3 Practical Ways to Improve Shading in Your Graphic Novel
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 4 min read


  1. Study light and shadow
  2. Practice with different materials
  3. Experiment with textures

Are you a budding graphic novelist looking for ways to improve your shading skills? Well, you're not alone. Many artists, just like you, are on a similar journey – figuring out how to enhance their graphic novels with the right shading techniques. And let's face it; shading is more than just filling in the dark spaces. It's an art form that brings your story to life, adds depth, and creates a mood. Let's begin with the first step on how to improve shading in a graphic novel - studying light and shadow.

1. Study light and shadow

The first step to master shading in your graphic novel is to develop a solid understanding of light and shadow. It's like learning how to read music before playing the piano; it's fundamental!

Understanding the basics

Start by familiarizing yourself with the basics. The source of light, the direction it's coming from, and its intensity can greatly affect how things look. When you understand these elements, you'll know where to place your shadows and highlights.

Practicing with simple shapes

Once you've got the basics down, practice with simple shapes like spheres, cubes, or cones. This will help you understand how light and shadow work together to create a sense of three-dimensionality. Try using a single light source and see how it casts shadows and highlights on these shapes.

Becoming a keen observer

After practicing with shapes, start observing the world around you. Notice how light falls on different objects and how shadows are cast. Paying attention to these details in real life can immensely help improve shading in your graphic novel.

Studying the works of others

Don't forget to study the works of other graphic novelists. Look at how they use light and shadow. You can learn a lot from their techniques and styles. Try to analyze their work - that's an effective way to improve shading in your graphic novel.

Remember, studying light and shadow is not a one-time thing. It's an ongoing process. The more you practice and observe, the better you'll get at it. So, keep learning, keep practicing, and keep shading!

2. Practice with different materials

Now that you've started to understand light and shadow, it's time to put your knowledge into practice. This is where fun meets work; it's about trying out different materials to see how each one contributes to the shading process in your graphic novel.

Dabble with pencils

Pencils are a great starting point. They're easy to handle and offer a lot of flexibility. From H pencils that produce light lines perfect for sketching out ideas, to B pencils that create darker lines ideal for shading — there's a whole spectrum to experiment with. See how varying the pressure can change the intensity of the shade.

Try charcoal

Charcoal, with its rich, dark tones, can add a dramatic effect to your work. It's excellent for creating deep shadows. Working with charcoal might be messy, but the depth and intensity it brings to your shading is worth the effort.

Experiment with ink

Don't shy away from ink. It may seem daunting at first, but it can provide crisp lines and stark contrasts, which can be a game-changer in the shading process. Practice hatching, cross-hatching, or stippling with ink to bring a unique texture to your work.

Blend with markers

Markers offer a smooth, seamless blend that can sometimes be challenging to achieve with other materials. They come in a wide array of colors, allowing you to add a dash of vibrancy to your shadows and highlights. Brush-tip markers can be particularly useful for achieving a gradient shading effect.

So, grab your materials and start practicing. Remember, each material has its own charm and challenges. It might take some time to understand which one works best for you. But that's the beauty of it — discovering your style while figuring out how to improve shading in a graphic novel.

3. Experiment with textures

Once you've explored various materials and their impact on shading, it's time for the next step: experimenting with textures. Texture plays a pivotal role in adding depth and dimension to your graphics. It can turn a flat, two-dimensional drawing into a three-dimensional visual treat. So, how can you weave texture into your shading process? Let's find out.

Grasp the Grain

Textured surfaces such as fabric, wood, or stone have a distinctive "grain". Paying attention to this can add an extra layer of realism to your shading. For instance, when shading a wooden object, draw the lines in the direction of the wood grain for a more authentic look.

Master the Art of Stippling

Stippling involves creating a pattern using small dots. This technique is fantastic for creating a varied texture in your shading. The closer the dots, the darker the shade appears. It might be time-consuming, but the result is a richly textured and visually appealing piece.

Explore Cross Hatching

Cross hatching is when you draw intersecting sets of parallel lines to create a mesh-like pattern. This can be an effective way to add texture while also controlling the degree of darkness in your shading. Plus, it can give your graphic novel a distinct, sketch-like aesthetic.

Try Out Smudging

Smudging is a technique where you blend your lines or dots together, creating a smooth, gradient-like texture. This can be particularly useful for creating soft shadows or transitions between light and dark areas.

Texture is a crucial element when it comes to learning how to improve shading in a graphic novel. It can be the difference between a flat image and one that pops out of the page. So go ahead, experiment with different textures and see your illustrations come alive.

If you're looking to further enhance your graphic novel illustrations, especially in the area of shading, we highly recommend checking out Carolina Vázquez's workshop, 'How to Bring Your Illustrations to Life.' This workshop will teach you valuable techniques and provide practical advice to help you create more dynamic and visually engaging illustrations for your graphic novel.