You Can Master Basic Shading Techniques

Shading techniques allow you to weave layer upon layer of pencil marks to add a convincing form to your line drawings.

In drawing, shading adds a sense of substance to your subject and produces a convincing tonal relationship. That relationship then translates to a sense of volume—a “likeness”. Your drawing takes on a three dimensional form when shaded properly.

Once you have become confident when drawing lines and contours, then the next critical step is master these techniques to give your drawings “substance”!

Basic shading techniques

There are a number of techniques to learn, but done well, even just one or two will go a long way. I have seen plenty of great drawings done with just one or two shading methods—but you have to know your tonal relationships well.

  1. Hatching: building up of dark value by means of thin parallel lines.
  2. Apply one layer of lines parallel to each other using an even pressure all the way across. Go back over them when necessary to darken the tone.

    This is the most basic shading technique. It requires a steady hand and practice. Done well, it may be the only shading technique you need.

  3. Cross hatching: building up multiple layers of hatched lines that cross each other at an angle

  4. shading techniques - crosshatching

    This is an especially common technique in engraving. To add variety, you can use this common shading technique along with basic hatching to convey the form of your subject.

    This technique requires even more pressure control as you lay down the lines.

  5. Stumping: using the pointed end of a piece of paper which has been tightly rolled into a “stick” to “smudge” lines on your drawing

  6. shading techniques - use a stump

    You can also use your fingertips and to keep your stumps clean and reserve them for areas that require a lot of precision.

  7. Veiling: drawing faint lines with a pencil or charcoal tip by dragging it lightly over the paper's grain.
  8. shading techniques - veiling

    This is a more refined type of shading techniques. If you are after a smooth, seamless feel for your drawings, then practice this technique.

    The drawing shown here shows very faint veiling passages. These can be darkened by going over them to add more layers on top.

    Take care that you do not leave harsh lines or sharp edges in the shaded regions. Use an eraser to remove or soften uneven passages. The key to success with this shading technique is to use a sharpened point with your pencil or charcoal.

Some useful tools to supplement shading techniques

shading techniques - use a brush

  1. Try using tools like a soft brush or a fan brush to soften the shading. You can then continue to add more layers.

    Different brushes act differently, so you will have to familiarize yourself with the pressure needed for whatever brush you choose. I suggest using a broad Chinese ink brush for softening and evening out the textures of your drawing.

    shading techniques - use an eraser

  2. A kneaded eraser is another very useful tool for modeling the tones. Give it a point to be able to more accurately pick up charcoal or graphite pencil powder.

    You can lighten up one area and draw the pigment into another area at the same time. You can also drag it flat across your drawing to smooth it out. If you happen to remove too much dry pigment this way, then just rebuild the shades again.




Do you know how to correctly hold your pencil when you shade?

When shading, place your pencil between the thumb and the first 3 fingers below the palm of your hand. Keep your wrist locked and use your elbow and shoulder to move the pencil, rather than your wrist and fingers.

Since you will usually be shading with the side rather than the pointed tip of the pencil, you will want to produce a soft stroke.

Accentuate the subtleties of your subject by applying your pencil with a soft pressure, as if you are caressing the drawing surface.

Remember not to darken your shading too much too soon. You always can build the layers up as you hatch. This process will help you refine the form.

By slowing down, you will be able to refine the shapes of the shadow shapes over a longer period of time, which will help you avoid over-modeling (“modeling” means shading to render the form).

The ability to draw with a steady, controlled movement that comes from mastering these techniques will not only improve your drawings, but will also translate to improved painting skills later when you pick up a paint brush.

Practice these techniques and take your drawings to a higher level!




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