One of my favorite jokes as a child was one about two women discussing fashion. The first had just bought a new dress and was showing it off. The second woman remarks:
Oh, I have a dress just like that! Except that mine is blue, and the sleeves on mine are a little longer, and mine doesn’t have a collar, but other than that it’s exactly the same!
No, I’m not planning to try my hand at fashion drawing any time soon, although I wish I could. One of my dreams as a young girl was becoming a fashion designer. Maybe that’s why I loved that little joke so much.
Needless to say, I never pursued my interest in fashion, simply because I couldn’t draw. What would be the point of attending a school of fashion and design when I clearly wasn’t qualified?
Even now, although I’ve aquired rudimentary drawing skills, I still have a lot to learn, and that brings us to the real topic of today’s post. Not fashion, not design, not dresses, but the familiar “girl in the hat”. You’ve seen her before.
Now, I suppose she could be considered somewhat fashionable, but for my purposes she’s entirely functional. She’s an exercise in shading techniques, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned recently it’s that my shading sucks! Like a mongoose.
The “girl in the hat” is also an exercise in understanding and creating focal points through the use of contrasting values. Earlier in the week I posted my first drawing.
This drawing was done free-hand, so it’s a little bit different from the template. Oh, well. That happens when I’m drawing. It happens a lot, but I completed the shading as instructed, using the sunglasses as a focal point. They are darker. They are supposed to catch the viewer’s attention. Do they? I hope so.
But the exercise didn’t end there. There were questions posed about choosing a different focal point. What would I do differently if I wanted the lips to be the focal point? How about the hat?
For those two drawings, I used the template provided. For the “lip” focal point, however, I reversed the template. I did keep the light source the same and tried to place the shaded areas correctly. So, she’s the same girl in the same hat… just a little bit different.
I think it’s fairly obvious that I really wasn’t sure how to create contrast — and interest — around her lips. I did use a carbon pencil to darken them a bit, but overall my shading is very bland. There’s not much contrast, and the resulting picture is not very interesting at all.
Next I set about making the hat the focal point. I used the same template, but here she’s facing to her right. It’s the same picture as before… just different.
As you can see, I was much more comfortable going darker on my shading here, and that does make for a better drawing, I think. But maybe I got it all a bit too dark. I’m not happy with the cross-hatching marks I used to indicate the texture of the hat. It’s a good illustration of the less is more principle. Fewer hatch marks would have resulted in a more believable illusion.
Putting them all together, here are my three girls wearing their hats. They’re the same, but different.
After doing these exercises, I realized how weak my shading techniques are. A lot of questions came to my mind as I worked on these.
- Is it better for me to use a single pencil and vary the tone by changing the pressure?
- Or should I choose different pencils to achieve different values?
- Is it best to build up the darker values by applying additional layers of graphite?
- Should I shade the darkest areas first?
- Should I begin with lighter areas and work my way toward the darker values?
- What tools are best for blending?
- When blending do I start from the dark areas and blend outward?
- Should I start blending in lighter areas and move toward the darker values?
- How do I keep my blending sticks from getting too dirty to use?
- How do I prevent smudging?
Lots of questions, indeed! And I haven’t gotten to the really big question yet. That’s the most important one of all:
- How do I improve my shading techniques to create a smooth gradient?
The quickest and easiest answer, of course, is practice. But there’s one thing about practice we always need to keep in mind. Practice can lead to proficiency, but only if we’re practicing correctly. At this point, I’m not sure my shading methods are right.
But, I’m practicing nevertheless. I’m watching tutorials. I’m reading articles about gradient shading. I’m doing additional exercises, like this one on shading flower petals. Look closely, and you can probably tell that I tried different ways of shading on different petals. You can also see bits left behind by my eraser.
It’s another example of doing the same thing, but doing it differently each time. And even after all those petals, I still have answered the questions about what’s right for me, and what will work best for shading.
Much of it, I suppose, comes down to personal preference, shading in a way that’s comfortable and natural, and hopefully with practice, I will improve. Shading is a fundamental technique in drawing, one that can truly transform our art from easy to eye-catching.
Any suggestions will be appreciated!