Have a Seat

On my list of things I don’t like to draw, interior scenes rank right up there near the top, along with urban scenes. Anything man-made is troublesome for me because such things tend to have lots of straight lines, lots of angles, and an obvious symmetry. In landscape art, we’re taught to avoid most of those!

Today’s “summer project” drawing was a comfy chair near a window. Following the illustration in Barrington Barber’s 10-Week Drawing Course, I drew not only the chair, but also a small table beside it, part of a window, and a bit of curtain. Oh, there’s a pillow in the chair, too. The walls are wood paneling, so that’s shown, as well.

Yes, I know that cushion is a bit off-kilter. Well, all right, the whole chair is a bit off-kilter, but all things considered — including the fact that I drew this rather quickly — it’s not all that bad. As with the other sketches I’ve been doing in recent weeks, this is an exercise in learning to relax, let go, and just draw without letting myself get too concerned with proportions, perspective, and difficult details. Instead of struggling to get everything “just right”, I shrugged, said “Here goes,” and did an effortless drawing. That is, I made this as easy for myself as possible. I like this new, casual approach, and I believe it will pay off for me in the long run.

The exercise in Barber’s book, however, wasn’t focused on getting the contours exact. It was actually an exercise in creating tonal values, or, as we usually call it, shading. Now, here’s where I need to pay attention. Proper shading is — and always has been — one of my weakest areas. When it comes to drawing skills, my ability to create a wide range of tonal value is… well, I don’t have the ability. That’s why I’m glad for the opportunity to work on it and learn more “how-to” tricks.

Shading is a technique I’ve address in various posts over the years. You’ll find a bit of information here, here, and here. You’ll also find a couple of helpful resources: Drawing Dimensions – Shading Techniques by Catherine V. Holmes and an online article on Drawing Light and Shadows. A quick search will lead to many more resources.

There are two aspects involved in learning to properly shade in graphite drawing, or in using shading in other media, too. In fact, let’s go ahead and say that there are three aspects. We can’t shade correctly until we address all three of these points:

  1. We need the right tools for the job.
  2. We have to learn the proper techniques for applying tone.
  3. We must know where to place the lights and darks.

The first, of course, is easy to address. While a proficient graphite artist can create a wide range of values with only a single pencil, we can make shading much easier by using a set of drawing pencils. While there are, I believe, twenty-two different grades of graphite, we really don’t need all of them. Even a simple, inexpensive set of artist drawing pencils will be enough to get started on learning shading techniques. “B” pencils — B, 2B, 4B, and 6B — are often recommended for shading practice. These are soft pencils. The softer the graphite, the darker the shading.

Along with having the right pencils, we should also think about the paper we’re using in our drawing practices. It’s easy to overlook the differences between one type and another, but it can make a big difference when we’re learning to shade. Strathmore Papers has a good article here that discusses the importance of choosing the right paper:

Shading Techniques and Selecting Paper for Graphite

Next, we have to know the proper techniques for putting tone on the paper. The Strathmore article linked above also provides this helpful information:

How to Shade

  1. Hold the pencil at approximately a 45º angle. Shading is done with the side of the pencil tip.
  2. You can move the pencil with your shoulder or wrist. Each produces different types of marks. Moving the pencil with your elbow and shoulder produces larger strokes that may be more expressive. This approach is usually used with large-scale drawings. Moving the pencil with your wrist produces smaller strokes that are less expressive. This approach is usually used for smaller-scale drawings.
  3. The harder you press during shading the darker the mark produced and the darker the shade. The softer the pencil grade, the darker the mark.

How to produce an even shade

  1. Start with a light pressure and increase pressure of application as you proceed in overlapping pencil strokes.
  2. Apply strokes in various overlapping angles and strokes. By overlapping at several different angles and directions the resulting shade will be more even with greater luminosity.

This is where I need to focus my attention. I need to practice, practice, and practice some more. Day after day, practice after practice, I need to go over shading exercises again and again until I can achieve a smooth, even tone.

But “even shading” is only one technique. There are other ways, including hatching, cross-hatching, stumping, and stippling.

Here is a little practice sheet I’ll be using:

You can download this exercise (complete with blank circles for practice) here.

Another good online article deals specifically with problems — showing what not to do. This is really helpful for me.

Introduction to Pencil Shading

This is the place where I’m at with my attempts to learn shading, but maybe you’ve mastered these techniques and are able to create smooth, uniform shading with graphite. If so,  you’re ready for the third essential element — knowing where to put the lights and shadows. You might find this article — with exercises — useful:

How to Shade a Drawing — Three Fundamentals for Beginners

I’m hopeful that I’ll reach that point as I work to improve my drawing techniques. I know it will require a lot of practice. I need only look at my “comfy chair” to see how much work I need to do. So, after browsing around a bit more, I ordered an actual “practise book”: Pencil Shading Practise Book by Paul Green. It does not include step-by-step instructions, but does offer a variety of line drawings to shade:

“This book has a variety of futuristic greyscale drawings to help you practise your shading skills by using a reference picture to copy from. Although the book does not give step-by-step instructions on how to shade, this method is enjoyable and will improve your drawing skills. Each drawing has two shading choices to choose from: 1) A simplified shaded version for beginners or for a first try shade. There is also a definite outline and a ‘graphite shading scale’ to help you compare your shading to the original render. 2) A more detailed shaded version for the final shade or for more advanced shaders. This version also includes a very faint outline as a guide and a ‘graphite shading scale’ to compare your final shading to the original render.”

And, of course, let’s not forget about value scales. Making a value scale with graphite is still one of the best practice methods there is. It’s helpful, too, to get back to basics, draw simple two dimensional shapes, and then practice shading techniques to turn them into three-dimensional forms.

Between basic exercises, online instruction, and a book of drawings to shade, I’m hoping to see improvements. I have all the tools I need. I have the information. Now, it’s up to me to do my part with a lot of practice. So, maybe the next time you see me draw a chair it will look truly comfy.

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