Pencil Shading Techniques

When drawing with pencil there are a few different shading techniques you can use to show different levels of value (like light and dark). Each of these techniques involves using a specific kind of pencil stroke.

Hatching

A drawing of a female face, drawing with pencil hatching to show shading and form.
Pencil hatching example

Hatching with pencil involves making even strokes. By varying the spacing between each stroke, or the weight of the line (by using different pencil hardnesses or by altering pressure), you can create various shades. Hatching can also help suggest the surface planes of an object, for instance by curving the lines of the hatching.

Hatching Value Scale

A range of pencil hatching from lighter to darker value.

Lighter value is achieved by applying minimal pressure to the paper and widening the spaces between the strokes. Darker value is made by using more pressure and narrowing the space between each stroke.

Pencil Hatching Exercises

To practice hatching, draw short strokes over small patches, in alternating directions, as shown below. Try to keep the weight of your strokes even, and keep the spacing even as well. Note how you may need to slow down and consider each line more carefully in order to improve your consistency.

Stippling

Stippling is a technique of using short strokes or dots to add shading to a drawing. Stippling can give you a lot of control over the amount of detail and the precise values of light and dark in the image. The downside is that it takes a lot more time than any of the other pencil shading techniques. But the effect can be worth it!

Try using a softer pencil such as a 4B or HB for the darker areas to shade by stippling, and switching to a harder pencil such as 3H for the lighter areas. Since pencil doesn’t deposit much graphite onto the paper simply by tapping, you may need to adjust the motion of your hand when stippling to make more like tiny dashes instead of dots in order to get adequate results.

Pencil Hardness Scale

Drawing pencils come in several different levels of hardness or softness. The pencil hardness score is usually marked at the back of the pencil and typically shows a number and letter, which are called the numeric and HB scale of the pencil. Even though we often say “pencil lead” to refer to the inner part of the pencil that makes marks, drawing pencils actually don’t contain any lead. They are made from a mixture of graphite and clay.

Numeric Scale

The numeric scale is shown with a number and refers to the value of hardness or softness in the pencil’s core. The higher the number, the more hard or more soft a pencil will be.

HB Scale

The letters HB refer to the “hardness” and the “blackness” of a pencil’s core. Pencils marked with “H” are harder and will leave a lighter mark on the paper. Ones with “B” will appear darker and will feel more “soft” as you use them – you’ll need to sharpen them more frequently, too. Pencils marked with “F” should be capable of being sharpened to a very fine point. If you have an HB pencil it will be hard as well as black and fits somewhere in the middle of the pencil hardness scale.

Pencil Drawing Materials

I recommend using drawing pencils of various hardness – at least one hard, one soft, and one HB. The General’s drawing pencil set is my favorite for kids, it’s made in USA and comes with four pencils, an eraser, and a small pencil sharpener.

Erasers

Kneadable eraser in a case.
Kneadable eraser in a case.

Kneadable erasers are great for drawing with pencil, they are the erasers that you can stretch and mold into whatever shape you need. The benefit is that they give you more control than the traditional pink or white rubber erasers. You can quickly shape the kneadable eraser into a very fine point, for example. You might not always want to use such a flexible eraser, but when you do you’ll be glad you’ve got it.

Kneadable Eraser
Kneadable Eraser

I like these kneadable erasers by Faber Castell, they come in a small plastic case so you don’t have to worry about your eraser picking up bits of dust and crumbs when it is not in use.

Pencil Sharpeners

An electric pencil sharpener with an auto-stop function makes it easy to keep your pencils very sharp and pointy, without breaking and wasting the leads too much. I have a similar one to this one that I like very much. I recommend looking for a used Panasonic or Boston electric pencil sharpener that plugs into the wall.

About the Author

Shannon

Hi, I'm Shannon, the mom behind Drawing Studio. I studied visual arts and design at Massachusetts College of Art, and have been a freelance website designer/developer for over ten years. I love drawing with my two cool, creative kiddos!

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