I’ve always found shading to be the quickest way to add realism and depth to my drawings, be it portraits, concept sketches or even a quick doodle.
In this tutorial, I want to share with you 4 simple shading techniques that can help you achieve realistic textures and effects that will enhance your drawings and bring them to the next level.
By the way, this tutorial is also available on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGx4sypoPjY
4 Shading Techniques and How to Use Them
These techniques may look super simple, but that’s the beauty of it. Let’s see how they can be applied and how they can transform a drawing :)
This is done by drawing lines that run in parallel or side-by-side. Since the lines are uniformly patterned, it works very well for shading things like wood grain, brushed metals and fingernails, just to name a few. A sharp pencil works great for conveying metallic textures, while a blunt pencil can help you achieve smoother strokes that will also be more easy to blend.
Be careful when using this shading technique on round objects. If the strokes are not blended together well enough, it can make a round drawing appear flat. Here’s an example:
The straight lines take away from the drawing, making the viewer perceive the object as flat, instead of 3D.
This is where you draw lines that cross right through each other. They can go in any direction.
It’s great for creating textures such as certain fabrics (predictable patterns) or even fine lines on the skin (random patterns).
This shading technique consists of many overlapping circular shapes. I use it frequently to shade realistic skin. It works well for conveying soft or fuzzy surfaces. The more you overlap the circles, the smoother the texture.
The tricky part is trying to control pencil pressure so each circle is similar in value.
This is where you create lines that follow the shape of the subject you’re trying to represent. Contour lines can go in any direction.
They’re great for shading things that already display lines running along the surface, no matter how subtle. For example apples, onions, and lips. In this example, the lines also double as lip wrinkles too.
For each shading technique, the more densely you shade, the smoother the shading will appear, and the harder you press down on your pencil, the darker your shading will appear, allowing you to achieve a sense of visual depth.
Combine Shading Techniques
All of these shading techniques can be used in combination wherever you see fit. I used all 4 to shade this wrinkly hand. The combination of these techniques helped me achieve various textures commonly seen in wrinkled skin.
Starting with just the outline of a hand, I applied circulism as a base layer to give it a consistent texture all throughout – A texture that resembles subtle fine lines on the skin.
Hatching and contouring were used to show stretched skin that wraps around/across the shape of the hand.
Hatching also works very well for shading nails, as mentioned earlier. Especially nails that have prominent stripey patterns.
Cross-hatching was used very minimally to create realistic wrinkle patterns around the knuckles where the skin is thick. I varied my pressure to make some lines darker than others just to make it look more random and realistic.
You don’t have to stick to these 4 shading techniques exclusively because there are many others you can use, or just make up your own to create the texture and look that you want for your drawing. Here are a few examples:
Practice Shading Techniques!
Here are some fun exercises you can do to practice. I’ve attached a free printout at the bottom of this article for you to use.
Draw a row of squares or rectangles and shade them from left to right using your shading technique of choice. Remember that the more pressure you apply, the darker your shading will be and the more densely you shade, the smoother it’ll be.
Sketch a variety of common objects and shade them in using shading techniques that best describe the texture.
For example, I want to shade the toy horse above so it looks wooden. The hatching technique looks similar to wood grain, especially the lines vary in darkness:
The burlap sack below is made of thickly weaved material. Cross-hatching would work for this one, but I wanna make the bag appear more 3D, so I’m using a combination of cross-hatching and contouring called cross-contouring. In shadow areas, I apply more pressure on the pencil, creating darker lines.
Teddy bears are usually soft and fuzzy. Do you remember which of the 4 shading techniques creates a soft and fuzzy texture?
If you guessed circulism, you’re right!
The more circles I draw, the softer the texture becomes…
To make your shading look even softer, use a blunt pencil and/or blend the shading out with a blending tool such as a tissue, for example. Feel free to experiment with a different shading technique to see how it changes the look and feel of your subject!
You can combine shading techniques or make up your very own:
Here are a few objects you can use for practice. For each one, sketch it out and choose one or several shading techniques that will best describe the texture. For example, the wooden toy could be a mixture of hatching, contouring, and dashes.
Click here to download the image above (link will open in a new tab).
The texture that you choose to give each object is completely up to you. Stretch your creative muscles and have some fun with it! Feel free to shade outside of the lines or get rid of the outlines altogether.
You can practice with the shading techniques introduced in this tutorial, or create your very own :)
I hope you found this tutorial helpful. If you liked it, please share it and leave a comment down below! Let me know if you have any suggestions for future tutorials!
To view this tutorial in more depth, please watch the full narrated video on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGx4sypoPjY
To learn more shading basics, please visit: How to Shade for Complete Beginners.
Darlene created RFA In 2013 with the goal of sharing simple yet detailed drawing tutorials with other artists on the world wide web. She is a self taught pencil portrait artist and Youtuber.