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Drawing IV - Shading

In this post, we continue our still life drawing with the shading stage, the last and perhaps most difficult stage of a drawing. There are a lot of things to keep mind. We’re going to have a look at the basics then get some shading done on the drawing we’ve been working on.


What is shading? Its purpose is to create 3D forms and for that you need to add values to your drawing. Values give the shapes you’ve drawn their form, which makes them look 3D. It’s a great illusion, isn’t it? Making something look 3D on a flat sheet of paper.

Figuring out the values you’ll be using for your drawing is one of the decisions that needs to be made before you begin shading. The objects in your drawing will help to determine this as will they style of your work.

Some artists work is light and airy, like white sheets hanging on a line drying in the summer sun. They would use low tonal values in their drawing. Other artists, whose work is heavier and darker, like a drawing of a deep wood, would shade using high tone values and some very light tints for highlights.

Source: Deviant Art

By using extreme values in your drawing, like a dark value next to a light value, you can create a high-contrast drawing. Alternately, you can use mostly mid-tones to create a low-contrast drawing. Keep in mind, the human eye is drawn to contrast.

Along with figuring out what values you’ll be using, you should have an idea of what technique you’ll be applying them to your drawing with.

There are a few different techniques when it comes to shading. Some artists use stippling to create shades (darks), mid-tones and tints (lights), while others blend using a stump or they just draw random lines with less or more pressure on their drawing pencils to create different values.

The most common way to shade is to hatch or cross-hatch. Both of these methods allow a gradual darkening of areas in a drawing.


Whichever technique you decide to use, stick with it to create a consistent look to your drawing.

Creating 3D Form

Your light source will dictate where the lights and darks will be on your objects. But it’s much more than just lights and darks to make an object look 3D. Everything needs to be in the right place for that to happen.

These are some of the basics we need to keep in mind when we're shading an object and they apply to everything.


Your object reflects the light source most intensely on the area directly facing it, making it the highlight on your object. In most cases it’ll be a white highlight, even on a coloured object. From the lightest spot, your values will remain light values as you gradually shade into the mid-tones.


Your object is still reflecting light in these areas, but because it’s begun to turn away from the light source, it’s not as intense as the highlight area. In most cases, this area is the actual colour of your object. Keep in mind that your mid-tones are not one value in a drawing. They’re actually made up of many values that range from a lighter mid-tone to a darker mid-tone as your shading works its way around the object.

Core Shadow:

Here you’ll find the darkest areas of your object. Your light source no longer reaches these areas and puts them in shadow. Just like with the mid-tones, the values of your dark areas will vary.

Reflected Light:

All objects have reflected light. Some are easier to see than others. Light from what they’re sitting on reflects back at the object creating areas of highlight right beside the darker areas. It's easy to see that on the sphere and how the reflection follows the form of the object.

Reflected light can also be easily seen on objects that are shiny, wet or white. A good example is on the sugar bowl lid from our still life drawing. There are more quite a few areas of reflected light in this one small area.

Cast Shadow:

These are always a very important part of your drawing. Treat them as you would your objects.

Like the core shadow, the cast shadow is created because of a lack of light. In this case, the object is blocking the light which creates a cast shadow.

The tricky part of cast shadows is that their size, value and location are completely determined by the light source. Just think of our shadows during the day. In the morning and in the evening when the sun is lower, our shadows are longer. At mid-day, our shadows are the shortest.

Keep in mind that one light source will give you one shadow, a second will give you a second shadow and so on. If you have a light fixture in your bathroom with more than one light bulb in it like I do, you can easily check this out.

There are technical ways to work out the location of a cast shadow, but for still life drawings, I’d suggest sticking to the measuring proportions and angles method we discussed in the last post.

Our Still Life Drawing

Let’s get back to our still life drawing. The last stage we’re looking at is shading. With all this new info about creating 3D forms fresh in our minds, we have some guidelines to go by.


Once you’ve taken measurements, worked out proportions and angles, and your shapes are roughed in, it’s time to think about creating the forms of the objects. For this, we’ll need to think about shading. That seems like a really big job. What’s the best place to start?

Always begin your shading in the areas where the darkest values of your drawing will be.

Don’t shade in too dark when you start. All you want to do at this stage is to begin the process so you have something to compare your mid-tones and lights to.

Shading is a gradual progression of darks, mid-tones and lights. You’ll need to work over areas a few times to get the values in your drawing correct.

For our study, I’ve started shading the dark areas with my 2B drawing pencil, and gradually moved into shading the mid-tones. I’m not going to touch the lights at this point but instead, go back with a 3B graphite stick and working on making the darker values and mid-tones a bit darker.

After I began shading, I noticed how badly proportioned the height of the creamer was to the other objects. I re-measured using the sugar bowl and adjusted the height of the creamer and the spoon before continuing with shading.

The biggest problem at this stage of a drawing is how to balance the values across the objects. Some appear too dark, some too light. It takes time to create a unity between all your values, so be patient and keep going.

Switching to a 6B then to an 8B pencil allowed me to create much darker values. At one point, I found the sugar bowl much too dark and used my kneaded eraser to lighten things up a bit.

This is my progress so far. I had planned to share a finished drawing with you in this post, but it's taking so much longer than I thought it would to work out all the shading. And that’s to be expected when you’re creating a drawing. There are always small adjustments that need to be made and some just don't show up until your well into your shading.

As for the study, I’m much happier with the height of the creamer and spoon, but as I was shading, I could see how the oval of the sugar bowl isn’t correct. I rushed through that part, not working out a proper oval so that’ll be something I fix before continuing with the drawing.

You can see from the sugar bowl and single sugar cube that I’ve kept what we learned earlier about creating 3D form in mind. I’ve been looking for these things in the photo of the still life I’m drawing from. All the information is there! And now that you know what to look for when it comes to shading, you’ll be able to make any object look three dimensional too.

Final Thoughts

I’ve really enjoyed doing this study. Great to be drawing again and great to have some of you drawing along with me. I’ll be posting my finished drawing on the 3T Art Blog Facebook page so check in from time to time.

We’re going to keep the Drawing theme going for just more week. We couldn't finish up without having a look at a the figure which is a huge area of study when it comes to drawing. I'm also going to introduce you to a full-time model who I’ve had the pleasure of drawing many times, Steve Pietrzyk.

See you next time!


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