Blending Stumps for Natural Shading (Video)

Another way you can shade your drawing is with a blending stump (aka a tortillon). You can use a blending stump with any of the above techniques to smooth out any hard lines. If you look closely, you can tell where I did both tight cross-hatching (left) and loose cross-hatching (right) and blended both. I also faded out a dark line (far right), to show another used for a tortillon.


Pencil Shading by scribbling

Scribbling: A Common Beginner's Mistake

Scribbling is basically "coloring in" your drawing with your pencil. It's the same technique you probably use with crayons and colored pencils, and as you can see it doesn't come out looking so good. For one, you have less control, but more importantly, the ends of each pencil stroke are dark. This makes the overlapping edges even darker (as you can see). I recommend that if you do end up shading this way for whatever reason, you use a tortillon to blend everything in. The only benefit to this method is that it's faster.


More on Shading

Don't forget to check out the information below. There's a ton of stuff to know about shading, and it will all help develop your drawing ability to the next level.

Hard and Soft Edges 

When you first begin to shade your drawing, you might find yourself unable to blend tones together. This leaves you with a drawing that looks "striped". Learn about how these hard edges can ruin your drawing, and how to instead create softer edges.

Drawing Tone - Identifying the Three Types 

When drawing a picture there are three tones you must identify before you start shading. Each tone is dependent on light, and will ultimately dictate whether or not you've achieved any depth in your drawing.

Shading a Cylinder - A Basic Shading Exercise

Shading a cylinder is a fun way to practice basic pencil shading techniques. This dynamic exercise is fun, fast, and easy!


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