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Tips From An Amateur Artist: Fun and Exercise With Shading

Updated on April 20, 2010

Methods of Shading

In drawing, shading can be as captivating as detail. In fact, in some instances, it can stand on its own as an art form. The better your shading is done, the more the work will stand out. There are two generally known methods of shading that I've come to know by instruction and personal experience. One is with the use of tortillions, types of tissue, or, as some prefer (depending on the medium, be it pencil, charcoal, or pastels), with their fingers. The other is with the use of the medium alone, without any tools to effect the gradual application of the medium. To achieve the best results, find what medium, methods and techniques work best for you. 

Now, as I'm most familiar with pencil, this is the medium I'll be discussing. And, as I don't use any tools to effect shading, I'll be discussing it in the context of using the pencil alone. (I was never any good at using tools for shading. Since I always got better results without using them than I did using them, I basically abandoned using them altogether.) Gradual application from light shades to dark have always given me the best results. Extending the extremity of tones can be achieved by simply switching to softer (darker) leads for the darker areas of your drawing. Transitioning gradually from white space (assuming your drawing on white paper or board) to shaded space (light to dark), starting with a harder lead (4H, for example) will make it easier to show the softest introduction of shade. Continuing on to the darkest shade desired, once you've reached the darkest shade you can with the lead you're using, switch to a softer lead and continue. The darker you want to go, the more you continue the process (from 4H to 3H, from 3H to 2H, from 2H to H to HB to B, and so on.)

And, naturally, the best way to optimize your results is simply to practice.

Fun And Exercise

Straight, ordinary, methodical, practice in shading can be kind of boring. That being said, I'd like to share an experience I had in school. In an early level design class, I received an assignment that was a part of a series intended for instruction in the manipulation of light and dark perception. Gradation was a part of the assignment, but, it wasn't the actual focus. That didn't stop the class (or the teacher, for that matter) from being slightly distracted by the enjoyment that all experienced in doing the gradation portion of the assignment. What also made the assignment so enjoyable was the actual set up of the assignment itself. It was really quite simple. Basically, all that was required was that the paper (or board) be sectioned off into shapes by intersecting lines and/or curves (or desired combinations of the two). This being done, the shapes would be filled in with a gradation from light to dark (or dark to light). The manipulation of light and dark perception would be accomplished by even execution and strategic placement of the gradation in the resulting design.

The overall pleasure experienced by all led the teacher to say something to the effect that, properly done, an artist could make a career out of producing these designs alone. (He was joking, of course.) I thought it was a blast. So much so, in fact, that later I began to pursue this kind of design on a recreational basis. On occasion, I tried putting other images in some of the spaces like a sky background, for example. I even tried incorporating names into the design (just to see what it would look like). I've even used elements of these designs to embellish my portraiture. The beauty of it is that, aside from putting together some fun designs, I get good practice in shading which in turn benefits my drawing. If you haven't already tried this or something like it, give it a shot. You might find it as enjoyable as I did. It can give you great exercise in shading too.


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      2 years ago

      You art work is terrific and inspiring. I love art that holds my attention and draws me in to just keep looking and your drawings here do that. I started my first one in this style yesterday although I'm not skilled in pencil so I think I started off too dark. But hey that's learning- right. So I have a question-. How does an artist know when they've crossed over from amateur to professional, or Maybe a better way of saying it would be how does an artist know when they've crossed over from amature to expert. I've seen some terrific work by artist that claim to still be amatures.

    • waynet profile image

      Wayne Tully 

      10 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

      Great stuff! I've always liked shading and thought I was good at it, but your complex and amazing designs when shaded are excellent, nice to see some of the art you uploaded on Youtube here and explained about in more detail.

      Cheers now!


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