How To Shade With A Pencil

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

How do you make your drawings look three dimensional and avoid it looking flat? In this post, we cover how to shade with a pencil and create the illusion of depth on paper.

I will be covering all the basics you need to know to be able to shade and colour with ease using a reference or from your imagination in this and following posts.

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The Fundaments For Better Shading

Discover how to make your drawings ‘pop’ by learning to recognise value, contrast, edge and lighting.

1. Value 

The value of a colour is how light or dark it is. It is compared on a scale of white to black with white being the highest value and black being the lowest. 

Value scale for artists from black to white.

The number of values between white and black is infinite. For simplicity, its range can be taken on a scale of 0 to 10.

Understanding value might seem easy, but once you add in colour it can get challenging. Your ability to differentiate between values in colour will improve your art immensely.

Note that different colours have different values on our colour wheel despite having different hues.

The Colour Wheel vs The Values of the Colour Wheel.
The Colour Wheel vs The Values of the Colour Wheel.

Each colour will have its own value scale ranging from tints close to white and shades down to black.

The values you use will provide your art with structure rather than colour. This is not to say that colour is not important. Colour is used to evoke emotion but it should be used in conjunction with value for amazing results.

2. Contrast

Contrast is a principle of art where opposing elements are placed together to create variety, interest and drama. 

Complementary colours in a square - Blue square with an Orange square in the centre.
Complementary colours – Blue with Orange in the centre. Notice the value difference.

We see that complementary colours are highly contrasting as the values are far apart. Complementary colours are colours that are on opposite sides of the colour wheel.

Analogous colours in a square- Yellow square with Yellow-green square in the centre.
Analogous colours – Yellow with Yellow-green in the centre. Notice the value difference.

While in analogous colours we notice low contrast due to the similar values of the two colours. Analogous colours are those that are next to each other on a colour wheel.

The intensity of light can produce a range of contrasting values. This can vary from subtle to extreme. Usually, the stronger the light, the higher the contrast. A more reflective surface will have higher contrast. A diffuse object will not be reflective.

When it comes to shading with a pencil, we are dealing with changes in value from dark to light to create contrast.

3. Edge

Edge is the limit between a plane, colour, or object that separates any of them.

A cup on a table - types of edges on a cup.

Plane Edge – We see changes in the edge when there is a transition of a plane to a different facet of the object. For example, the transition from the bottom of the cup to the side of the cup.

Colour Edge – Colours can form an edge when transitioning from one shade to the other. In our example, the shadow cast by the cup creates an edge that separates light from dark. In this situation, the edge is not physically present. Understanding this concept helps improve the quality of your shading.

Object Edge – Of course, an edge also occurs between the transition between two objects. As in our example above, this transition would be between the cup and the table.

Types of Edges you will see

A cup on a table - types of edges you can draw.

Hard edges occur when there is no transition, a sudden change between two shapes.

Firm edges have a softer edge and a small gradation to it.

Soft edges are a gradual or smooth transition between two shapes.

Lost edges are so soft that you cannot actually see them. This effect occurs when the values of the two objects are very close.

4. Light

Light helps us to visualise objects. Without light, there would be nothing to see. To draw something convincingly, we need to understand light and how it interacts with objects. Light and shadows reveal the forms that we see. 

Reflective glass sphere.
On a well lit, highly reflective surface we will see strong shadows and sharp highlights.

The amount of light directs how we see a form. Generally, under bright light, we will see strong shadows and sharp highlights. Under diffuse light, we see softer shadows. Colours appear different depending on whether they are in light or shadow no matter the object. 

To simplify this art tutorial, we will look at how one light source behaves on fruit. 

The values that you draw gives the viewer information about the texture and form of the subject.

Drawing of a fruit in pencil showing the types of values you will see when drawing.

The Elements of Light on an Object

  • The Highlight is the reflection of the light source which will move depending on where the viewer is. This is the brightest point on the object.
  • The Mid Tone is the area that is in the direction of the light source. In most cases, it is the ‘actual’ colour of the object. 
  • Core Shadow is the area that is facing away from the light source producing a darker area. 
  • Cast Shadow is caused when the light is blocked from reaching another form.
  • The Reflected light is the light that bounces off surrounding objects to produce an area of lighter value in the shadow area.

How to shade an egg with a pencil

Set up your reference, you can use a ball, orange, apple or any other round object for this exercise as well. Use a small directional lamp to light it up. Preferably have the object sitting up against a darker surface for contrast. You can even just copy the image here and use it.

Photo of an egg on a cloth.

When shading, avoid using the tip of the pencil, it can cause sharp lines. try using the side of the graphite so your strokes are thicker and you will have more control. 

1. Start loosely by drawing out the shape, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Use your whole arm to draw rather than your wrist for smoother lines.

Outline of an egg on paper. How to shade an egg with a pencil.

2. Pause and look at the shapes you have created. Check their proportions and negative shapes with regards to the environment.

Outline of an egg on paper with a shadow.

3. Block out the light side and the shadow side on the egg and capture the shadow. Don’t go too dark yet, we will save our darker tones for later.

Drawing of an egg on paper with slight shading. Tutorial on how to shade an egg.

4. Build up the values in layers, slowly and lightly. You can smudge it for a smoother transition with a soft cloth or tissue if you’d like. Avoid the highlight areas as erasing might not give you the desired ‘cleanness’.

Drawing of an egg on paper with some shading. Tutorial on how to shade an egg.

5. You can now add the darkest of dark tones with a 4B-6B pencil. Add a gentle transition from the terminator line with a 3H pencil. We will exaggerate the values and lighting by pulling the lights and pushing the darks. 

Detailed drawing of an egg on paper with complete shading.

Now it is your turn to try these methods. Attempt shading while maintaining the fundamentals of edge, lighting, values and contrast.

Pin this guide to your Pinterest boards so that you can return to it and use this method to draw other objects. Please share it on your favourite social media if you know anyone who would find it useful.

I hope this tutorial helps you understand how to shade and light a basic object. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below. I would love to see how your drawings turn out. Tag me on your favourite social media @drawingwithpri when you use this tutorial.

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