How To Shade

How To Shade

Continuing our exploration of the elements of drawing/painting now leads us to Value and how to shade. Value is the term we use when referring to how dark or light a shadow is. This is extremely important as we progress towards painting because every color also has a darkness. We will be exploring the value of color in subsequent lessons. This easiest way to understand Value is to think about shading. The “value” is basically how dark the shading is.

Another important thing to remember is that every object because of it’s color will utilize a different section of the value scale. In the interest of clarity we will assign each differnt darkness on the value scale a number. 0 will be the darkest dark and 10 will be the lightest light.  Thinking this way enables us to see what range of values we will need to utilize in our drawings.  A black bowling ball in low lighting will have a value scale of around 0 to 6, while a snowman in the sun will have a value scale of around 4 to 10.  It is impotant to know where the objects we are drawing lie on the value scale because we want to accurately portray what is in front of our eyes. It is quite common that during figure drawing sessions that a beginning student will make the entire drawing all too dark. Making a caucasian model appear as if they were of African decent.

Drawing # 17 Value Scales

For this drawing you will be utilizing the grid below. Print out the grid provided and do your best to shade the values as close as possible. You can apply shade in a number of ways. As you can see in the example below the student has utilized different techniques including scribbling, making little circles, holding the pencil on it’s side, pointalism, and cross hatching.  Get creative and explore different ways to apply value to paper.


How To Shade

Now that we have some practice matching values we can move on to applying what we’ve learned here to a drawing. Find an image (photograph) which has a broad range of values. Print it out (or you can use a photo or magazine image) .  It is important that you also have a printed out value scale at this point, or you can use the one you just shaded. As you look at your image – hold up the value scale right up against the image and find out how dark you will need to render the drawing. Be careful when looking at your lights (whites). Many times what you may assume is the whitest white ( 10 ) on the value scale will be closer to a light gray ( 7 ) .  It is not necessary to include all 10 values in one drawing. When you are starting out just try to get three or four different values in your drawing. The more values you can realistically render, the more realistic the drawing will look.

Drawing #18 – Value Drawing from a printed image  (charcoal)

Set aside an hour and half of time and try to copy the images major values as accurately as possible. Start off with gray paper.  You can buy gray paper, or rub down a white sheet of paper with charcoal and rub it in with a tissue until the entire page is a silvery gray.  Start off plotting out where the darkest darks go and work towards the light. If you are using gray paper then you can use white chalk to render your lights. If you made your paper gray by rubbing it down with charcoal you can use your eraser as a drawing tool and you will simply erase your lights.  You can use charcoal pencils, or the old fashioned sticks. Once the drawing is finished you can”fix” the drawing by spraying it with an aerosol hairspray. This will prevent the drawing from smudging. There are commercial fixatives available but there’s nothing wrong with just using hairspray.

How many different values can you see represented in the example drawing below? Before you learn how to shade you must learn how to see different values. Once you can look around a room, and imagine that everything is black and white, then you will know that you can draw virtually anything. How to shade is in reference to a technique such as cross hatching, or scribbling.


copy of a duane kassan drawing

This post was written by Jer

Educator and creator of I look forward to watching your progress!