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Willingham Primary School

Pencil skills: Shading

This online lesson is all about pencil skills. We have been concentrating on projects using only a pencil and paper as I know that most of you will have these to hand as you work from home and this is an ideal time to develop our skills in shading. A pencil is not just something that you use to sketch out your ideas before you start, it is a wonderful art medium in its own right.

Pencil can be particularly good at showing detail and texture. Look at this amazing drawing of a bird of prey:

Although we are often more familiar with their oil paintings, many of the artists that we study at Willingham Primary School loved to use pencil. Vincent van Gogh often used to include pencil drawings in his letters to his brother, Theo:

Pollard Birches (1884)

We are very used to using pencils to write at school. When you write with a pencil, you want to produce a single, clear line, dark enough for your words to be legible. When you shade, you are often aiming for something different: a smooth area in which the individual pencil lines are not visible. This is a very different technique and something that you may have to practise in order to master.

You will need a pencil and a piece of paper. You will also need to make sure that you have a smooth surface to work on. Your pencil should have a good area of pencil lead visible so if you have a pencil sharpener that will help. We are going to use the side of the pencil lead to make our marks so you don’t necessarily need a sharp tip. You should hold the pencil at lower angle to the page than you usually do:

There are many theories about the correct way to hold your pencil while shading but the best thing is to try different things out and see what works best for you. Start by trying to achieve a smooth area of pencil:

Task 1: smooth shading

If you find it difficult to achieve a smooth effect, try changing the angle of your pencil or the pressure you are using. It can help to work in more than one direction. When you have done that, you can start to experiment with producing different values. Value is how light or dark a colour is. Challenge yourself to find out the lightest and darkest value that you can produce with the pencil you have and then try to produce all the values in between. I know that some of you are lucky enough to have sketching pencils with a variety of leads and using these helps you to create a range of values but you can do this exercise with a simple HB writing pencil. Pencils marked with a B (for black) make darker lines and are great for sketching (6B is darker than 2B). Pencils marked with an H (for hard) make fine, precise lines. HB pencils are the sort that we most commonly use for writing at school and are in between the two.

Try working across your page adding more pressure as you go:

Task 2: varying the value

Once you have mastered a range of values, you can start practising shading within a specified shape without going over the edges. It is a little harder to achieve a smooth effect when there are edges to consider as well. I would suggest starting with a simple square, not too big so that you can complete it fairly quickly. You may need to do several of these as you build up your confidence.

Task 3: shading within a specified shape

The final task is to put these skills all together by creating your own value scale. If you have a sketchbook or are making a home-made one, that would be a good place to do this exercise.Draw a line of squares and shade them in turn, increasing the value as you go. You may find it easier to complete the lightest and darkest squares first so that you can judge how dark to make the squares in between. I have just done this in order to create the example pictures for this post and I found the lightest squares much harder as I had to try to achieve a smooth effect without adding too much pencil. See how you get on!

Task 4: creating a value scale

My version was made using only an HB pencil. If you have sketching pencils, you may be able to add some even darker squares. Before you finish, stand back and evaluate your work. Each square should be noticeably different from the one before without there being too much of a jump in value. You may need to adjust some of them slightly as you go.

Shading is a skill and like most skills, you may not find it easy at first. Don’t lose heart, keep practising and you will just keep getting better. Once you have mastered it there are a huge number of wonderful projects that you will be able to try. Many of these start with simple geometric shapes which are fairly easy to draw and rely on varied and thoughtful shading to achieve their effect. Here are a couple that I found online: