How to shade a face: Ultimate tutorial

How to shade a face _ RapidFireArtI’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.

⬇️ Downloads:

Click here to download a template of the face (it will open in a new tab). There are 4 versions to choose from. To print only 1 from the PDF, navigate to “pages” and type the page number you would like to print.

Here’s a PDF (offline version) of the tutorial. Please keep in mind that the tutorial is best viewed online because the changes between each step are quite subtle and best viewed with the slideshows which are not supported in PDF.


Quick Navigation:

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.


Step 2: Preliminary Outlines + Shadow Lining


Image 1: I used a blunt HB pencil to draw the outlines for the face. Keep your under layer as faint as possible. I had to draw mine 3x darker because the scanned image showed up blank.

Image 2: For the sake of making this tutorial look more interesting, I went ahead and shaded the background, clothes and hair. Usually when I draw, I work on these things last. Which I also recommend you do because it’s hard to fix something if you get the head proportions/angle wrong.

Image 3: This part is optional, but will help guide you if you often catch yourself getting lost in the details while shading. I came up with this technique a while back where I outline major shadows using the primary shading technique I want to use for the entire drawing. I’m going to call this ‘Shadow Lining’ for now.

If you’re using the hatching technique to shade your face, hatch along major shadows. Pay attention to your hatching angles and make sure they are the same!
If you’re using circulism, draw a row of faint circles… you get the point :)

Use the shadow lining technique instead of regular outlines to keep your shading smooth. As you work your way through the tutorial, you’ll notice that the shadow lines blend perfectly into my shading even after a single layer of graphite.

I’m going to shade this face using the hatching technique, which I highly recommend for you if you’re a beginner. It allows you to cover more ground in a short period of time compared to circulism and because of that, it allows you to spot mistakes fast instead of getting caught up in the little details right from the get go.

One more thing before we move on to step 3! You’re going to see a pattern come up over and over again. Let me tell you what it is so you can watch out for it.

Pattern: For this tutorial specifically, I laid down one solid layer of light graphite to begin (HB). On the second layer I either darkened the area with another solid layer or began adding details (4B). On subsequent layers, when confident, I darkened the shading significantly and added more details (4B or 6B). Once I’m done with an area, I look back at previously drawn sections and compare everything to see if the lighting makes sense across the board.

I also refer back to my planar head to make sure the light patterns are consistent.

Okay, ready?


Step 3: Shading the Eyes

It’s up to you where you want to start shading the face. I love starting with the eyes because they are the main focal points of a face.

Area Between the Eyes and Eyebrows

Step 3 Shading Eyes 1 Image 1: Starting with the brow area directly under the eyebrows, I used a blunt HB pencil to shade a flat and light solid layer of graphite.

Image 2: I then followed up with a slightly darker layer using 4B graphite. This layer establishes the lightest mid-tone that will appear on both sides.

Image 3: On my third layer, I added more pressure, bringing out the shadows around the eyelid creases, nose bridge and eye sockets. In step 1, I established that the left side of the face would be in shadow, so I shaded the right side much lighter than the left.

Tip: The darker you shade the nose bridge, the more prominent/tall the nose will be. Keep the bridge fairly light until you actually start to shade the nose.

Upper Eyelid

Step 3 Shading Eyes 2

Image 1:   First, I made the eyelid creases darker so that later on when I shade the eyelid, the creases will not disappear. The darker the crease, the deeper it will look.

Then I put down my first layer of HB graphite across each eyelid.

Image 2: I then shaded both eyelids using the contour shading technique. It would have been difficult to shade a smooth gradient in such a narrow space using the hatching technique. The light is coming from the top right side, so for the left eyelid, I used a 4B and for the right, I used an HB pencil.

Tip: When you introduce a new shading technique into a drawing, make sure your pencil is blunt and your shading is tight, so the shading doesn’t look noticeably different.

Lower Eyelid and Under Eye Circles

Step 3 Shading Eyes 3

Image 1: You’ll notice that I didn’t shade the whole area under the eyes. The areas that I didn’t shade are areas I want to highlight or shade later when I get to the nose or cheeks (HB).

Image 2: Using a 4B, and the contouring technique, I slowly built up shadows to indicate subtle under eye circles. Notice how I didn’t use a thick, dark curve to represent the circles, but instead layered various tones to do so.

Tip: When dealing with curvy areas, use the contour shading technique to make the curve look more natural.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t show you how to shade inside the eye, that’s because it’s already been covered here.


Step 4: Shading the Nose

There’s an added difficulty to this step because we’ve already established values for the eyes. This is the first time that the shading for two major facial features are converging with each other.

Just so I don’t lose you, the first and second parts cover the dark side, third part covers the light side and the last part brings the two of them together.

Dark Side #1: Nose Bridge

Step 4 Shading Nose 1

Image 1: Starting on the shadow side of the nose, I put down my first layer of HB graphite to match the shading in closest proximity to the nose bridge. This layer gradually blends into the shading around the eye and seamlessly along the brow bone.

Tip: It’s important that you do not change the angle of your hatching when you move from one area of your drawing to another. Always check that your hatching angle is consistent with the rest of the drawing.

Image 2: Using a 4B, I darkened the area of the bridge closest to the terminator (if you’re confused, please please read the shading tutorial!). The darker the bridge, the taller the nose will look.

Dark Side #2: Bottom of Nose

Step 4 Shading Nose 2

Image 1: Still working on the shadow side, except this time I’m shading the bottom portion of the nose. In Step 1, I outlined major shadows using the shadow lining technique, and this area is one of them. I shaded within the boundary of the outline with an HB and then filled the nostrils using a layer of 4B and when confident, a 6B. If I don’t darken the nostrils now, the outlines may disappear after the next layer.

Image 2: I smoothed out the boundary between the nostrils and skin by using a 4B to make the transition between light and dark a little less abrupt. In step 1, I knew that I would have to incorporate reflected light coming from the bottom left of the scene, so you’ll notice that some edges on the left side of the nose are lighter than others.

Light Side #1: Nose Bridge

Step 4 Shading Nose 3

Image 1-2: Once the shadow sides were as dark as I needed them to be, I crossed over to the other side of the terminator and added the mid-tones and left some space for highlights. Don’t worry about the nose bridge looking highly angular at this point. This layer is just to establish the lightest mid-tones.

Step 4 Shading Nose 4

Image 1-2: To soften the edge of the bridge, I shaded along the terminator, easing up on my pressure as I shaded into the highlights. The darkest values on the light side remain lighter than the darkest values on the shadow side.

I didn’t smooth out the terminator along the tip of the nose. The abrupt change from light to shadow, suggests a sharp edge.

Tip: When shading into a lighter area, lift your pencil at the end of the stroke so the transition from dark to light is smooth and natural.


Step 5: Shading the Mouth

 Just like the eyelid, you can shade the lips using the contour shading technique. You can go horizontally, vertically or diagonally.



Step 5 Shading Lips 1

Image 1: The lightest value on the lips will be light grey, so my first layer is a solid light grey (HB). I made sure to reference the nose and eyes to see if I’m shading too dark.

Image 2: In this layer, I blocked out areas on the top lip where reflective light would hit.

I did the same for the bottom lip. The main light source is coming from the top right, so the left side will be darker than the right (4B).

Image 3: After outlining each tooth, I used the sharpest edge of a 0.5mm 4B mechanical pencil to go over the outlines of the inner mouth and around each tooth so that when I shade the inside the mouth, there is a clear boundary for me to work within. I shaded inside the mouth with a 6B pencil, making sure to leave some areas light for the tongue.

The teeth were shaded with a 4B pencil. Around the edges where each tooth touches the other, the value was increased slightly to hint a curve on the surface of each tooth.

For the lips, I used a 4B to draw wrinkles and shaded around them using the contour shading technique (vertically). The main light source is coming from the top right, so the bottom lip is lighter than the top.

For the base of the bottom lip, I did some horizontal contouring.

In areas where lighting appeared inconsistent, I used a pointy kneaded eraser to lift away the appropriate amount of graphite.

Tip: Make sure your outlines don’t show through. If they do, erase them as you go.

Left Upper Lip

Step 5 Shading Mouth 2

The area above the mouth can be broken down into 3 major planes. Since the light is coming from the top right, the right plane will be the lightest, middle plane darker and the left plane darkest.

Image 1: I laid down a flat layer of light graphite and instead of shading over the nostril, I went around it (HB).

Image 2: If you look very carefully, you’ll notice that this second layer of graphite does not fully cover the first. I shaded from left to right, starting from the corner of the lip this time. In image 1, the plane seems to be flat and facing us directly. In image 2, the plane starts to angle away.

Image 3: This would not be complete without a cast shadow! The light casts a short, diffused shadow from the nose onto the upper lip. Even though it’s diffused light, the cast shadow’s edges are harder at the base of the nose and become softer the further away it reaches.


Step 5 Shading Mouth 3

Image 1: I shaded the philtrum, leaving a narrow white space directly above the lip (HB). This indicates a soft, round edge around the lip which will later continue down the right side.

Image 2: The philtrum is deep but it’s angles are no steeper than the left upper lip, so the dark areas within the philtrum are shaded with similar tones (4B).

Image 3: I darkened the philtrum some more and went over previous areas to add touch ups (4B).

Tip: When you’re working in sections, always step back and check that your shading makes sense as a whole. Are there surfaces facing the same direction that have completely different tones? Does the lighting pattern match your planar drawing?

Right Upper Lip

Step 5 Shading Mouth 4

Image 1: The right side of the face is facing the light, so my base layer is the lightest shade of gray (HB).

Image 2: I didn’t want to shade this section too dark, so I used an HB to shade the mid-tones as well. I made sure to soften out the terminator along the philtrum so the facial features would maintain soft.

Lower Lip & Chin Crease

Step 5 Shading Mouth 5

Image 1: I carefully blended a solid layer of graphite into the previous sections while trying not to shade over the lips (HB).

Image 2: I kept the right side lighter, but added some darker tones to the corner of the mouth since the corner recedes into the face (4B).

Image 3: Using the contouring technique, I drew a crease under the lip. This crease has hard edges, making it look unnatural (4B).

Image 4: Using a 4B and a light sweeping motion I softened out the edges of the crease to blend it in. I then took a step back and examined the whole mouth, added touch ups and softened edges where needed.


Step 6: Shading the Forehead

In step 2, I drew two shadow lines on the forehead, splitting it into three major sections/planes.

Step 6 Shading Forehead

For each plane, I used the same general pattern as mentioned in the beginning of the tutorial. I started shading from the left plane to right forehead plane, darkest to lightest, while constantly referring to the values of previously shaded facial features. I softened the edge of each plane so you can still clearly see the transition from dark to light without the forehead looking blocky.

Something to pay attention to here is when you’re shading near the hairline, remember to add some soft diffused shadows. This will make the transition between hair and skin look a lot more natural.

I also added cast shadows under prominent groups of hair. These cast shadows appear darkest with more defined edges when the hair is touching the skin directly and become softer and lighter as the hair moves away. A good example is the curl of hair in column 1, row 3.

Tip: Don’t forget to redraw hairs that have disappeared after you’ve shaded the forehead.


Step 7: Shading Cheeks and Smile Lines


Image 1-2: When you’re clicking between image 1 and 2, you’ll see just how useful it is to outline shadows using the shadow lining technique! I highly recommend you use it!

Image 3-4: In these first few layers, I’m just blending the base layer for both cheeks into the surrounding facial features. The left cheek is slightly darker than the right one, but they both become darker as the skin curves around the sides of the face (HB and 4B)

Image 5: I took a step back to look at the face as a whole and darkened the eyes which gave it more depth (4B)

Image 6: I added a short and subtle smile line to the right cheek using a blunt HB.

Tip: If you draw smile lines using actual “lines”, you will add years to the subject’s face. Keep your smile lines short, shallow, light and edges soft in order to maintain a youthful look. For big toothy smiles, increase the value, but keep the crease generally light. It’s a good idea to draw smile lines one or two shades lighter than you want them to be. Don’t get tricked by your brain to over exaggerate such features.


Step 8: Shading the Jawline and Chin

Keep the boundary between the background/hair and face clean so that when you shade, the jawline is clearly defined. Don’t forget to add any reflected lighting around the outer edges of the face.

Left Jaw


Image 1: The left jaw is one of the darkest areas on the face, as it is facing almost opposite the direction of light, so instead of starting with a light layer of HB graphite, I went ahead and shaded a medium gray tone using a 4B. I used the contouring technique to shade along the jaw, leaving a narrow strip of raw paper along the edge to indicate some reflected light.

Image 2: Using a 4B, I blended the jaw and cheek together to reduce the harsh edge. I then darkened the jaw, making sure to darken areas along the terminator the most.

Image 3: I added touch ups using a 4B. This layer eliminated a lot of the grainy white dots. Using a layer of HB graphite, I increased the value of the reflection so it would be more consistent with the general value range found on the left side of the face.

Tip: If you want to make your drawing even more smooth, use the sharpest edge on a thin mechanical pencil to fill in major white dots. You can follow this up with blending too.



Like the middle forehead plane, the chin in located in the middle between the light and dark side. So I made sure to shade the middle part of the chin with medium light grays – a balance between the main values found on the dark and light sides of the face.

Image 1-2: Chins are sometimes really hard to shade, so I shaded around the chin and left the center for last (HB and 4B).

Image 3: The right side of the chin is hit with more light, so I put down a layer of graphite on the left side (HB).

Image 4: I blended all the edges on the left/dark side of the chin using a 4B and for the right/light side, I used an HB.

Tip: If you find your shading in close resemblance to stubble, your shading may be too rough. You can refer to this tutorial for tips on how to shade smoothly.


Right Jaw


Image 1: I darkened the jawline using blunt strokes so I can easily blend it later (4B).

Image 2: Using a mix of hatching and contouring, I blended the jawline upwards into the cheek (HB).


Step 9: Shading the Neck and Ears

The neck isn’t technically a part of the face, but I’ll add it in here just for kicks.


Image 1: With an HB pencil, I shaded a solid layer of graphite across the entire neck while making sure not to shade over the jawline, clothes or hair. This value is similar to those found on the right side of the face.

With a 4B, I added a darker layer of graphite along areas of the neck that are facing away from the light. The reason why there’s a light patch on the left side is because that area of skin is being pushed by the shirt’s neckline, making it bulge out and angle towards the light.

Image 2: I also shaded the far right side of the neck to give it some roundness and also because the hair is blocking some light from reaching this area.

I’ve also added cast shadows from the jaw, ear and hair over the collar bone (4B)

Image 3: Some subtle wrinkles have been added to the neck using an HB pencil. If you’ve practiced the contour line exercise in my previous tutorial, these wrinkle lines are similar to contouring in that they wrap around the unique shape of the neck. They’re not randomly drawn.

Image 4: After I was satisfied with the placement of all the shadows, I darkened the cast shadows under the jaw and ear using a 6B with fairly light pressure. These are the darkest cast shadows so far. I did not use the 6B to shade around the edges of each cast shadow because I wanted them to fade out gradually.

Image 5: I darkened the entire neck except for the highlights using a 4B. This layer got rid of many white dots, making the shading a lot smoother.

Image 6+: Using an HB, I went over the lightest areas so they are slightly darker than the average value on the right side of the face. There were clear boundaries between areas of light and dark, so I softened out all the edges.

The ear is hiding behind a lot of hair, so even though it is located on the right side of the face, it’s going to be much darker. The ear canal is not visible, so the darkest value inside the ear is medium gray instead of black or dark gray. After shading the ear, I made sure to touch up on the hairs because some of them were no longer visible.

I then took a big step back to look at the drawing as a whole and added or removed graphite in areas to keep the drawing consistent with the patterns of light. If you’re wondering how to shade a more realistic face with smoother skin textures, practice using the circulism shading technique. Although, if you’re new to portrait drawing, circulsim can be a little intimidating.

You’ve reached the end! What a long tutorial! It’s not my usual tutorial layout, so I hope it wasn’t confusing. If you have any questions, think I left something out or need clarification regarding any of the steps or techniques on how to shade a face, please let me know in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this tutorial, please leave a short review in the comments below. Thank you! :)


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116 thoughts on “How to shade a face: Ultimate tutorial”

  1. Abdul-Salam Abdullah

    Wow amazing…I really find your techniques interesting and I can’t wait to try them out myself

  2. Wow wow wow! What patience you have to put this together.
    Of course artists must be patient. This is awesome thanks so much!!!

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