Throwing Shade

I’ve been told that until my accuracy in drawing improves, I really don’t need to worry about learning to shade. While I see some logic in that, I also think without knowing a little about shading techniques, I won’t be able to improve my accuracy. In my mind, it’s a bit of a “catch-22”.

As a beginning artist six years ago, learning to draw involved a bit of shading — enough to understand how simple shapes can be made to appear as three-dimension forms by use of proper shading. So, yes, I know the basics, and I try to employ shading here and there. I’m not good at it. That means I need to practice — a lot.

To make my practice time more efficient, I recently ordered a book by Paul Green: Pencil Shading Practise Book. I have it now, I’ve tried it, and I have to admit, I don’t like it. I knew from the start what I was getting —  a variety of futuristic greyscale drawings. I knew, too, that the book was not a “step-by-step” how-to-shade book. I looked past both of those facts, used a few Amazon points I had on my account, and bought a copy.

Indeed, the drawings are quite futuristic, so much so that I find it really hard to get interested in adding shading. I found, too, that despite the “greyscale” provided for each illustration, I find it impossible to distinguish the various grades. Take a look for yourself:


Seriously, folks, I know my eyes are old, but do you really see differences between HB through 9B? Any differences I see are so slight as to be meaningless. You can also see part of the “futuristic” drawing for this page. While, yes, I can differentiate between a few shades of gray there — and a lot of black — could you truly follow along on the greyscale provided to mark any of the “B” shading areas?

I did my best, played with a few different pencils, and came up with this:

You’ll notice right away that I didn’t complete this. I simply had no interest in what I was doing. You’ll notice, too, a number of “problem areas” I have with shading. It’s uneven. The darks aren’t really as dark as they should be. Overall, it’s messy.

I made no attempt at blending anything on this. That, I figured, would only make matters worse.

Although I quickly found out that Paul Green’s book is not for me, this was still a good practice session. I did get a chance to practice a bit, even though the results weren’t good. And the fun part of this was playing with a new set of drawing pencils I bought especially for use with this practice book. I have several sets of artist-grade drawing pencils, but for this practice project, I couldn’t resist buying one more. The sets I have, you see, include pencils ranging from 4H to 4B, or possibly to 6B. The Pencil Shading Practise Book gives grayscales ranging from 9H to 9B.

I found this inexpensive set and ordered it.

The book — which I got at no charge, thanks to my Amazon points — is not a total loss. I might play around with it again (probably not) or I might pass it on to an older grandson who loves to draw. He would like the futuristic illustrations, I’m sure.

And, I do like the pencil set. As I continue learning to shade, I’ll use it often, I’m sure. Not that I really need pencils ranging from 9H to 14B, but it’s fun to have them there among my drawing supplies. Hopefully, in time, I really will learn how to use them.

What tips and tricks do you have for learning and mastering shading techniques?



  1. Yes – it does seem to be a Catch 22!
    And No! I can see no difference in the HB to 9B on my laptop screen, but I do like to use 2B to 6B when I want to write or sketch something, as they shade very easily.
    Just to add – that even a drawing you may not be satisfied with, is way better than most of us could ever dream of producing! Keep it up. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve been thinking more about the “practise book”. Maybe I’ll keep it and use it now and then to practice with. Personally, I think I really only need four or five grades of lead at most when shading. It’s helpful for me to work with fewer shades instead of more. As long as I can clearly show dark, light, and medium in my drawings, that’s probably enough for now. It’s a good starting point for me.

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  2. The chart probably shows the darkest shade you can get with each pencil. All the B’s will go to black but the H’s don’t. Does the book tell you to make a chart using each pencil and do a graph with each from the lightest you can get with the pencil to the darkest you can get? Like people make charts with watercolors to test them? If you do a lot of pencil drawing you might use the B’s faster than the H’s. The H’s are hard and the B’s are soft, so if you draw too heavy on some papers the H’s might tear the paper. You can use the H’s if you’re planning a watercolor and don’t want your pencil lines to show up through the paint since they might be easier to erase. And when you practice drawing if you start out light and go darker after you get your lines in the right direction then do shading you can get the effect of the shading showing volume in a subject and not show an outline. I hope that makes sense.

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    1. Each outline drawing in the book has a “chart” like this intended to show where to use each pencil in the drawing. But, obviously, it’s not much use! The drawings don’t show the specific places either. The book says it includes (for beginners) “A simplified shaded version… a definite outline and a graphite shading scale to help you compare your shading to the original render.” Well, it didn’t help me much LOL.

      But you could be right. Maybe it’s intended to show the darkest possible result from each pencil, so maybe I misunderstood the whole point of it. I definitely don’t think anyone needs to use all those different pencils in a single drawing. I guess we each need to determine for ourselves what results we get with each. I think I used a 6B for the darkest value in this exercise.

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      1. Yeah, you don’t need the book to decide for you what pencil to use. If you pick a few pencils and make your own gray scales from white to black then you have something to compare to the subject you’re looking at and pick your pencils and values. Your gray scales only need to be strips around an inch wide and as long as 10 inches at most so you can do shading from 0% white to 100% black. Doing that gray scale exercise gives you a feel for the differences between each pencil too, soft to hard.

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      2. Yes, definitely it’s good to make our own value scales. Whenever I get a new set of drawing pencils, I usually play around with them quite a bit. Making a value scale with this new set will be very helpful. 🙂

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  3. Hey, Judith… My shading tip would be the same as for values… Unless you are doing a complex hyper realistic drawing with many values requiring many pencil grades… keep it simple… Five values on a ten value greyscale work fine for me… How we shade is the real challenge… Line, crosshatch, field, smudge… Every time I study a drawing by DaVinci or Michelangelo I am dazzled by their mastery of line…

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    1. Yep, indeed. I definitely want to keep it simple. I think working with four or five values is a good approach, and you’re right… it’s the way we shade that really makes a difference. I’m practicing with different methods. I’m not consistent with it though, so my shading is always a bit of a mess. Practice, practice, practice. I’ll keep trying, and hopefully I’ll see some improvement with time.

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