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A Lesson In Drawing By An Amateur Artist: Shading

Updated on April 11, 2010
Pencil-only shading on drawing paper.
Pencil-only shading on drawing paper.

Pencil-Only Shading

The most popular techniques in shading involve the intentional smearing of graphite (lead) to augment the smoothness of a depicted surface. This is usually done with a specifically designed cloth (like a chamois of some kind), or some kind of tissue (I've heard of some artists using toilet paper), or one's own finger. But, if your willing to spend the time, the same or similar results can be achieved with a pencil alone.

To get the best or desired results there are a number of things that should be considered.

  • There's the surface or type of material you intend to draw on.
  • The pencils you intend to use.
  • The time you're willing to invest in your drawing.

For those who desire (or just simply don't mind) a textured feel or look to their drawing, there is a variety of different types of drawing paper or boards that can be used. Each of these different types of paper or board will yield different textural effects. On the other hand, for those who are partial to a smoother feel or look to their drawing, I have found a smooth surface bristol board or paper to be best for pencil-only shading.

As for the pencils used, it's most advisable to obtain as wide a range of graphite (lead) as you can. At least 2H to 4B is best. Mechanical pencils, properly used can provide a great deal of control over even-ness of shade and precise coverage in small areas. A range of graphite for the mechanical leads is advisable also. Along with the pencils and leads, kneaded erasers would also be good. Properly used, they can aid in smoothing out the tone in shaded areas.

Now, I've been told by other artists that time can be saved with the use of chamois', tissue, and other shading materials (or appendages). For myself, I can't confirm or deny that. The use of these materials (including my fingers) was something I never mastered. The results I achieved were mediocre at best. So, without having become proficient at the use of such materials, I'm unable to give an accurate assessment of time required in their effective use. I can tell you, however, if you opt to go with pencil-only shading, impatience is not an option. To get the best results, time will be required. Shortcuts will tell on you. The more time you're willing and able to invest, the better the results will be.

The Mechanics of Shading

The application of shade in a drawing, regardless of surface, can take on a number of appearances. The appearance that it takes can be a matter of style, technique, type of material (paper), grade of graphite (lead), or medium (pencil, charcoal, etc.). Accuracy and tone, however, is very largely dependent on pressure. Pressure, gradually and evenly applied allows you to switch graphite (lead) (HB to B, for example), picking up from the tone you left off on and going darker than what the harder grade (HB) would practically allow. Steadily and evenly decreasing pressure would allow you to do the same in the opposite direction (B to HB). Once you've gone as light as you're able with the softer graphite (B), you can match the tone with the harder lead, and use steadily decreasing pressure to go even lighter.

The behavior of graphite (lead) on a given surface differs from grade to grade. This can have an effect on the appearance of your shading. The softer grades (B series graphites) appear grainy. The harder grades (H series), have a smoother appearance, but shows more of an accumulation at the end of each stroke.  This accumulation can easily be removed with a kneaded eraser.   

Line as shade
Line as shade
Basic "zig-zag" stroke
Basic "zig-zag" stroke
Detail shading
Detail shading

Techniques, Effects and Detail

After you've gotten a feel for the grades and materials you've chosen, you'll be able to effectively develop a style to suit your taste. Depending on the style you develop, there are many different effects you can produce in your drawings. As you develop your style, you'll also develop standard techniques for producing desired effects.

One example of shading technique is the use of lines as shade. Even the best examples I've seen of this technique of shading allow for only a limited range of tone. A single line around a shaded area is sometimes the only indication of shading. This is usually the case when the tone is intended to be light. This technique is most frequently used for pen and ink drawings, but it can work quite well for pencil. It's also a great time saver. Compared to other techniques, however, there are very few (if any) environmental effects that can be produced in it. It's pretty much a straight-forward technique that (in a sense) focuses (for the most part) directly on the subject of the drawing.

Another very popular shading technique that's very simple in execution and time economical, involves zig-zag strokes (usually diagonal) with tones regulated by pressure. It can also be done in numerous ways that lend decorative variety to the appearance of your drawing. It's a bit more versatile in terms of environmental effects. It's much easier to show spacial differences between multiple subjects. Backgrounds and background objects can be done quite simply and, with this style, quickly.

There is another shading technique that, while quite time consuming, allows for just about every environmental effect that can be included in a drawing. In terms of execution, it generally involves small circular, overlapping strokes that cross graphite grades from light to dark. Properly used it can allow for stunning detail and produce great middle-ground and background effects that also can include as much detail as the artist can manage. This technique is rather intricate in that it accomodates the form and texture of the subject and any intermediate levels of lighting. Strokes are adjusted to accommodate grain, strand and texture. This technique can also be combined with other drawing techniques. A detailed subject can be placed against a simple background done in a simpler technique to place emphasis on the subject of the drawing.

Needless to say, the possibilities are pretty much endless. There are other techniques of shading that are popular in drawing circles that lend a great variety of appearances to drawings. And, it is of course, possible to combine the techniques mentioned above with each other or with others, and perhaps, develop a completely unique and individual technique. Every artist has there own way of seeing and their own way of expressing what they see. Among the artists I've met (amateur and professional), no two have had exactly the same technique. The techniques I've mentioned above are (as far as I've seen) among the most basic and are often used in the beginning levels of instruction. As with every other elements of drawing it's best to remember that practice and repetition are the best producers of skill and lay the best groundwork for developing new styles and techniques.


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    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 5 years ago from Dartmoor

      Superb drawings and really useful info. Makes me want to pick up my pencils again rather than pastels. Rating up and following.

    • Gareth Pritchard profile image

      Gareth Pritchard 6 years ago from North Wales

      Hi cavetroll,

      You are more than welcome and once again your drawings are very nice, I have looked at others on other pages and they are worth it.

      Nice one, Gareth.

    • cavetroll profile image

      cavetroll 6 years ago

      @Gareth - Hi, thanks! It's good to have names for the respective techniques. Your comment was very helpful and much appreciated. Thanks again!

    • Gareth Pritchard profile image

      Gareth Pritchard 6 years ago from North Wales

      Hi cavetroll,

      Interesting article and nice drawings, the techniques being discussed are hatching, cross hatching and tonal modelling.

      The preference in this article is for the tonal modelling techniques but all have their drawbacks, I prefer to use all three for best effect.

      Thanks, Gareth.

    • profile image

      7 years ago

      hi i love these types of art