Mastering Pencil Shading

Do you want to add value and depth to your pencil sketches? Do you wish to turn your favorite pictures into impressive drawings? Are you looking for techniques that help you make realistic portraits?

Mastering pencil shading requires a lot of skill, effort, and practice. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced artist, practicing and refining your artistry is necessary. Even though shading with pencils is a relaxing task, it sometimes becomes frustrating when we do not achieve our desired results.

Hence, to assist you, we bring you an extensive guide that will take you through various approaches to pencil shading. We will learn the importance of shading techniques and different artistic procedures. We will also understand basic to advanced methods that help give drawings a three-dimensional look.

So, let us plunge into the various pencil shading techniques to make your sketches look professional.

Exploring the Art of Shading

An artist’s journey begins with learning sketching and drawing skills. Mastering pencil portraits forms the base to achieve excellence in various other art forms. To begin, let’s proceed with understanding the importance and objective of pencil art.

Definition and Purpose of Shading

Pencil shading is a hand-controlled pencil movement that makes a sketch realistic and lifelike. Artists define shading as layering pencil strokes to create contrasting values and tones. It is the art of using varying intensity levels of darkness and light to create an illusion of depth and space.

Shading is an essential art tool that adds volume and realism to a picture. Artists enhance and bring life to their drawings using various shading and blending techniques. A thorough knowledge of lights and shadows is essential to gain perfection in shading methods.

Shading of fruit

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Media Caterer

Credit: Media Caterer

Impact of Shading on the Overall Composition

Shading is a crucial art tool that significantly impacts pencil art compositions. Without shading, a drawing looks bland and lifeless. Artists add tonal values to give their sketches a unique and exciting look. The range of different textures and a value scale add light and dark areas to a composition. The strategic application of shading techniques can make simple line drawings visually attractive and appealing.

Learning shading techniques is a must for an artist to produce shadows and realistic effects. Good shading captures the subject's identity and adds texture, depth, and detail to a sketch. It makes pencil compositions more engaging and captivating.

realistic sketch

three-dimensional representation

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The art of shading can turn a flat image into a three-dimensional representation. Artists play with highlights and shades to create an illusion of form. Shading helps define the curves and contours of an object, giving them a unique representation.

While good pencil shading adds volume to a sketch, on the flip side, wrong shading can result in a messy and untidy sketch. Thus, consistent shading practice is a must for any artist.

The Art Club

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Importance of Shading in An Artwork

Shading techniques are necessary to add complexity and fineness to a sketch. Artists add pencil shading to simple drawings as they set the mood and tone of the composition.

Hyper-realistic portraits are a result of detailed shading and sketching. Proper shading defines the features and characteristics of your subject and imparts life to the sketch. It enhances the visual impact of an illustration by giving it a natural and authentic charm.

The addition of subtle details and traits makes a pleasing and appealing piece of artwork. Effective and sharp pencil shading is the result of drawing the right proportions and an accurate balance of light and shadows. Thus, the correct execution of shading methods is of great importance.

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Rapid Fine Art

Credit: Rapid Fine Art

Essential Requirements for Pencil Shading

To make any artwork, collecting good quality equipment is of utmost importance. Artists use various drawing, shading, blending, and smudging tools during the artistic process. Let’s learn about some of the necessary tools required for pencil shading.

1) Paper

Paper is the first and foremost tool needed while making an art composition. Every paper has its unique set of characteristics and properties. Choosing a suitable base for your drawing is essential for getting the best results during pencil shading.

Knowing about the tone and texture of the sketching sheets is vital while purchasing them. You can analyze the best-suited paper quality by regularly experimenting with different papers. Rough textured papers allow the artist to create multiple layers and styles.

Generally, experienced artists opt for toothed and textured sheets as they support the particles of graphite pencils. These papers are stiff enough to avoid tearing away from a kneaded eraser or blending stump. However, beginners should experiment with different choices until they find the best option.

2) Graphite Pencils

The most basic, adaptable, simple-to-use shading tools are pencils. Drawing pencils gives an artist a familiar usage feeling and helps them pressure control the lines and marks. Shading pencils come in many grades, ranging from 2B(soft) to 9H(hard). The higher B numbers are darker and softer, whereas the higher H numbers are lighter.

The HB pencil comes in the mid of the spectrum of graphite pencils. While using HB pencils, you do not have to apply much force to produce faint, thin lines. This pencil is best for drawing preliminary sketches and shading light areas.

You can also choose between graphite or charcoal pencils depending on your need and accessibility. But, one difference between charcoal and graphite pencils is that the former gives a deep dark black shade on paper. In contrast, the latter always creates a metallic and reflective look.

Experienced artists use varied pencils in a single sketch as it becomes easier to identify and create lighter and darker areas. By using multiple pencil grades, you can increase the tonal range in your work and elevate your shading quality.

Always start the shading process with a harder pencil, then move forward with a softer, darker pencil. This technique ensures convenient smudging and the perfect blending of light and shadows.

Ken Bromley Art Supplies

Credit: Ken Bromley Art Supplies


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3) Kneaded Eraser

A kneaded eraser is an essential element in any artist’s kit. As the name suggests, you can mold and stretch kneaded erasers into different shapes. These erasers not only erase mediums but are also efficient in smudging pencil marks. You can even create highlights in darker shadows using this artistic tool.

Other than kneaded erasers, you can also buy an electric eraser. Electric erasers are handheld battery devices that clean up a specific drawing area.

The Drawing Source

Credit: The Drawing Source

Kneaded Eraser

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4) Blending Tools

The shading of a sketch is completed with the blending and smudging of highlights and shadows. If the pencil lines and marks are left unsmudged, they look untidy, making the sketch fall flat.

Today, a variety of blending tools are available in the market. Every blending tool has unique features and solves different purposes. Smudging equipment comes in multiple shapes, sizes, textures, and qualities.

Artists mostly use tortillion, chamois, and sofft tools to blend shadows and highlights of their portraits. The form and quality of these art tools are convenient to use and suitable for sketches.

The Desert Cart

The Desert Cart

Five Elements of Shading

Shadows and lighting play a crucial role in defining the realism of an object. The accuracy and precision of these two elements can turn a flat and dull image into a dynamic art piece. To master pencil shading, understanding multiple light sources and the direction of their beams is necessary.

The way light falls upon the subject decides its contrasting tones and shades. The position, angle, intensity, and direction of light sources determine where the shadows will form on the object.

Shadows result in areas where the lights miss to fall or reach. Creating shadows and values may look simple, but it is a highly complex task. The intricacy of shading depends upon the shape of an object, its sides, its opacity or transparency, the lighting sources, and directions.

The elements of shading define how light creates shadows on and around the subject matter. So, let us explore these five shading elements critical for any pencil art.

Shading Journey

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1) Full Light

Full light is the distinct white area where the light source shines brightly on your object. This part of the subject, also known as a highlight, is the epicenter from which light spreads and shadows form. You can use highlights to understand the making of light areas and dark tones.

The angle of the light source decides the angle of the highlight and the shadows. A hard light source will create a dramatic shadow. In contrast, a soft lighting source will form soft shades.

An artist must figure out the direction of the light source before beginning to shade. The full light shading element helps configure other shadow areas and brings originality and realism to drawings.

To identify the highlighted part of your drawn object, imagine a straight ray of light coming from a source and hitting your drawing. Now, think of the area that will receive the maximum light and the regions with mid-tones or dark shadows.

Once you understand the division of light and shadow, you can easily create the light shading element in your drawing. Thus, use this method and often practice creating highlights on your sketch.

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2) Half-Tone

As the light strikes the object, it starts to spread and fade away. The area between the end of highlights and the start of shadows is half-tone. As the name suggests, half-tone is the midpoint of light and shadow. It is an intermediate value between the full light and the shadow edge.

As the fading of the light creates the mid-tone, the transition from highlights to half-tones should be smooth, like a gradient effect. The half-tone is generally dull and less dramatic than any other shading element.

Smudging and blending the light and dark value edges is necessary to create a realistic mid-tone. To get a perfect mid-tone effect, head towards the light area and slowly smudge it down. After that, begin spreading the shadow, and continue until both smudges meet in the middle. You can use a blending stump or a kneaded eraser to make mid-tone.

In the beginning, you may find difficulty in mastering this trick, but one can obtain accurate results with practice.

Paint Draw Paint

Credit: Paint Draw Paint

3) Shadow Edge

When observing any object kept under a lighting source, the darkest area you see on it is the shadow edge. A shadowed edge is a region with the deepest and darkest tones. To identify the shadow edge in your drawing, consider the area turned away from the light source. Observe the part which will receive no light after the rippling effect.

Identifying and making shadow edges in the initial shading stages is necessary to create other elements. The placement of mid-tones reflected lights and cast shadows depends upon the highlights and shadow edges.

To create shadow edges, always take a softer, darker pencil and shade smoothly through the area. Always note that the shadow should follow the shape of your subject matter. For example, if you have a round object, use curved dark lines to cover the shadow area.

Your shadow edge can be big or small, depending on the size of your sketching sheet and the light source you are considering. So, always place the darkest shadow after observing all the possibilities of the shading elements.

Shadow Edge

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Rapid Fire Art

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4) Reflected Light

One of the trickiest shading elements is the reflected light. The object experiences reflected light when light bounces back on the object from some other light source. The primary light source, which creates the full light, does not create reflected light.

Making reflected light is challenging because it is difficult to identify from where the light ray generates. Artists often create this shading element between the shadow edge and the cast shadow.

The value of reflected light is darker than the highlights and mid-tones but lighter than the shadow areas. Also, the surrounding darker tones affect the color of this area.

Will Kemp Art School

Credit: Will Kemp Art School

5) Cast Shadow

The last and final element of shading is the cast shadow. Cast shadow is the tone of the shadows on the surface surrounding your subject. It is the shadow cast on the ground by the object.

The size and direction of cast shadows depend upon the angle of light sources. For example, consider yourself walking on the street with the sun shining above your head. You will observe that as the day passes, the angle of the shadow changes. Similarly, while creating a cast shadow, always follow the direction of the light ray.

Also, note that not every element in the composition need to have a cast shadow. Cast shadow depends upon the placement of the object in the scenery and the light source.

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To better understand these concepts, keep a circular object like a metal ball under a light source like sunlight or an electric bulb and observe the shadows and shades. You will see a glowing effect, dark areas, and half-tones.

So, these five shading components have a massive impact on the result. The overall sketch can fall flat even if one element goes missing from the drawing. As a beginner, practicing shadows and improving drawing skills is crucial to make attractive pictures.

Difference between Values, Contrasts, and Tones

As a beginner, it may be hard to differentiate between terms like values, contrasts, and tones. While all these words sound confusing and similar to each other, they have distinctive differences among them.

The principles of values, contrasts, and tones are pillars of any artwork. Let’s understand and discover the importance and use of these elements in art.

1) Values

Values are the range of shades on a gradient color scale. The tonal value refers to the darkness or lightness of a color. Understanding values is essential to create depth and dimension in drawings. The diversity in tonal value range creates liveliness in a sketch.

To better understand tonal values make a grey scale with a range of colors from the lightest to the darkest. For example, take a spot of blue pigment on white paper and mix white and black colors to it simultaneously. Add different quantities of black and white to every swatch to create a gradient scale. You will observe the various mixtures and shades obtained from different ratios of pigments.

While infinite values bounce off an object when light strikes it, the highlight, mid-tones, and shadow tones are the main among them. The light values depict highlights and the dark values represent shadows.

Highlights are the areas on the subject matter with the brightest light. These regions have no shadows and are the most shining areas, with the most white pigment. Mid tones blend shadows and light and are dull and flat. On the other hand, shadow tones are the darkest regions with the maximum shade and no light source.

Julianna Kunstler

Credit: Julianna Kunstler

2) Tones

The correct tonal range helps grab the viewers' attention. Similar to values, tones are also a range of light and dark shades of pigment. Tones are the hue variations that form after mixing the black and white colors.

The appearance of the tones also depends on their surrounding values and tints. For example, a dark tone will appear darker near a light shade, and a mid-tone will appear dull around a darker value. Apart from it, the smooth gradient of shading pencils and light sources also determines the range of tones.

3) Contrasts

Understanding the concept of contrasts is vital to make a compelling art composition. Contrasts mean positioning two different values adjacent to each other. Contrasting shades is integral to creating depth and dimensions in an artwork.

To make them, use two shades of varying tonal value and smudge them together. For example, put a reflected light against a shadow edge to enhance the area. An artist can also produce contrasts with differences in the shape, texture, and size of two objects.

Artists use different shades to draw the viewer’s attention toward the critical parts of the composition. The colors can be subtle or extreme, depending on the need of the depiction. Make sure that the consistency of values is balanced throughout the piece.

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Step-By-Step Shading Techniques

Shading is an essential element of art that uplifts a simple line drawing to an entirely new level. No matter how skilled an artist is at drawing, only shading can give his creations realistic and natural effects. The tonal range and values that shading adds to an artwork make it a masterpiece.

Before beginning the shading process, it is important to understand the main shading techniques. While there are many shading methods, we will get one by one onto them.

1) Hatching

If you are looking for an easy-to-learn, time-saving, and most-used shading technique, explore hatching! Hatching is an artistic shading method of drawing parallel, equally spaced lines in a single direction. Hatching lines vary in quantity, shape, thickness, and length and help to create a shadowy effect.

In the medieval era, artists developed the hatching technique for engravings and printmaking. The masters of etching and woodcut often used this technique in their craftwork. Gradually, many painters and sketchers also adapted this method and started creating their art using hatching.

Hatching is the best technique to create a vast tonal range and values. The thickening and spacing of lines determine the light and dark values. For instance, denser lines make darker shaded portions and thinner lines form a brighter shaded region. You can use this technique while shading anything, like nails, wooden panels, brushed metal, etc.

Here are some tips to understand and do the hatching technique even better:

● Pressure Control Your Pencil

The pressure an artist applies on the pencil determines the quality and thickness of the hatching lines. For creating longer and sweeping pencil strokes, loosely hold the pencil between the thumb and index finger. Instead of applying pressure on your pencil lead and the wrist's movement, use your elbow. Keep your wrist straight, and move your elbow forward and backward to create swift light strokes.

If you want extra long hatching lines, keep your elbow in one place, and try moving your shoulder. Apply force with an easy movement of your shoulder. This technique will help you enhance the quality of hatch lines.

● Add Light and Dark Values

Textures and tonal values play an integral role in executing a realistic sketch. While shading, creating a vast tonal range with all the shading elements is vital to make an appealing drawing.

Try using sharp-tipped pencils to get metallic textures and a blunt pencil for smoother and darker tones. Smudge all the tones and edges together so that they do not appear indifferent to one another.

● Circular Hatching

A variation of hatching, circular hatching, is the technique of using curved lines to cover a round object. While using this method, always remember that the hatching lines should have a similar shape and pattern as your subject matter. Using curved marks contouring along the form gives the object a lifelike appearance. Therefore, always use the right-shaped pencil strokes for different shapes and sizes.


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2) Cross Hatching

If you want to add complexity to your shading, use the cross hatching technique! Cross hatching simply means using criss-cross lines to create lighter and darker shadows. Cross-hatching takes the hatching process forward by adding opposite lines on the already placed pencil strokes.

Prevalent since the fifteenth century, renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Vincent Van Gogh used cross hatching techniques in their artworks. These artists used these methods in etchings and ink drawings.

Cross hatching gives a rustic look to artwork because of its woven texture and complexity. The overlapping pencil lines create a mesh-like pattern that diversifies the tonal range of the drawing. By adding multiple lines from various directions, this technique overpowers smooth shading and creates depth in the line drawings.

Always begin with hatching and then layer cross hatched layers over the top. Go from light to darker areas to avoid challenges while blending. Cross hatching can depict, for example, an older person’s wrinkled skin or high-textured fabric.

Both hatching and cross hatching are versatile and accessible with an ink pen, charcoal, or graphite pencils. So, these techniques greatly complement each other and can be used together in landscapes and portraits.

Cross Hatching

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3) Stippling

Stippling is a unique repeated pattern of creating a series of dots around the paper. Like hatching, in stippling, the density of dots determines the tonal value of the object. Closer dots create darker markers; spaced dots create highlights and light areas.

A softer pencil will leave dark marks, and a harder pencil will leave light marks. Remember, the dots will come out thick and dark if you use an unsharpened pencil while stippling. So, use the graphite pencil and sharpen them according to your requirement. Bring the dots closer to give darker shadows, and space them out to create brighter values. You can even leave areas blank for highlights.

Regularly check your composition from a distance and observe the shadows and lights. If you feel there are errors or fewer contrasts, make corrections accordingly. Keep the pencil vertically between the thumb and index finger, and go slow at the start. Once you become comfortable with the technique, continue lifting your hand and giving desired textures.

Compared to other shading techniques, stippling is a tricky and time-consuming method. This shading process requires a lot of patience and determination, as making hundreds of dots takes a lot of time. But the final result is impressive and worth the wait.

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4) Scumbling

Scumbling is another shading technique of creating small circular patterns to create a textured appearance. Scumbling is a fun and creative method of swirling pencil marks on paper.

You can make neatly overlapped circles to give an even shading effect. Applying more pressure on the pencil can help you create dark shadows and marks. In contrast, loosely handled pencils will result in light textures and shades.


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Gather Art

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5) Smudging and Blending Techniques

Blending pencil strokes and marks is essential for getting the desired result. Blending and smudging help smooth transitions between pencil lines or light and dark values. Let us look at some of the blending equipment:

● Blending Stump

A blending stump is a cylindrical-shaped tool made by tightly folding soft paper into a stick. The scrap paper accurately sharpens the stump from both sides. Artists use these sticks for smudging and blending the marks of charcoal or graphite pencils.

The sharp ends of the tortillion precisely pick up the unnecessary dust and lead particles from the drawings. It also helps create light, soft lines and blended tonal gradations across the sketch. You can also easily clean the blending stump by rubbing it against scrap paper.

Crafts Village

Credit: Crafts Village

● Chamois

Chamois cloth is an excellent blending tool of soft leather, i.e., fine-quality natural skin. Chamois helps mix different shades and remove unnecessary smudges in shading. Using chamois is better than fingers as fingers secrete oil which can make unwanted marks on the sketch.

Being flexible and absorbent, chamois can lighten the crossing lines and create soft transitions. You can use soap and water to clean and rinse the chamois cloth.

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Credit: RISD Store

● Sofft Tool

Sofft Tool is a palette knife-shaped accessory with a dense sponge at the tip. It is available in different sizes and shapes according to the requirement. Sofft tool smoothly covers large areas and all the extra pencil marks and lines. They are washable, reusable, and easy to clean.


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Avoid over-blending or over-smudging, as it can tear the paper or leave it messy. So be careful while blending values and creating seamless, pencil-mark-free sketches.

Some Tips to Enhance Your Shading Skills

● Try to include different shading techniques in your regular practice drawings. By incorporating varied methods in a single sketch, you will learn the versatility of processes and their purposes.

● Learn to hold the pencils correctly and conveniently and apply adequate pressure to create strokes and marks.

● For shading practice, draw squares, rectangles, and circles of various sizes, and then shade them with the method of your choice. Along with shading, you should also do drawing practice to ensure the accuracy and efficiency of sketches.

● Get familiar with the shading tools, like pencils, blending equipment, and kneaded eraser, and know their properties and features.

● Watch video tutorials or read articles about pencil shading techniques for more information.

● If you cannot get your drawing right initially, do not hesitate to try again. Enjoy your shading journey and explore various ways and methods that benefit you.


Although pencil art compositions may appear realistic and impressive, achieving the same level of realism and originality can be challenging. However, you do not have to worry! Determination and patience are the keys to your success. Practice, practice, and more practice is the path to excellence.

All you have to do is familiarize yourself with all the methods and keep practicing until you gain perfection. That’s all, and with time, you will excel in this art.