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4 Must-Know Pencil Shading Techniques

It’s amazing how a simple drawing tool such as a pencil can be used by different artists and yield such different results. Still, all those artists use some of the same techniques, especially when it comes to shading. With these pencil shading techniques, you can explore all kinds of artistic expressions.

hand pencil

Drawings courtesy of HelloArtsy.com

4 pencil shading techniques to try

1. Smooth shading

You can get a super smooth result by shading with a pencil if you simply avoid any patterns while shading.

smooth pencil shading

How to apply smooth shading

The key to smooth shading is avoiding that back-and-forth motion we tend to use when shading in a hurry. While OK for a quick sketch, this back-and-forth motion yields striping — not a smooth finish.

If you slow down your pencil application and use a random circular motion, the pencil values will be very smooth.

Pros and cons of smooth shading

Because the process is slower, you have the chance to build up the pencil values through layering. This gives wonderful results and is a very safe way to shade because the values are built up slowly. Practicing this technique will reduce the amount of erasing necessary.

It’s natural for the tiny pits of paper to show up — like you see in the photo above — in this style of shading. This is because the pencil skips over the lowest areas of paper. As long as you use a good, reasonably smooth paper, this paper texture should not take away from the quality of the drawing.

Smudging

Smudging pencil is a distinctly different style compared to “smooth shading” technique.  It is not only different in its approach but in its overall look as well.

smudged pencil shading

How to apply smudged shading

There are many tools to help smudge pencil, such as the dry bristles from a paintbrush or paper stumps. You can even use your fingers, but this gets messy quickly. It’s best to keep your actual hands clean and off your drawing surface as much as possible!

Pros and cons of smudged shading

Smudging pushes graphite into all parts of the paper, even into those lower pits of the paper I mentioned above. Notice how the smudged pencil above hides the subtle paper texture that was prominent in the smooth shading.

Smudging is generally much faster to accomplish. You can push pencil around the paper and cover areas very quickly. However, beginners tend to gravitate toward smudging and abuse the technique altogether. Make sure smudging isn’t the only pencil shading technique you use.

3. Textured shading

Sometime your subject matter can dictate what type of shading you should be using. Drawing trees or foliage? Smooth shading will not be the best approach for this subject matter. Rather, you can let the individual lines and strokes build up in a way that yields a variety of tones and has a textured look.

textured pencil shading

How to apply textured shading

You could spend plenty of time experimenting with various pencil textures. The drawing above was a kind of controlled scribble to yield the more obvious texture. Both pencil pressure and layering were used to vary the darkness and lightness of each area.

Pros and cons of textured shading

Textured shading is a great way to break up the sameness of your drawings.  When a texture is used for one object compared to a less textured or smooth area of other objects, you can really create a visual separation between the various objects.

Just be careful not to dig the tip of the pencil into the paper or you may have trouble erasing or adjusting your subject matter as it develops!

4. Crosshatching

No discussion on shading would be complete without mentioning crosshatching.

crosshatching in pencil

How to apply crosshatching

Crosshatching is the art of creating values with layers of parallel lines.  Think of each layer of pencil as a set of lines. Numerous sets of lines can be layered on top of each other, changing the overall perceived value of the pencil.

Notice how more lines build up to create the darkest areas of pencil value.

Pros and cons of crosshatching

One of the benefits of crosshatching is in the logic of the technique. As long as the lines are drawn with the same spacing and pressure it’s a snap to control the values.  More sets of lines will result in predictable value changes.

There is a tendency to lose patience with crosshatching and to speed up over time. This results in the last few lines looking different and often messier when compared to the first few lines. It’s best to stay patient and simply enjoy the process of building up layers!

My advice on pencil shading

It’s good to explore all of these shading techniques. You’ll find that some work better for certain subject matters. You’ll also develop your personal favorites due to your own personal drawing style. Just try to keep an open mind and see the benefit and beauty to using each technique.

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