How to Do Pencil Shading Like a Real Pro?

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As a self-taught artist, it was usually so hard for me to shade anything properly and pencil drawing was the hardest thing for me to do. Either, I went too dark or too light, or it looked 2D. It was just all extremely strange and I used to think that I was the worst artist in the whole world)How to Do Pencil Shading Like a Real Pro? 1

We all have that kind of moment, don’t we;)

So then I understood that I need to start from the basics and learn all of the shades and highlight places.

First, let’s talk about form as the form is what we are actually trying to indicate while we are shading.

In order to effectively shade form, you need to understand the form you are shading.

Spheres, cylinders, and boxes.

Organic forms found in nature, like humans, animals and trees could and should be constructed from these simple forms to show the real character of the subject.

The primary form, such as a cylinder, for an arm should be dominant over any secondary forms, such as the major masses: bicep, triceps, deltoid. The secondary forms should be dominant over the tertiary form such as veins and wrinkles. You do not necessarily need to draw them in that sequence. Make sure that when you are shading, you are primarily shading the large forms and the smaller forms act as details icing on the cake.


Planes can be thought of flat tiles, arranged in 3D shapes to create a form.

They create the illusion of form.

Thinking this way will aid in your thinking and shading process. You can think of each section and see which direction each plane faces, then compare it to the direction of the light source. Plane facing the light is the lightest, progressively darker as they turn away.

That separation of tone on the planes gives a sense of light on the form and helps to show the three dimensionalities of an object. If you want to round out the edges to create a softer form, then soften the edge between these panes. Thought sometimes leaving the edges between the planes hard even what looks like a rounded form can help to illustrate the structure more effectively. Consider the Three-dimensional form that you are drawing rather than blurring the edges for technique sake.

It is good to imagine each form as a block and identify each minor plane as either being part of the top the bottom and the side, front or back planes. The simple planes of a block are the most important ones.
George Bridgeman said:

“Avoid all elaborate and unnecessary tones which take away from plane appearing to be on one of four major sides”

Light on Form

When an object is lit by a direct light source, you will get a very predictable pattern of light and shadows. We can make a form feel 3D but indicating all the parts of the lights and shadows directly.

First, determine the angle of a light source.

Then imagine the planes that make up this form. All the planes that face the light, will belong to the light family. And all the planes that face away from the light will belong to the shadow family.

Core shadow

As a divider of the two families, you will usually see the core shadow, the darker strip at the edge of the shadow. This core shadow should not be the same all the way down the form. In the rounded belly, part of the form the core shadow will be thicker with the as softer edge. As the form transitions to the thinner stroke, the core shadow will also get thinner with the sharper edge. Make sure put pay attention to what you are an indication with your core shadow.

Avoid drawing racing stripes around the form.

This usually happens when people think two dimensionally and do not consider the 3 dimensional for they are indicating. Is it cylindrical, cuboid or somewhere in between the two? Draw soft, firm, hard edge accordingly.

Reflected light

Fill in the shadow side with a clean dark value, but lighter than the core shadow. This is called the reflected light. It is lighter because of the bounced light and reflections in the environment, illuminating this area.

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I always start with a flat value first, even if I see the variations of value which causes the change inside the shadow. Most important part is to separate the shadow family, from the light family. Later in the drawing, we can work on the plane changes in the shadows if they are really important.

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On a complex form like a figure, it is usually a good idea to keep details within the shadows quite that in the lights Most of the stories will be told in the lit areas. Naturally, the viewer will look into the light area, so this is why you want to put the interesting work there. And keep the shadows as the area of rest.

Center light and half tones

Next, identify the point of center light. This is the point where the plane directly faces to the light. The half tones appear as a separation from darkest near the core shadow and lights at the center light.

So I am thinking about how these planes get lighter as they wrap around towards the center light. Then down here the planes start to turn down wards also getting darker.

The Highlight

It is the final element. It is different to center light, but sometimes appearing to fall very close to the center light. It reflects the light relative to the position of the viewer.

Rule of thumb is when the shadow is further away from light, the shadow is thin, the highlight will be very close to the center light.

When the shadow is large, the highlight will be farther from the center light moving closer to the shadows.

Cast shadow and occlusion shadow.

These elements occur when there is a full interaction between two forms. For example, you will introduce a random cylinder into the scene. This cylinder will block light from hitting the surface of the muscle. The shadow from that cylinder on another object is going to be called a cast shadow.

Cast by the cylinder. When I draw the cast shadow, I use it to describe the object that it is being to cast on to, not the objects it is being cast on. The shadow is darker as there is no bounce shadow. Keep the edge of the cylinder sharp and the edge going away very soft.

Local value

Local value of an object shifts the value range.

On the light object, the darkest core of the center light is wide

On the darker objects, the values get compressed and pushed darker. Interestingly the highlight is not affected that much. It still gets darker but not as much as the other part.

The value of the highlight depends on the reflectivity of the material.

A glossy surface will have a shinier highlight, where as on the matt surface the highlight might not be visible at all.

The intensity of light

It also makes a big difference.

Bright light will create more contrast and shadow.

Dim light creates very little contrast.

The intensity of the light can shift within the same object.

For example, if you draw a figure, with a light source at the top, you will have intense light at the top of the drawing and darker at the bottom.

This can be a trick to create a focal point in your work.

A detailed explanation of the process of shading is available on the courses here.

Figure Drawing Course


P.S. I have also a free version of my tips. They are extremely useful and true.

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