How to Use Different Shades of pencils and Techniques

Shading is a very important skill to have when drawing realistically.  In fact, many artists become successful because of their technique of shading and the ability to see light from a different perspective.  

After many attempts, you start to notice changes in your art, as you work on your drawing, and approach the project in increments and not in one sitting.  This will help you to catch mistakes in the next session of drawing.

Coming back to your drawing after some time clears your mind and it is as if you just acquired a new set of eyes, working out the mistakes from a previous drawing session becomes easy.  The most important thing to know is to never give up and always strive to make your drawings better.

        When you start a new drawing, look at it as a work in progress. This methodology has worked even for Software Developers. Good Software is never developed in one sitting, they continue to build in stages. This thought process of development seems to be the most effective way to draw.


Shading from Lightness to Darkness

Shading from Lightness to Darkness simply means starting to shade with a lighter pencil and then transitioning to a darker pencil. Many artists shade this way by controlling the pressure of the pencil, the lighter you press the pencil on the paper, the lighter the shading appears on the paper.

The same goes for darker shading, the harder you apply pressure to your pencil, the darker the shading appears. Below is a drawing illustrating shading from lightness to darkness:

Figure E1: Complete Portrait Drawing: Paper: A4 Printing Paper: Pencils: H1,HB,B2,B4

        While shading, keep in mind that the process can make or break the drawing.  It is imperative that you practice shading and be in control of the strokes of the pencil. Shading should be enjoyable, and always remember to keep the edges of your drawing clean. This will help bring a drawing to life.

[TipWhile shading, try to rotate the paper that you are drawing on as well as the reference photo. By rotating both, you will be able to see the shapes of the drawing from a different perspective and allow you to see some of the mistakes you made. Don’t be afraid to correct those mistakes.

Some artists use mirrors and binoculars just to see the drawing as well as the reference photo from a different angle. This shows how important it is ( as an artist ) to see portions of the image object as shapes and not the whole. 

Figure F1: Drawing of Girl Hair: Paper: A4 Printing Paper: Pencils: H1, HB, B2, B4

There are important steps to good shading. It depends on the kind of pencils you are using and the flexibility of your hand. Just as it is important to know the kind of pencils and what they do, shading can be achieved by utilizing those pencils properly.

  • H1 pencils can be used for outlining the shapes of your drawing and can also be used in the first stage of shading. There is what is known as Shading from Lightness to Darkness as stated earlier. When you shade from lightness to darkness H1 pencils are used to fill in light shades then move on to darkness with much darker/hard pencils.

  • HB pencils are good for blending light shading with dark shading, this is an important step to note. You don't want your shading to have strokes of pencils, otherwise, it won’t look close to realistic.

    [Tip] Make sure to use a soft paintbrush to blend the graphite between light shading and dark shading. Use the soft brush to sweep on the shading area to distribute graphite from darker shading to lighter shading. This helps smoothen the surface and maintain consistency throughout your shading process. In order to leverage this process, try not to make hard strokes pencils otherwise, it will be hard to blend the shading.

  • B pencil is darker than HB pencil but lighter than B2 pencil, this pencil can be used to blend between two different shadings made by HB and B2 pencils.

  • B2 pencils are mostly used on the darker shadows of a drawing, it can also be used when drawing hard lines or hair. Make sure that when using the B2 pencil not press hard against the paper or else the drawing will be damaged.

    [Tip] When using a hard/dark pencil like B2, it is important to take caution not to over-shade because this pencil is darker than a B pencil. When inconsistency in shading shows up, Blending Stumps* are used to smooth or add texture to the shading.

[Watch-Out] When you find mistakes while drawing, many beginners try to rush into correcting the mistakes, instead slowing down a little bit and trying to approach the mistake with a fully thought-out solution. The reason for this is to avoid damaging the paper. A good rule of thumb, keep the drawing clean and not damage the paper by pressing the pencil or an eraser too hard.

Learning what technique of shading really works for your style will help improve the realism of your drawing. Remember, you do not have to shade like another artist you know, instead develop and polish your own style. This idea differentiates your art from others and will make you an artist standout. For example, many artists capitalize on their unique strengths, this would include working on skills that set them apart from other artists.

Shading in Circles

Shading is done in many different styles, depending on the object you are drawing, some artists might approach realism drawing by applying different layers of shading upon each other. I call this “layered shading”. In layered shading, an artist starts shading by blocking in darker spots and then moving to lighter spots.

The second layer of shading will then be applied by using a darker pencil. The artist would approach the second layer of shading meticulously because at this point, they realize that damaging the paper with unnecessary strokes of dark graphite/pencil would be catastrophic to the piece.

Figure G1

[Tip] Depending on your technique of shading, layered shading might produce good results, as you shade in layers you start to notice little bristles, and circled or linear strokes of shading. The key ingredient in this technique is to close the gaps on the shading area and make sure that every spot receives some graphite.

Figure H1


Shading is one of the critical skills to have if you want your drawings to look realistic. In retrospect, shading from darkness to lightness is equally important to know as shading in circles.

These techniques can help you discover your style and achieve realism. In this chapter, we discussed shading and how important it is to blend light with dark.  In fact, many artists become successful because of their unique technique of shading and how they lay shades of pencils on top of each other.

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