Home Art How to shade with a pencil

In this article, I will try to answer the question ” How to shade with a pencil”. I will show the basics and techniques of pencil shading. You will learn about how light and shadow determine the way you will shade your drawing. Also, you will learn about the types of pencils and when to use them. Finally, we will talk about the different techniques you can use to shade your drawings.

The chiaroscuro


The chiaroscuro is the use of light and shadow in the drawing or painting and speaks of high values when they are clear and of low values when they are dark.
The universe offers us a great variety of objects of very different shapes (spheres, squares, prisms …) and each of these forms creates different types of shadow at the same time.
Even with all that apparent variety of forms, two types are distinguished in relation to shadow, contrast, and passage.

  • Contrast, change of light to shade in a sharp and very defined way. We see these changes in bodies with edges, in the limits of a figure that is silhouetted against a background and in the projected shadows.
  • Passage( Halftones area ), change of light to shadow gradually and continuously. We see it in curved shapes or when light loses intensity, as it happens as the body moves away from the light source.

Thus we see that the flat face of a cube would carry a uniform tone that would end definitively in the edge, while in a sphere it would degrade constantly.

Types of shadows


The shadow of classifies into two types, the one that is called own shadow and the one that is the shadow projected.

Own shadow is the one that draws in itself the shape of the object itself, the one that is attached to the body and the one that gives the sensation of volume

Projected shadow is the one that projects the object on a background or on another object. The shape of this does not only depend on the object itself but also depends on the surface on which it is projected and on the characteristics of the light that illuminates the objects. So we have an object that can project different forms depending on the variation of the other factors.

The perception of the volumes always depends on the contrast that is defined between the objects and the background by means of lights and shadows.

The value


The value of the own shadow depends on the color of the object. A dark colored object will create a dark shadow and reflect a light that will never be white, as much it will be of the same tone as the object, the reflected light will not It can be as clear as a white object.

There are three functions of value in the composition:
1 – It is responsible for the contrast, the hierarchical organization of the elements.
2- Accentuate the expressions of the form through the keys.
3- Represent the volume and configure the space using the contrast and the passage properly.

The color of an object is perceived in three dimensions: on the one hand we see its degree of clarity or darkness, which is called value; later we identify what color the object is called dye, tone or hue and finally we will see the degree of purity that has the color, this is called saturation. Therefore the three properties that we see of a color are dye, value and saturation.
The value is presented on a scale of values ranging from white to black in a gradation of values.


Value Contrast

Is the essential difference of luminosity in the field of perception that makes vision possible, which would be impossible in a totally homogeneous field.
The differences in the visual perception originate in 2 factors: the qualities of the light sources and the reflection of the light on the surface of the objects in the visual field.

Organized on a scale of nine degrees, we recognize three markedly differentiated areas: high (light), intermediate and low (dark).

Which Pencil is the right one?

When choosing your art supplies, you would have to make a decision on whether to purchase a set of drawing pencils in different grades or just one single pencil in a versatile grade.

Again, this is a personal preference, and different people prefer different things.

The process of learning shading techniques with the pencil is very similar in both situations, so don’t fret. You will just have a little more work to do here if you opted for the set, as you will have more gradients to experiment with.


The twenty most used and common grades of pencil are illustrated in the image on top. The ten on the bottom( with the B letter ) of the diagram are the most common for pencil portrait drawing. The numbers and letters are part of the grading system to signal the type of lead that is inside.


The H pencil

The letter ‘H’ means ‘hard’. This kind of pencil is hard, which doesn’t add a lot of graphite to the paper, keeping the shading very light. The number next to the letter tells you how hard the lead is with 9 being the hardest and lightest.

Pencils with an ‘H’ gradient are generally unused in pencil portraiture, simply because the lead is too hard to manipulate on the paper.

The B pencil

The letter ‘B’ means ‘bold’ or ‘black’, and signals a soft lead in the pencil, which adds a lot of lead to the paper, creating darker shades. Similar to ‘H’ grades, the number next to the letter signals how soft the lead is, with 9B being the softest, and therefore darkest.

These are the most common in pencil portraiture.

The F and the HB pencils

The ‘F’ grade means ‘Fine point’. These pencils are still relatively hard but have a very fine, sharpened point. Again, these are uncommon in pencil portraiture.

And finally, the good old ‘HB‘ we all doodled over our textbooks within nipper school. This is half-way between hard and soft and is neither here nor there. Some pencil artists may use this pencil for creating lighter shades, though I personally find it still a little too hard.

In my humble opinion, there is a life beyond the ‘HB’ pencil. It is worth getting some good quality drawing pencils at an arts and craft store. The softer the pencil, the darker the value you will be able to achieve. Look for pencils designated with 4B, 5B, and 6B. For a big difference from your everyday 2H pencil, start with the 6B pencil. Experiment with pencils.

If you are thinking in purchase some pencil and you are on a budget, this combo of Pencils, sharpener, and eraser from Faber-Castell will be a good option: Link

If you want some higher quality pencils, let me recommend you the Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencil Sets: Link

For a quality eraser, the Faber Castell Large Kneaded Eraser is my go to. Here you have the link if you are interested in the product: Link

Shading Techniques

Graphite Shading 3

The basic shading


This shading technique can be done by leaving more or less space between the frames.

We will support the pencil at a more closed angle than normal with respect to the drawing surface so that the side of the mine comes into contact.

Depending on the type of point that the pencil or graphite has, we will get different widths in the line (you can see how to get the most out of the pencil), and increasing or decreasing the pressure the work surface will get more or less dark

We can make parallel lines together, separate or zigzag lines with more or less aperture.

Basic Hatching


Hatching is a drawing technique based on drawing a sequence of lines and it’s the first step in cross-hatching. There are two types of basic hatching: parallel and contour. Both can be used as a base for cross-hatching. Regardless of which hatching type you use, the lines do not cross over one another in standard hatching. You should also try to keep your lines equally spaced out for seamless, smooth shading. With parallel hatching, your lines should remain straight and run vertically or horizontally.

  • When you add basic hatching to your drawing, you’ll use this skill to draw parallel lines over the area you wish to shade.
  • Practice this by drawing a series of hatching lines on a piece of scrap paper.

Hatching does not have to be parallel. Try tapering off the density by letting up on the pencil for a lighter line.

Other types of Hatching

The value can be made lighter by making the lines farther apart.


Another type of hatching is the one we can see above. We dispose of groups of parallel lines in different orientations ones to the others. The result is a combination of this groups of lines creating a nice pattern.


Use variations of hatching to indicate various textures and planes. In the image above the skin texture appears with short lines. With this technique, we can represent texture and at the same time shading.

For the darker areas, we will draw the lines closer to the others. The areas where the shadows are not as strong and we are transitioning to areas where the light hits directly, we will find that the lines are more separated ones to the others.

Also, we can express different angles of the planes, making the lines follow one direction or other.



Cross-hatching is a popular artistic technique. We use it to add shadow and dimension to drawn objects. It involves filling a space with at least two sets of lines, with the second set crossing over the first to create a darker effect. In order to master cross-hatching, you’ll need to start with hatching, use a sharp pencil or fine-tipped pen, make a value scale, and notice how the light falls on an object to create a shadow.


By making a series of lines placed closely next to one another you can create a value over a broad area. Directionality will be a choice that you will make when you use this technique in context. To create a denser value you can overlap series of parallel lines.

Try these out for yourself on a full sheet of paper. Give yourself some room to play. Start with the four directions shown at the top of the page. Copy each in column three more times. After you have done this, you will overlap on each hatching in the other three directions, ending up with a sheet full of various crosshatchings.

Lines have directionality. Use it to your advantage to suggest information about your subject.

If you are interested in seeing how I applied this Hatching and Cross-hatching on a character, feel free to check my tutorial on “How to draw Batman”

Contour Hatching


With contour hatching, your lines should follow the contour of the outline you’re shading.

Contour hatching is used for rounded figures. One of the ways to build up the illusion of roundedness is to hatch with parallel lines that “go around” the figure by curving. Vincent Van Gogh was a master at using pen and ink to sculpt his subjects. It is worth taking some time to look at his drawings. They are almost schematic in nature.

Scumbling and stippling


Scumbling and stippling differ from hatching by their lack of directionality, which can be an advantage for certain subjects. This technique is perfect to avoid sharp edges. Clouds, smoke, and bushes seen from a distance are some examples of subjects that would lend themselves to this technique.

Scumbling is the building up of tone with small circles so that they overlap each other. The key is that they are small enough and together, depending on the pressure of the pencil and the size of the circle will vary how dark the shadow is.


Stippling is the use of dots or small spots to build up a tone. Artists from late 19th century France, calling themselves Pointillists, are the most famous practitioners of this technique in painting. Look up George Seurat and be sure to find a book that shows details of his paintings.



Finally, these shading techniques can be complemented with the Smoothing. Using a Tortillion or your fingers, the graphite results in a uniform and smooth mass.

If you are interested in some quality Tortillions, here I’m leaving you the link to some good ones that I use: Link


I hope this article was useful to you. If you like it please subscribe to our newsletter. I will keep you updated on future art tutorials and articles. Also, if you have any question, please leave a comment below. I will be more than happy to answer it.

Hope you have a good drawing session.

Toni Justamante.

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