How to shade a face: Ultimate tutorial

How to shade a face _ RapidFireArt*This is an exclusive tutorial*

I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say this:

Shading is so damn hard!

I’ve been drawing for most of my life and it still gets to me sometimes.

Shading is what makes a drawing look realistic and triggers that “WOW” reaction. It’s also a tedious process, and that’s why it’s so difficult to teach.

So in this monster of a tutorial I will show you how to shade a face with pencil from beginning to end using a ton of images, explanations and tips.

This tutorial is so long that it’s the equivalent of a 40 page book!

If you haven’t read the in-depth shading guide, please click here before you continue on. I’m not going to talk a lot about shading techniques in this post because it’s already covered there.

Tired of reading shallow and confusing tutorials?

Do you have trouble following shading tutorials online because they usually skip from step ‘A’ all the way to step ‘G’ with little to no explanation? Do you have difficulties making your drawings pop or look realistic, eventually giving up in frustration?Shading with HB pencil vs Multiple pencils

For this tutorial, I recorded the full drawing process by scanning 213 high quality images which took over 35 hours in total just to scan! From that, I carefully selected a group of images for each step which clearly shows the intricate stages and layers of my shading process. Each step is backed up by clear explanations, shading tips and techniques.

You can immediately apply these techniques to your own artwork and watch your portraits come to life.

Each step is packed with a ton of image examples. Most steps contain a clickable slideshow of 3-9 images so you can view them at your own pace, and easily observe the subtle changes from one image to the next. You can also zoom in and out of each slideshow image to analyze the details further.

The GIF below is a preview of only a few images you can expect to see in this tutorial.

How to Shade a Face - Sansa Stark Game of Thrones RapidFireArtIt doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or intermediate… if you have the patience and dedication to sit through this entire tutorial, I PROMISE you will walk away with a handful of value.

This is going to be a very detailed and lengthy post where each step covers a specific area of the face such as eyes, nose, mouth, chin, etc. You can skip to any area by using the links below, but please do not skip the first 2 sections!

From step 3 onward, each step is broken down to multiple sub-steps so you can easily follow along with what I’m doing.

NEW: There’s a downloadable template of the unshaded face so you can print it out and follow along without having to re-draw the face every time. Thanks Dale Fisher for the great idea! Also, included is a PDF version for offline viewing.

Step 1: Lighting the Face
Step 2: Preliminary Outlines + Shadow Lining
Step 3: Shading Eyes
Step 4: Shading the Nose
Step 5: Shading the Mouth
Step 6: Shading the Forehead
Step 7: Shading Cheeks and Smile Lines
Step 8: Shading Jawline and Chin
Step 9: Shading Neck and Ears


Tools I used

How to Shade a Face Step 1: Lighting the Face

If you read my shading tutorial, you will need to apply your knowledge of light and your practice with planes in this section.

Proper proportions aside, it is highly important that you figure out the lighting situation for the scene before you shade the face to identify patterns of light and be able to apply the right amount of value where appropriate.How to Shade Planar Faces RFA

To do that, you can create a planar head/face of your subject, add a light source and shade the individual planes using solid tones or gradients relative to the direction and intensity of the light(s). You can take this a little bit further by adding cast shadows as well.


  1. Thank you so much for all the time and effort you put into not only this tutorial, but all of them. Grateful for all your free content as well . You are a rare gem with extraordinary creative talent and a gifted instructor. Bless you .

  2. YOU ARE A BIG INSPIRATION!!!! Hi i’m Alexandra i’m 12 I drew a picture using your tutorials and gave it to my tech teacher he loved it his wife framed it :) You are awesome and your tutorials are great all i have to say is WOW I am working on a drawing of a boy at my school I hope he likes it

  3. Hey Dear Darlene
    Any Chance that you teach us how to draw a hyper realistic face with shading by photo grid ? or any way you knew ? We need it on youtube its very hard to learn from this tutorial
    I need to see you hand shading so I can shade like you
    and I’d like to thank you for the effort …you are amazing artist and teacher

  4. Hola, muchas gracias por todos tus tutoriales, son muy buenos y fáciles de aplicar…una pregunta…tú eres familiar de Cuong Nguyen?

  5. Dear Darlene Nguyen,
    I am on my second attempt to approximate your beautiful work on this young woman’s face and in both cases my skin turns out to be too dark. I then try using an eraser and blending stick and the result is a young woman with sad eyes and blotchy skin. In your version, are the lightest areas untouched paper? Also, is it possible that in trying to use the template with the features and shadow outlines drawn in, I am forced to make my own shading too dark? I had hoped to avoid starting from scratch as you recommend. Perhaps I must do that. Thanks for any help you can give me. Ann

    • Hi Ann,

      Perhaps you may benefit in using a harder pencil grade to achieve a lighter shade. My guess is that your hand is exerting more pressure than is needed? We are all unique in the way we draw, so you may need to change your tools slightly to adjust for your personal comfort :) I personally use very light pressure when shading and find that hard pencils make my hand sore.

      In reading the rest of your message about the template, I see how that could have forced you to shade darker. If your printer creates a version too dark for your preference (happens to me all the time), my suggestion is to adjust the printer’s brightness and contrast settings, or adjust the template image in an image editing software like GIMP.

      You’re right, the lightest areas are untouched paper (Eg: the highlight in her eye).

  6. Hi, are you well? I stumbled upon this……..AND SO GLAD I DID, all I can say is ” Thank YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU….OH, SO MUCH” I will follow u on instagram and over here…..Do u have video tutorials aswel????

    Regards Johan…

  7. I stumbled upon your website purely by accident one day. I love art, and have been searching for a step-by-step tutorial on how to sketch and shade human faces. None of the ones online were as detailed and helpful as yours. Thank you so much for taking the time and energy to create these!

  8. Hello Darlene

    Nice Tutorial. though after reading your review of the Huion GT-191 i was thinking that the your tutorial was regarding Shading on Drawing tablets.

    Anyway, i’m writing because i paid the $4 PayPal price for the full Tutorial. & after my order went through it brought me back to this article & still showed the link to pay for the tutorial again.

    So how do i access what i pay for.???

    • Hi Reo, so sorry about the late reply! The unlocked tutorial can only be accessed through the special link sent to your email (the one you provided at checkout). I will send it to you again in a second. Please check your spam and junk folders and let me know if you got it :)


  9. For some reason it doesn’t let me pay through PayPal… I get an error message. Is there a reason for this? I really want to use this tutorial :(

  10. Hey Darlene you are a amazing artists I think that you can do anything if you put your mind to it!!! Oh and another thing would you like t o come to my studio and draw??? I’ll pay you $$$$$$💼💼💵💵💵💵🎨🎨

  11. THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Hey there Darlene, I take this opportunity to thank you for your ample time to share to us what at times seems like a mountain, Thank you for chewing the food and placing in our mouth to swallow.
        So I`ll post the portraits I have done for to confirm this by. I just found myself loving you.
        May God bless you.

  12. Thank you for the tutorial, it has been very helpful! I have been working on using these techniques on a drawing, but I am having a lot of issues with the forehead part. The person I am drawing is in pretty harsh lighting in the source photo, so even with the lightest pencil I have I still feel like it looks way too dark. Is there any way I could get some advice on what to do?

    Thank you!

  13. The initiative you`ve taken has helped so much from the level I was earlier and now I do potrait drawing for monitory gains actually thanks for enlightening our hidden burning and compassionate talent

  14. Is there a source image for this drawing? It looks like Sansa from Game of Thrones. I’d like to look at the original while I practice. Thank you!

  15. What scale is your example at? I’m sketching in an A5 size notebook which seems to be considerably smaller than what you’re using. So the level of detail must be less on a smaller piece. I feel like the technique must be a bit different working on a smaller face and would be interested in seeing examples.

    Unrelated, but this page is frustrating to use on mobile because some big Facebook/Pinterest buttons keep appearing over the images and obscuring them.

    • Thank you so much for your valuable feedback Darren!! You’re right, the share buttons are too distracting. So I’ve removed them completely :)

      My scale is 9×12″. So it’s just a little larger than your notebook, which is about 8×11″. Also, I didn’t use the full page (there was a 1-2cm border). On a really small scale (the face being smaller than 2″ in width), I would probably switch to the contouring method more often just because it’s hard to hatch in small spaces.

    • There is, but I really don’t recommend it because PDFs don’t support slideshow galleries. With slideshows, the subtle differences from one image to the next is a lot more clear. I’ll send it to your paypal email provided at payment. Please let me know if you didn’t get it. Thank you!

  16. Hello, My name is Catrina. I am a sophomore. I have been very deticiated to my shading and my hands recently. Is there any advice you can give me for either of those?

  17. I just made a payment with my Paypal account and can’t seem to find the way to download the tutorial. When I was routed back from Paypal, the page still said the rest of the tutorial is locked. I really like what I have seen so far. So, this is very frustrating.

    • Hi Scott, there was an email sent to you with a special link inside to access the unlocked tutorial. Sorry for the confusion! I’ll send it to you again. Please check your spam and junk folders as well :)

    • Of course! As long as you have the dedication and put enough hours of good practice into it, you’ll surely reap the rewards :)

  18. Going to take several readings to absorb this. Shading is more involved than what I’ve been doing. Finally see how to avoid hard lines in drawing faces. Darlene, thank you for your guidance, looking forward to improving through your tutorials and guidance.

  19. Hi you have great art knowledge congrats.Then you have any masterpiece show me if you have.My favorite one is Ravivarma’ “sagungunthala “paint see that.

  20. You are helping me become a better artist. I will continue – gladly – to purchase your tutorials. I am 54 and finally trying to develop drawing skills which I think I have. Your guidance has me happy with the initial results. Kudos- Dave

  21. Darlene — Your locked content is well worth it. Heck, your downloads are the cost of a latte and a fraction of the price of a book covering the same techniques. Keep up the great work and I’m looking forward to your future lessons!

  22. This is amazing. Been looking for something like this forever. I’ve done graphite portraits in the past without a “process” and it it was maddening and not fun. It’s making it easier to follow your steps as I work on a portrait of my granddaughter. All of the help I need is right here with all of tutorials. Never used some of the shading techniques, but I am now. Thank you. Your precious time was well spent

  23. Dear: Darlene Nguyen How do I do shading without good pencils I’ve been focusing on drawing since I was three years old, can you please show how to shade without good pencils? Thank you for the work though!

    • Hi Sylvia,
      In my system, it says the email has already been sent to you. It may have landed in your junk or spam folder. If you can’t find it, please send me an alternate email via the contact page and I’ll send the link to you again :)

  24. Ur lessons are really helpful Darlene. I’m actually kind of a beginner and I just actually draw without any special techniques. These would come in handy. Thanks a lot .

  25. Dear Darlene,

    You are very talented Continue beautiful work. I hope that I get time to practice drawing hobby :)

    thank upi and best regards,

  26. Hi,

    first, I’d like to mention, that I really like your content. The style of your tutorials is really great, and they are, in my humble opinion, a much better read than similar alternatives. I like your straightforward approach.

    In addition to that, I’ve got a few questions:

    1. Do you accept payment in bitcoin or something similar?
    2. When is your ebook about to be published?
    3. What will it contain?

    • Thanks :)
      1. Unfortunately I can only accept paypal payments. Paypal allows you to pay using credit or debit cards without signing up though.
      2. I put the ebook project on hold since I don’t have the funds to work on it yet. I can see it taking about half a year to complete (putting me out of commission for longer than I would like).
      3. It will be on how to draw portraits: learning how to see, drawing your subject with likeness, etc.

      • Thanks for the answer. Now I’d like to add something:

        to 1: Unfortunally, paypal doesn’t work out for me. A long time ago they froze some of my funds for no good reason, and I refused to use their service ever since.

        However, as someone who wants to sell something, you might just consider adding another way of sending you money to your site. There are Payment-Services, very much like PayPal, which would accept bitcoins, convert them to the currency of your choice, and transfer said currency to your bank account. BitPay would be the largest one, and offers WordPress Plugins. It’s really not that complicated, and I’d be your first customer paying via bitcoin.

        to 2 and 3: I’d really like to see it coming. As I said, I like your style of teaching very much.

  27. This is so so sooooo helpful Darlene!! All the steps are clear and easy to understand. I love your teaching style so much. THANK YOU

    • I measure the size of the head using my pencil and transfer it to paper using a very rough sketch. Then, I measure the placement of facial features, position of hair etc and then use a few methods I came up with to confirm my measurements. A more detailed process will be covered in my upcoming ebook :)

  28. Hey can you make tutorials for youtube? some steps i cant really understand and it would be a big help if you made a video showing what you do.

    • Hi Bianca, I will be creating video tutorials in the future. Although I can’t see myself recreating this tutorial in the near future since it’s quite extensive. Which steps are you referring to? I’ll try my best to explain them better :)

    • Actually, let me know which steps you’re stuck on and I’ll try to make a few videos or additional images to explain them clearly :)

  29. Thank you for your precious time dear Darlene! I will read it all (I just took a first look on the pics) …you are very dedicated, very talented, very helpful and there are no words, no words exists to thank youso much for those 2 very detailed last tutorials! :D

    • Thanks for your kind words Angela :) Let me know if you have any questions. I think I covered everything, but I always seem to leave something out hehe