The Four Types of Shading Techniques in Art

To create a three-dimensional look in your artwork, you must use highlighting, shading and toning techniques, based on how an imaginary light would hit the objects you’re replicating. Whether you are creating a pencil drawing, a pen-and-ink drawing, or painting with acrylics, oils, tempura paints or watercolors, the techniques for shading differ slightly based on the media.

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Pencil Drawing Shading Techniques

In pencil drawings, you can use four basic shading techniques, though more than four are possible:

Cross Hatching -- Cross hatching involves a series of lines created in diagonal opposition to each other. In the shaded area, draw diagonal lines from right to left, with a series of lines perpendicular to them from left to right.

Liner Hatching -- The liner-hatching technique is the same as the cross-hatching technique without the diagonal crossed lines. Use a series of diagonal lines, short and long, running in the same direction, to add shading to an area of an object to give it the illusion of a three-dimensional shape.

Tonal -- Tonal shading highlights the light area by leaving it empty of drawn lines, but darkens the area not hit by the light. The pencil marks in this technique are small and close together.

Smudging -- After drawing in the tonal shading, if you want to make the darker areas of the object blend better, use a shading tool -- a blending stump or tortillion – to merge the pencil marks together into a solid tone.

Pen and Ink Shading Techniques

Pen and ink drawings are not at all forgiving; unlike pencil drawings, what you see is what you get. Pen and ink uses both the cross-hatching and liner hatching techniques as in pencil drawing, but it has a few other methods for shading as well:

Cross-Contour Shading -- Similar to the cross-hatching technique, cross-contour shading on a round object, for example, adds vertical lines that follow the shape of the object -- slightly curved if shading a ball -- but adds horizontal lines that cross the linear ones. In areas where the darker shadows exist, the cross-contour shading gets smaller and closer together to give darkness to the area.

Pointillism or Stippling -- Pointillism represents a type of drawing method in pencil or ink that involves a series of dots instead of lines. For shaded areas, add more dots of ink by stippling the area with greater density; more dots per square inch equals more shading.

Ink Washes -- Like painting, an ink wash is applied by a small paintbrush instead of a pen. The ink is diluted with water for lighter washes or darkened with more ink for darker areas. Apply light layers of wash first, adding darker layers for more intense shading.

Paint Shading Techniques

Working with paint mediums such as oils, watercolors, acrylics or tempura requires entirely different techniques for shading or highlighting than pencil or pen-and-ink artwork. To understand how to shade with paint, develop a basic understanding of the artist’s color wheel and learn how to tint, tone or shade colors through mixing.

The Basic Color Wheel

The basic color wheel starts with three primary colors, blending each of the two together to create three more secondary colors. When you mix the secondary colors once more with primary colors, you arrive at six tertiary colors for a total of twelve.

Shading Techniques -- You can shade an area in a painting -- like the folds in a blanket -- by using a darker version of the original color. Incrementally, add black to a color to darken it or create a darker version of it and use it in the shadowed areas of the item you are painting.

Tinting Techniques -- In conjunction with shading techniques, you must also add lighter areas of the same color for the highlights. Create lighter versions or tints of a color by adding white to the color -- again in increments -- blending the color with a palette knife until it reaches the desired tint.

Toning Techniques -- Similar to both shading and tinting techniques, adding gray to a color tones it down to create clothing folds, shadows or darker areas in the paint.

Complementary Colors -- By mixing colors opposite each other on the wheel, green and red, you can create browns or grays; by adding more of the original color, you can use this method as a shading technique as well.


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