Mastering pencil shading techniques will only be achieved through practising regularly. This is because different pencils create marks that are noticeably different from one another, which means that understanding which pencil does what is extremely important.
My best advice to learn shading is to go out and experiment with multiple pencils and explore different methods, in this article I'll share my insight to help clarify this learning process. My goal is to inspire you to try shading with intent and create drawings by employing a range of shading techniques.
If you need some new tools, here's a rundown of the best pencils around. Plus, you can widen your technical expertise further with this guide to pencil drawing techniques or our roundup of the best how to draw tutorials.
Which pencils should you use?
I used HB mechanical pencils for a long time when I changed my focus from digital to traditional art. However, once I started working with regular pencils, there was a clear execution difference that I wasn't able to produce with mechanical pencils alone. Since then I've discovered techniques on how to produce different textures, tones and results that I combine to create my pieces.
It wasn't just the different HB hardness pencils that showed me the clear difference, such as shading with a 4B versus a 4H. I learned that the tip of the pencil also gave vastly different results. For example, a more rounded tip gave a larger, softer result and was more efficient to work with.
01. Choose your pencils carefully
I recommend having a few solid pencils at hand that you can use in your work with full knowledge of the results they'll produce. There's a noticeable difference when working with different pencils on the HB scale and how sharp or dull the tip is. Test and see how some will produce dark texture while others create consistent mid-tone smoothness.
02. Create different types of shading
Every artist will find the shading method that works best for them and I tend to use a few while drawing. I primarily work with circling, but I've experimented with all of these methods and more to help me create my best results. Each method produces a distinct result and depending on what type of art you want to create, you'll want to find which is best for you! Hatching and stippling often create an underlying presence of texture and roughness. Circling and using a blending stump creates clean, gradual smoothness.
03. Get to know your values when shading
Take the time to understand how lighting works and the values it creates to shade properly. Do studies, find references and resources that provide this insight, and then apply that knowledge in your practice pieces. There's a range of value to work with, not just dark and light.
04. Practice helps to provide insight
Now that I've been working with a handful of pencils with each drawing, I know when to switch over to another for a particular result. It's traditional and effective to start with a lighter H pencil and then gradually work darker into the B scale, to punch out the values and contrast.
05. Discover which shading techniques suit your style
Here's an example of two different types of shading methods. The left half has a softer realism finish with gradations on the paper texture done with a circling method and a slow build-up of value. The right half was done primarily with hatching and creates a crisp bold finish.