Shading is the process of adding tonal areas to your drawings and paintings to make them look more life-like. How to shade a drawing is one of the most-asked questions people have when first learning to draw. We know what we want our drawing to look like, but can’t quite make it happen.
This article should help you out, and if you read all the way to the end you’ll find a couple of easy exercises you can do to apply the principles I lay out.
First, let me say that you need to draw realistically before you can draw expressively or be concerned about style. Drawing realistically requires accuracy. It’s a matter of careful observation and correct interpretation of form.
This includes understanding structure, shape, planes, lighting, perspective and proportion. Analyze everything from this point of view. Once you get hold of this approach, you can draw anything, no matter how complex.
You need patience and realistic expectations. I’ve worked with people who want to draw well, but want to draw well from the get go. They give up when they find they can’t draw as well as I can.
Like most disciplines, drawing ability is acquired with experience. You need to develop skill. Like a pianist who begins learning scales and learns to sight-read one clef at a time, artists and designers learn to draw by adding to existing skills.
One of the first things you need to know is how to hold a pencil.
The importance of form
The purpose of shading
When shading, look at the larger light and shadow shapes first, and draw those in. Then address the smaller shapes and details with the larger areas.
By starting with the overall idea, you’re halfway home in depicting volume.
Drawing well requires the whole brain
Try this drawing challenge
Place a ball or egg on a flat surface and use a single light source — like a desk lamp.
TIP: an LED or incandescent light bulb will create more defined shadows than a CFL bulb.
Take a few minutes to analyze and process what you see. Study what’s happening with light and shadows. What do you see? What shapes do you observe? Where do those shapes begin and end?
Then start drawing what you see. Look for the light and shadow shapes on the form. Then look for the shadows cast by the form onto the surface.
For this exercise, find a photo of a face, or take a photo of a friend or family member in direct sunlight. The photo should have distinct light and shadow shapes. You can print the photo or look at it on your phone or device.
First, observe and pay attention to how light and shadow shapes relate to each other. Study what you see before you begin drawing.
Where do edges look sharper and where do they appear softer?
What’s the overall shape of the shadow?
What smaller shapes appear lighter or darker inside the larger shadow?
Start drawing what you see. Begin with an overall loose gesture, and then add the larger light and shadow shapes. Stop with just those basic light and shadow areas.
Step back from your drawing. What do you see?
If you paid close attention and focused on light and shadow shape relationships, you should have a high-contrast drawing that quickly communicates the basic form.
Continue these light and shadow studies with different objects and photo reference. Repetition will develop your observational skills.
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