Pencil Shading Techniques: Tips to Bring Your Artwork to Life

pencil shading techniquesThe main reason why artists use different shading techniques is to help make their work look more realistic. Through shading techniques you can add hard and soft shadows to your work, make it look as if light is reflecting off of it, and you can even give a solid ground or surface that your work appears on to give it more depth, so it doesn’t just appear as if it’s sitting on a piece of paper.

Shading is one of the fundamental aspects of art. It takes your creative work to the next level and it can visually add a new dimension to your art. With the knowledge of the various shading techniques, you can create a wide array of unique artwork. If you’ve only just begun drawing, you may run into some problems. Check out The Secrets to Drawing, which is a Udemy course specifically designed to help you improve your drawing skills.

The Importance of Shading

When you want to draw something that looks realistic, you have to understand how to create the illusion of depth. The best way to create this illusion is to use light and shadows.

There are several types of pencil shading techniques you can use, and you may even come up with your own at some point, but for now we will explore six different types commonly used for artists both professionals and beginners – crosshatching, smooth, stippling, contour, circulism, and slinky.


Crosshatching is popular amongst artists – you may have even seen it in professionally done pieces. This method requires you to draw alternating sets of lines that cross over each other in a criss-cross pattern. One important thing to remember is that the closer together the lines are, the darker the shading will look. You can create highlights with the work as well by either increasing the space between the lines or by taking out certain lines completely.

Smooth Pencil Shading

Smooth shading involves very soft strokes. It is one of the most difficult types of shading to master, but it can also be one of the most effective, and can help you create the most realistic shapes and pictures. Smooth shading is done in a similar way that you would color using a crayon. You use a consistent amount of pressure and create a single layer of graphite. You apply more pressure as you press down on the pencil, and you can lean the pencil on its side to help create a larger effect. There is a special technique you can use to help blend the graphite. Take a piece of cloth or a piece of tissue and rub it against the graphite. This way you can create a smoother transition between the light and the shadow on your work.

Stippling Pencil Shading

Stippling, which is also known as pointillism, is a very common form of shading that people commonly use with pens. Stippling bears a strong resemblance to crosshatching, but instead of making lines that criss-cross, you create spots that are closer together and further apart. As you space the dots out you can create highlights or, similar to crosshatching, you can just leave out large amounts of dots to give the illusion of highlighting as well.

Slinky Pencil Shading

The slinky form of shading is quick and easy to use, even for beginners. You do this form of shading by using very fast back and forth motions with your pencil. You eventually create a line that looks resembles a slinky. This is an excellent method for creating sketches or if you are making pieces that don’t need a lot of detail to complete.

If you want to create something that is more detailed or advanced, you may want to consider using a different technique that gives you more range.

Circulism Pencil Shading

Circulism is a form of shading where, as the name suggests, you create small circles to shade your work. Imagine creating curly hair on a character you drew; you would apply the same technique when you’re doing circulism. As you create smaller circles the shading will be darker, but as you create larger circles the shading will appear lighter.

Contour Shading

Another form of shading that resembles crosshatching, contour is a shading type that follows the contour of a line, or the lines of the shape of your particular image. This form of shading works best when you are working with various types of circular images, such as an apple or orange.

Finding New Pencil Shading Techniques

Depending on your art style, you may find that this pencil shading technique works amazingly well or they may not work for you at all. There are tons of techniques that you can try, and you can master them all with a little bit of practice.

A great form of practice is drawing yourself and coming into your own style. The Udemy courses Portrait Drawing and Drawing with Confidence are both helpful ways to increase your artistic skills.

Using Different Types of Tools for Shading

When it comes to shading your work, you aren’t limited to one particular technique, you can use what works for you in order to get the best result. There are a lot of shading techniques you can use.  Remember that shading isn’t just a technique you can learn with any utensil.

Different pencils have different effects.  The numbers on your pencils (such as 2B, 4B, 6B, 2H, 4H, etc.) indicate different levels of hardness and softness. Harder pencils, marked by H, shade much more lightly. Soft pencils, such as 2B, are softer and are darker for shading. The larger a number, the softer the pencil’s lead is.  Most artists use several pencils to diversify their shading to help make their work look even more realistic.

There are a lot of things that you can learn to properly utilize pencil shading techniques. You can find drawing tips to get you started. They won’t just help you learn how to draw, but they will also help you come up with and explore new ideas when it comes to your creations.

The Udemy course, Pen and Ink Drawings for Beginners, is a go to resource for people that want to learn how to draw using tools outside of pencils, while still using similar techniques.