Shading explained: tones and shades of portrait art drawing and sketching.
Shading Explained

| Next >> | Page 3 >> | Page 4 >> | Page 5 >> |

The best way for me to explain shading is to use some large illustrations, and go through each basic concept, step-by-step.

Shading can be broken down into about 5 basic tones, from blacks, to dark grays, to middle grays, lights, and whites. Each of these tones will usually be represented in your portrait, and you must understand how to identify them, and shade them in correctly.


A lot of your shading will depend on the overall "tone" of the portrait you are drawing. If you are working on a portrait that is set mostly in shadow (low key) then a lot of dark darks will be used. A "high key" (whispy, pastel, faded) portrait will have few blacks, but more light grays.

However, most portraits have a balance of light and dark tones. It is a very common mistake of newbie artists to not represent these shading tones properly. Especially common is for newbies to not put enough real blacks in their drawings. The darkest they'll get is a middle gray—even though the subject they are drawing indeed has many blacks and dark darks. (For instance, black hair, the black of the pupil, etc.)

I usually draw the black-blacks in last when I am doing a drawing, since they are the hardest to erase. But they must be drawn in, or the portrait will look washed-out. A "faded" portrait is a very common phenomenon among newbie artists. Don't you let yourself do this! It is an easy mistake to avoid!

Shading - man

The above illustration points out the "dark darks" in this particular pencil portrait. As you can see, the dark side of the face has more of these dark tones. The corner of the mouth, the pupil, the nostril on the shadowed (right side) of the face, under the chin (on neck) and the shadowed part of the eyebrows.

The darkest tones are often used almost like "accents." Many portraits will not have a huge amount of areas with dark dark tones, but when they are used, they must be BLACK. Not medium gray, but BLACK. When you have almost finished your portrait, and are pretty sure that everything is drawn in correctly, don't hesitate to bear down a little with your pencil, and get those darks in solidly. Use a softer pencil lead (2B, 3B) and punch in those dark tones! If someone has black hair, they have BLACK hair—not a wimpy gray. Pupils of the eye are almost always BLACK, except in a pale, light-toned portrait (which is a very uncommon look).

The best way to punch in those black tones with pencil is to "build up" your tones. Use a soft leaded pencil (2B, etc) and lay down a dark tone. Draw over and over this dark area, until the graphite has "built up" enough tone so that the area is true black or "dark dark."

Next >>

| Page 2 >> | Page 3 >> | Page 4 >> | Page 5 >> |

If you feel you are a little new to the concept of shading, please read the "Drawing for Newbies" tutorial, which gives an introduction to shading, among other things. >>


divider graphic

| Basics Home | Drawing for Newbies | Choosing Art Materials | Drawing techniques | Basic Portrait Tips | Step-by-Step Portrait | Realistic Pencil Portrait | Shading and Rendering |

divider graphic

book cover

The second edition of the book is now available, in both print and on Kindle. Check it out!


mailing list strip

Sign up for the Mailing List and get a free Mini-eBook!

| Home | Color | Portrait in Detail | Attitudes and Inspiration | Anatomy, Digital Art, & Misc. | Study & Lessons | About | Contact | Portfolio |

| Search | Disclaimer | What's New | Site Map | Blog | The book! |

Copyright © JR Dunster 2002 - 2017 All Rights Reserved

No permission is given to use the information, (graphics, text) on this site in any other way other than for individual use. You may not use, publish or copy the information to a floppy disk or any other type of storage system or device without permission from me, JR Dunster. You may only print out one copy of each page (for personal use only). Facebook

Back to Top

In Association with