How to Shade With a Pencil
Want to learn how to shade with a pencil? Learn some basic pencil shading techniques to get you started creating drawings the right way!
Drawing can be a very rewarding activity. Not only is it a great way to pass your time and impress your friends, drawing is a fairly inexpensive activity. You don’t really need too many supplies when learning how to draw. In fact, you can start learning to shade today with just your regular old pencil and any available paper you already have!
Holding Your Drawing Pencil
I think it’s safe to assume you have held a pencil before. You have undoubtedly used a pencil countless times to write sentences, haven’t you? That’s great! It’s a tool you’re already comfortable holding! To get the most out of your pencil you are going to want to be open-minded about holding the pencil different ways.
Holding a pencil the same way in which you write may be great for drawing dark lines and shading the tiniest details in your drawing, but not so great for accomplishing other parts of your drawing. Please watch this short video to get an overview for 3 different styles of holding a pencil and when you’d want to use one technique over the other.
Did you realize that holding the pencil way back near the end may actually make shading easier!
What is Shading?
Shading is nothing more than a term artists use to describe the masses of gray that an artist uses to fill in their drawings.
When shading with pencils, you’ll typically start off by lightly outlining your subject matter and then you’ll shade it in. Sounds easy right? It certainly is in theory, but really takes many 1000s of hours to get good at it. Let’s start off right by learning how to shade with pencil quality in mind.
So you see shading really has to do with filling in values. Values are the various pencil “tones” an artist uses to describe the different parts of their drawing. You can control your pencil to create different values in a variety of ways:
- Pencil pressure
- Layering of the pencil
- Grade of pencil (see pencil scale)
It’s true that you can pick up a drawing pencil and shade any old way that suits you, however it is in your best interest to learn some techniques to help you get better results. Anytime you want a more refined style of pencil shading you need to think consciously about the marks you are making on paper. Keep in mind the three ways listed above. In fact, let’s take a closer look at each.
This is the most obvious technique for controlling how dark or how light your pencil shading will be. Your drawing should start off with virtually no pencil pressure at all. Try to resist drawing dark marks at the start. Learn to hold the pencil opposite the sharp tip and develop a really light touch. (hold near the eraser-end of the pencil) This will result in far less erasing later on! While you will definitely find yourself pressing harder at times you’re going to want to use a layered approach when pencil shading.
Layering of the Pencil
This technique alone will propel your drawings to the next level. Often the difference between a drawing that looks mediocre and a drawing that looks great is the amount of time spent. Layering your pencil takes much time but yields amazing results!
The video below shows you some bad shading habits that you’d want to avoid and how to properly develop pencil layers instead, for extremely high-quality mark making!
I bet you’re making some of these mistakes (watch the video)!
Did you watch the video?
Anytime you want to get a smooth result with your pencils you need to eliminate any kind of pattern while shading. This goes against your body’s natural inclination and you might have to break some bad habits! Without any instruction you’d find yourself moving the pencil back and forth like a car’s windshield wiper. If you don’t know any better or you’re not paying full attention this technique of pencil shading leads to patterns and overlapping dark areas. This puts you at a serious disadvantage to drawing/shading anything because you are not fully in control.
If you didn’t watch the video on basic pencil shading above, please do (even if you have drawing experience).
Grade of Pencil
Besides the pencil pressure and the layering techniques you can also choose pencils with different physical capabilities to aid in your shading efforts. Did you know that a 6B pencil is significantly darker in value than a 2H pencil? They are completely different pencils!
You don’t have to worry about the different pencil grades when starting out.
You can practice shading right now with whatever pencil you already have. But, when you are ready for the next level of pencil drawing you are going to want to invest in about 7 pencils.
These are the pencils you’ll need for advancing your shading skills!
Okay, so you now know a little bit about holding pencils and the various pencil techniques used during shading. What should you draw?
I always advise beginning artists to learn how to shade with a pencil by practicing value scales. Value scales are a simple way to practice and assess your shading progress. They are fairly easy and don’t take too much time. There’s nothing worse than attempting to draw something complicated, getting frustrated and ultimately quitting. Shading value scales will give you a sense of accomplishment and teach you how to develop pencil shading techniques in the process.
When it comes to shading you will find yourself using pencils to fill in areas that contain:
- Even values
- Graded values
You will need to get good at controlling your pencil shading to define both even values and graded values.
Above is an example of an even value scale. When shading you’ll often have to fill in areas with even values of pencil.
The image above shows a graded value scale. You’ll also need the ability to shade using graded values.
Get good at shading, both even values and graded values. Everything you render will be reduced to these two types of shaded areas. Practicing both value scales are a fantastic way to increase your artistic skills.
Should you smudge your pencil drawing? I have strong feelings when it comes to the topic of smudging pencil and I know I’m not alone.
When you are first learning to draw try not to smudge your pencil values in order to blend your values. Pencil smudging seems to be the easy way of shading and will become a crutch for the majority of young art students. Try to achieve your values simply by employing the tactics discussed above: layering, pressure, and pencil grades. Don’t smudge or smear around your graphite with your finger, a paper stump (blending stick, tortillon, etc.) or anything else that makes it faster to lay down pencil shades.
It’s not that I’m opposed to things being easier. This is after all the place for logical art making! It’s just that smudging is way overused, especially by young artists. As you gain more experience you can explore pencil smudging and possibly integrate it into your repertoire of drawing techniques.
For now enjoy the beautiful texture that the pencil makes when it interacts with the paper. Good paper, made for pencil drawing will have a very tiny speckled texture that shows up when you shade with a pencil properly and don’t smudge.
Once you have gotten comfortable with holding a pencil and shading values it’s time to start shading actual objects. It is advisable to start off with a simple understanding of form. You need to recognize the values that exist in everyday forms before you can shade them on paper. Here’s the drawing lessons you should check out next.
(totally free of course!)
- Seeing and Shading Forms
- How to Draw a Cylinder
- How to Draw a Cone
- How to Draw a Sphere
- How to Draw a Cube
When shading, should I rotate the pencil regularly to avoid sharp edges being created on the graphite or shade until done, sand out the edges later?
That’s a good question. I tend to rotate the pencil so that I’m not shading with a big flat spot. This gives me a somewhat consistent pencil tip and prolongs the time between sharpening/sanding. But I never overthink this. It’s the layering that’s going to make the biggest difference.