Marvin Bartel


From contour drawing, we can move to shading practice. I start this with some rendering practice.  There are materials and many ways to do this, but I suggest that it be kept simple.  Any dark ballpoint pen and an ordinary pencil and eraser works well for this preliminary practice. No observation is involved for the preliminary shading practice, but it follows soon. 

Parents or teachers who are unfamiliar with this description will want to practice this themselves to be sure it all makes sense.  I would NOT SHOW my practice to the child I am teaching. I want the child to concentrate on their own observation - not imitate what I do.

Preliminary Shading Practice for the student

  1. Using a light pressure with the pencil, we lightly outline five squares or circles about the size of a small coin.  Make them slightly overlapping each other.  Place numbers 1 to 5 under them. 
  2. Number one is left white. 
  3. Number five is filled in as dark as possible with back and forth motion (like coloring) of the ball point until it totally black (or blue). 
  4. Leave the overlapping areas blank for now.
  5. Number 3 is filled in with ball point until it looks only half as dark as number 5.  Going back and forth with a lighter pressure works with most ball point pens.  Going back and forth with with more pressure, but leaving a bit of white space showing in between each line also works (artists call this "hatching").  When two or more sets of overlapping hatch marks are used at differing directions (turn the paper a bit), artists call this "crosshatching". 
  6. Leave the overlapping areas blank for now.
  7. After number 3 is about half as dark as number 5, fill in number 4 until it looks halfway between 3 and 5 with regard to tone (also called "value") or darkness.
  8. Leave the overlapping areas blank for now.
  9. Now do a similar toning in of number 2.  Make it fairly light so it looks only half as dark as number 3.
  10. Make a very light ball point outline around number one, but otherwise leave it white.
  11. Leave the overlapping areas blank for now.
  12. Erase all the pencil lines so you see only ball point ink.  I like a nice soft clean white eraser because it is less likely to smear the graphite.  I clean the eraser by rubbing it on my blue denim jeans.
  13. At this point you will see what is called a "value scale" from lightest to darkest value possible with this particular ball point pen. The small overlapping areas are still white.
  14. Play around with the overlapping areas.  You could tone them to match the darker adjacent areas.  You could tone them to match the lighter adjacent areas.  You could try making tones that are half way between the two adjacent areas.  You could try adding the two adjacent values on top of each other, or any combination of the above.

Making a Drawing

After doing the above rendering practice, make an observation drawing and shade it.  Place an actual egg in a location that has some fairly directional lighting.  I place the egg near a bright window without other light, but not in direct sunlight.  Place it below the window sill on a large sheet of plain cloth or paper that is about the same tone as the egg.  As you look at the egg, the light should be coming from above and from one side.  You should not be facing the window, but the window should be to one side.  

Draw a very light line pencil contour drawing of the egg shape as you see it.  Make it about actual size or slightly larger.  Note that eggs are elliptical with one end slightly more rounded and the other end slightly more pointed.  Start with a blind contour of the shape.  Using the eraser, make any changes needed to get the shape right.

Do not start shading yet.  Study it.  Ask these awareness questions allowing time to look.
  1. Where does the tone seem to get very bright on the lightest parts? 
  2. What happens to the tone way down under by the table on the dark side? 
  3. What happens to the table tone itself under the egg?
  4. Where can you find gradations from lighter to darker on the egg and on the table?
  5. Where is the reflected light that lightens some of dark parts on the egg? 
  6. Where is the reflected light that lightens some of dark parts on the table? 
  7. Which areas have fairly abrupt gradations?
  8. Which areas have fairly gradual gradations?
After thoroughly studying the tones, use the pencil to do some planning that will be erased after the shading is complete.
  1. With the pencil make a light outline around the lightest highlighted area on the light part of the egg.   (this area will be left totally white when shading, like number 1 in the practice, but it will NOT have an ink outline).
  2. Still using the pencil, go next to the darkest shadow area and lightly outline it on your drawing.
  3. Now you have located number 1 and number 5 values.  You may not feel that an egg should go all the way from white to black, but try one that does.  You can always try other drawings that  use only the lighter half of the value scale.
  4. With light pencil lines give outlines to tones 2, 3, and 4.  Do this first on the egg.  Then find values 2, 3, and 4 on the table surface under the egg and all around in the background over the egg.
Now change to the ball point, do not draw any ink outlines or edges.  
  1. Begin with darkening the darkest areas (not inking the outlines).  You are "hatching" the egg (sorry about that). Chicks are much softer but somewhat harder to draw.
  2. Look at the gradations on the egg and make similar gradations on the egg drawing, but do not put any tone on the lightest highlight area (#1 area). Allow pure paper tone as the highlight.
  3. Near the lightest area you make very light tone that gradually darkens.  Look at the egg often for reference.
  4. Look again for reflected light that tends to lighten dark areas and ease off when toning these areas so they come out a bit lighter.  Feel free to practice on other paper making gradations.
  5. Also give tone to the table with very dark tone under the dark side of the egg, but easing off if there is any reflected light from the egg shining on to the table. 
  6. Over the top of the egg (behind it), decide if the background is darker or lighter than the egg in that area, and shade it as needed.  Try to show some difference in tone between the object and the background. 
  7. There are different ways to terminate the edges of a drawing.  The negative can simply fade away. The edges can terminate abruptly at a frame line or border, or you can play around with different ideas.
  8. Erase the pencil lines so that only the tone shows.  There should be no outlines in the final drawing. Instead of showing outlines as in contour drawing, this drawing would clearly indicate the edges because of tone change - not darkened lines.
  9. Extra paper can be removed to make the drawing appear to fit the paper. A small window mat can be placed over the drawing to make it smaller. Sign and date the work and save it in a portfolio of practice work or display it remind you to practice again.
  10. For fun, try fruits and veggies. Taste them and include the blemishes caused by eating parts of them. Include overlapping to make it more interesting, challenging, and to give more depth in the drawing. Remember to set it up in the kind of lighting that produces nice shadows for shading. Another time, try some interesting toys, stuffed animals, dolls, or sporting equipment.
For variety and fun, start with a light pencil outline sketch as above and then shade by stippling (lots of little adjacent dots of color) the drawing with the points of small colored markers, intermixing colors.  When the stippling is dry we erase all the pencil to show only pointillist form and color without line. 

Try this with an orange, but do not use any orange marker.  Use lighting similar to that suggested above for the egg.  Create the color by placing dots of yellow and red together with various amounts of paper showing for lighter areas.  For darker areas add dots that are blue and black.  If stippling is new, practice it first, making gradations.  When stippling, it is best to use several colors together for a richer look and feel.


Practicing shading from observation is an excellent way to learn how to make things look convincing.  Once one begins to understand this, imagination, invention, fantasy, and so on can be rendered to look more real using tone instead of line.  
The Dutch artist Vemeer was a painter who made beautifully shaded paintings of things and people near windows.  Even though the work of other artists may be very inspirational, I avoid showing the work of other artists as an introduction to doing artwork.  I feel the suggestive power of the work may prevent us from doing as much of our own thinking, observing, etc.  I feel it may lead them to feel their own work is not good enough to measure up.  I believe that we as a species are programmed by instinct to imitate.  This is a powerful instinct in all of us.  To learn from observation may be a challenge, but the life-long benefits of better perception are well worth the effort.

I teach art history, museum visits, and so on after they have done similar work, or we do these activities completely independent of creative work.  By studying the other artist's work as an independent activity we do not diminish the importance of their own experience as being foremost as content for their art.  

Teaching Observation Drawing - A Preschool Child Draws an Orchid from Observation

An online book with eight drawing lessons (including a lesson on shading).

Notice: 2002, Marvin Bartel.  Anyone may print one copy for personal use.  Those who wish to make copies or publish any part of this electronically or otherwise must get permission to do so. Your responses are invited.
First posted April 10, 2002
Updated March 24, 2006

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