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. 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

  2. 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

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

  4. 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).

  5. 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…