Skip to content

How to Shade Your Pencil Drawings

June 14, 2009

shaded-sphereAn important part of drawing realistically is shading: the variation in value from shadows to highlights that describe the shape of something. By improving your shading you can greatly improve the quality of your drawings. All you need to do are three simple things: control your pencil, understand light, and blend!

There are many ways to shade a drawing, but for the purpose of this article, I will focus on smooth shading. These tips apply to all subjects, but I’ve also done a more detailed tutorial on how to shade a sphere.

Control Your Pencil

One of the keys to smooth shading is controlling the pressure of your pencil. For darker shadows you will need to press hard, then slowly lessen the pressure as you work away from the shadow. Keep your pencil strokes even and regular, don’t scribble. This is easier if you hold your pencil at more of an angle, using the side of the lead to draw. Also, try to keep your pencil strokes going in the same direction, this will give you smoother results.


don’t do

scribble        how-not-to-shade



shade1        how-to-shade


Understanding Light

 It’s also important to understand the way light works. In your drawings, you will generally have one light source., which affects the location of highlights and the direction of shadows. The highlight is the place where the light hits the object directly, and will be the lightest value. The area facing away from the light source will be in shadow, and everything between the highlight and shadow is considered the midtones. As well as a highlight, midtones and shadow, objects will also show some reflected light. This happens when light passing an object bounces off another surface and hits the shadowed side of the object. These values blend into eachother smoothly. The only place you will find a hard edge is when there is a cast shadow. In portraits, you will often find cast shadows under the chin or under the nose. The cast shadow is darkest closer to the source of the shadow, and fades out as you get farther away. This can be applied to most drawing subjects, but is easiest to demonstrate with a sphere.




The last step to smooth shading is blending. This can be done with a blending stick. Use your blending stick just like you use your pencil: on an angle in short, regular strokes. You can also try blending in small circles. Start at the lighest value and work towards the shadows. If your blending stick gets too dark, wipe it on a clean sheet of paper, or press it into your kneaded eraser. After blending, you may find that you want to go back and darken some of your shadows, or carefully lighten your highlights.

Learning how to shade well isn’t difficult, but it will take practice. With each drawing you’ll find yourself getting better. Remember, don’t be too timid wtih your shadows; a nice dark shadow will give your drawing depth.

If you found this helpful, sign up to recieve the newsletter! You will get extra drawing and art tips in your inbox once a month. Click here to submit your address.


I’ve joined Technorati:
Technorati Profile


From → Drawing

  1. jodie permalink

    im having to shade for homework an apple i find it very difficult my shading looks RUBBISH i need a highh mark any help?

    • Hi Jodie! Without seeing what kinds of problems you’re having, it’s hard to say what might help! My advice would be to shade very lightly at first and work on drawing so that you can’t see individual pencil marks. Once you can do that, slowly add more layers to make your shading darker. You want to practice the gradation: gradually going from light to dark. That involves learning how to control the pressure you’re putting on your pencil. Feel free to email me a picture of your drawing and I can see if I can give you any more pointers!

  2. winfred permalink

    i have realy leant alot from this site

  3. I draw mj(Michael Jackson) and I could never do his mouth and I can’t shade at all!!! I need somebody to come to my house and teach me lolololololololol but obviously not the people on the Internet but I want to make my drawings more realistic like u could tell it’s mj if u people all saw them but I want to shade better and draw like exactly my drawings are a tiny bit diff then the original but I think they are still good their all hanging on my walls I’ve got five!!!
    If anyone on here hates him u dong need to leave mean comments… Cuz u know nothing I have his whole life biography printed out and kept safely 🙂
    welll byeeee!!!

    • Shading definitely takes practice, keep at it and you’ll find yourself getting better!

  4. Hey, I love all your posts, keep them coming.

  5. wow its look amazing smoothie and well done i never make any drawing look like this and that’s upset me and make me leave many drawing not done yet

    • Thanks for visiting, Shaimaa. You just need more practice, honestly! It took me years to be able to shade so smoothly, and I’m still learning.

  6. sarah permalink

    hi, it may be because i’m kinda young, but i still don’t really get the shading.. but i really want to know how to shade! Please.. can anyone explain with an easier explanation?

  7. Morgan permalink

    I like to draw a lot but I usually take too much time and don’t end up achieving the effect I would like. I’ve seen a lot of amazing drawings here. i would like to know how make realistic drawings with just a faber castell pencil set or water color pencils on strathmore series 400 acid free paper (without having to use water colors on the drawings themselves in the case of the watercolor pencils)

  8. edward church permalink

    I been scrolling on here on some art stuff how to use blending sticks. it helps a lot to use different kinds of advice to read I came over this site and found it cool to ask what I need.” it helps I am self taught painter and sketcher…just I feel shading takes a lot of work. I am not a person who likes to draw people much but like practicing drawing trees and land scarping and buildings.

  9. edward church permalink

    so I like shading because it gives me a understanding on light…”

  10. Thelema permalink

    I love this website! I have recently started wanting to learn how to draw realistic portraits and learn to shade to make them look realistic and this website has been super helpful! Also, you’re a super good artist!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Shading Techniques - Hatching, Scribbling, Pointillism | Learn to... Art!
  2. How to Draw Eyes - Tutorial | Learn to... Art!
  3. How to Shade a Sphere - Tutorial | Learn to... Art!
  4. How to Draw a Portrait - Tutorial Part 1 | Learn to... Art!
  5. Drawing with Charcoal | Learn to... Art!
  6. Tuesday, September 14, 2010 | Ms. Rodriguez Art Class
  7. painting tips
  8. Art

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: