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How to Shade a Sphere – Tutorial

September 4, 2009

shade-a-sphere-10Aside from being an impressive skill to brag about to your friends, knowing how to draw and shade a sphere can really help you when it comes to realistic drawings. The shading of a sphere is what shows us that it is a round, three dimensional object and not just a flat circle. Once you know how to shade a sphere, you also have the tools to shade an apple, the tip of a nose, the cheeks and forehead. The principle is the same!


When drawing a sphere, you need to consider your light source.

side-lightingHere we can see that the light source is coming from the left of the sphere. This puts the highlight on the left of the ball, and casts a shadow to the right. You can see on the bottom right where the light has bounced off the floor and back onto the sphere to create a reflection in the shadowed area.


front-lightHere, the light is coming from the front and to the left of the sphere. This changes the shadows. Now the cast shadow is coming from the back of the sphere, and the highlight is more towards the middle. Notice that we still have a reflection at on the back edge of the sphere.


back-left-lightingIn this example, the light is coming from behind and to the left of the sphere. The cast shadow is in front and the highlight towards the left, top edge. The area of reflected light is now much bigger, and our shadow is darker.




backlightBacklighting is much more dramatic. The highlight is along the very top edge and the shadow is very deep.





How to Shade a Sphere Tutorial

I’m going to be working from life for this one, using the first example as a reference. Your first step is to draw the outline of your sphere and the shadow it casts using a B pencil. To get the shape of the shadow right, it can sometimes help to draw the whole thing on top of the sphere, then erase your lines.



Next, outline the edges of your shadows and highlights. I usually draw the highlight bigger than what I want so that I can shade up to that point and blend past it. You want to keep the highlight as white as possible.



Still using your B pencil, start to very lightly shade the area around the highlight. Work your way to the edge of the sphere and the edge of the shadow.



Squint to see the more subtle shading of this shape, and add another darker layer along the edge of the shadow. You don’t need to press any harder, just keep shading the same area until it gradually gets darker.



Now take your 2B pencil and shade in the entire shadow area. Try to make a gradual transition between the shadow and the midtones. You don’t want a solid line between the two.



Again, we’ll use the same pencil to shade in another darker layer where we see the darkest shadows.



Now the fun part! Use your blending stick to blend your pencil marks together. It’s important to work from light to dark. Start at the highlight and blend inwards, keeping the center free of graphite. You want the white of the paper to show through as the brightest part.



Next, we’ll work on the cast shadow. The edge of the sphere against the cast shadow should be nice and sharp. Since the cast shadow is the darkest value, use a 4B pencil to shade in the area directly underneath the sphere.



Using your 2B again, shade in the rest of the shadow. You’ll notice that in my reference, there is a second light source (the window) that is causing different shapes to appear within the shadow.  This second, dimmer light source is casting a second, lighter shadow.



Now you can blend out the shadow. Pay attention to the edges of your cast shadow. It is sharper closer to the sphere and gets lighter and softer the further away it gets. At this point, you’re almost done! All you need to do is use your kneaded eraser to clean up your edges and re-define your highlight and the reflection. Voila, a sphere!



Now you can use your skills to draw virtually anything with a rounded shape. The rules are the same! A highlight, a range of midtones, the shadow with a reflection, and a cast shadow! Practice this using a ball and a lamp to hone your skills and try out different light sources. Have fun!


From → Drawing, Tutorials

  1. This is a wonderful post. I love how you are sharing these basics here. It makes me consider illustration again, although I am not sure. You know, I believe we can all use a refresher course in basics and a reminder of what many of us intuitively do. It keeps us from getting sloppy in our work and reminds us just why it is we choose to break the rules from time to time.

    Thanks Again for your incredible efforts with this wonderful blog!

    • Hey Kim! Doing these posts is a refresher for me as well! It’s a great reminder of things that I may not have been paying enough attention to and it’s really helping me brush up on skills I haven’t used much recently. I’ve always thought illustration would be a really interesting and rewarding area to get into. Have you done it before?

  2. azalea permalink

    omg…wonderfull…thanks…this really helpd….u jus made shading soooo easy….itz beautifull…

  3. sid permalink

    hi, miranda.
    thanx for this post. here i got to learn about new shading technique.

    where can i get the more stuff like this?
    i am a beginner in this field.

  4. brian permalink

    Hi there,
    Just looking at this tutorial, its a great example of how to start off sketching spheres. Thanks very much for the help!B

    • Hi Brian! Thanks for stopping by, I hope you take a minute to look at the rest of my tutorials. Take care!

  5. Hi Miranda,

    This one is a very informative post. It cleared some of my doubts like blending. Thank you so much for this wonderful post.
    – Ginu –

  6. cissy permalink

    thanks so much.

  7. Rohan permalink

    how to work out with the white areas, or the area where light is incident, should we leave it blank or clean it up with eraser

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