5 Tips for Perfecting Realistic Shading Techniques
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Observe Light and Shadow
  2. Practice Gradient Scales
  3. Implement Cross-Hatching
  4. Experiment with Textures
  5. Use Highlights Effectively

Are you looking to improve your realism shading techniques? If so, you're in the right place! Mastering the art of shading can be a game-changer for your drawings, giving them a lifelike and three-dimensional quality. This blog will provide you with five practical tips that can help you enhance your shading skills and add depth to your artwork. So, let's dive right in and see how to improve shading in realism.

Observe Light and Shadow

Understanding how light and shadow work is the first step towards improving your shading. When you're out and about, take time to observe how light interacts with the objects around you. Notice where shadows fall, and how their shape and intensity change with the position of the light source.

Light Source

Identifying the light source in your composition is essential. The light source determines where shadows and highlights appear. The following will help you understand this concept better:

  • Single Light Source: If there's only one light source, the side of the object facing the light will be brighter, and the opposite side will be darker.
  • Multiple Light Sources: When there are multiple light sources, shadows will appear in different areas, and highlights will be more scattered.

Shadow Intensity

Shadows are not all the same. Their intensity depends on the object and the light source. Here are some tips:

  1. Shadows close to the object tend to be darker and sharper.
  2. As shadows move away from the object, they become lighter and more diffuse.

Value Scale

Understanding value scale can significantly improve your shading in realism. It's a scale that shows the gradual transition from light to dark. Practicing with a value scale will help you understand the different shades of gray between black and white and how they can be used in your drawings to represent light and shadow.

Remember, the key to improving your shading lies in your ability to observe light and shadow. So, keep practicing, and soon, you'll see a significant difference in your artwork.

Practice Gradient Scales

Gradient scales are a powerful tool to master if you want to improve your shading in realism. They help you understand how to transition smoothly from light to dark, which is an essential aspect of creating realistic shades.

What is a Gradient Scale?

A gradient scale is a series of boxes that transition from light to dark. You start with a white box (representing the lightest shade) and end with a black box (representing the darkest shade). In between, you have a range of gray shades that progressively get darker.

Creating a Gradient Scale

It's time to put pencil to paper and create your own gradient scale. Here's a step-by-step guide:

  1. Draw a row of boxes on your paper.
  2. Leave the first box white and fill in the last box with your darkest pencil (like a 6B). This represents your lightest and darkest shades, respectively.
  3. Gradually fill in each box with a progressively darker shade, creating a smooth transition from light to dark. This action might require some trial and error, so don't be afraid to experiment.

Applying Gradient Scales to Your Art

Now that you've created your gradient scale, it's time to apply it to your artwork. When shading an object, identify the lightest and darkest areas. Use your gradient scale to help you choose the appropriate shades for these areas and every shade in between. This process will result in a smooth, realistic transition of shades across your object.

Remember, practice makes perfect. The more you work with gradient scales, the more intuitively you'll be able to apply them to your artwork, helping you improve your shading in realism. So, grab your pencils and start practicing!

Implement Cross-Hatching

Another technique to enhance your realistic shading skills is cross-hatching. It might seem a bit intimidating at first, but with some practice, you'll find it's a very effective method for creating depth and texture in your drawings.

Understanding Cross-Hatching

So, what is cross-hatching exactly? Well, it's a shading technique where you draw intersecting sets of parallel lines. These lines can be close together, far apart, or anywhere in between. The intersection of these lines creates a textured shade that can add depth and dimension to your creations.

Mastering Cross-Hatching

Let's learn how to implement cross-hatching into your artwork. Here's a simple guide to get you started:

  1. Start by drawing a set of parallel lines on your paper. This is your base layer of hatching.
  2. Draw another set of lines intersecting your base layer. You can change the angle of these lines to create different effects. The area where the lines intersect will appear darker, creating a sense of depth.
  3. Continue adding more layers of intersecting lines until you achieve the desired level of shading.

Experimenting with Cross-Hatching

One of the best things about cross-hatching is that it's highly versatile. You can vary the length, angle, and spacing of your lines to create a variety of textures and tones. Playing around with these variables can help you achieve the level of realism you're aiming for in your drawings. So, don't be afraid to experiment and see what effects you can create!

Remember, the goal is to improve shading in realism, and cross-hatching is just another tool in your artistic toolbox. The more you practice, the more natural it will feel. So, pick up that pencil and give cross-hatching a try!

Experiment with Textures

Texture plays a significant role in realistic shading. It's the secret ingredient that can make your artwork come alive, making it feel like you could touch and feel the objects in your drawing. How does one go about adding texture, you ask? Let's take a look.

Understanding Textures

To start with, it's important to recognize different types of textures — smooth, rough, soft, hard, glossy, matte, and so on. Each of these textures interacts with light differently, and capturing that interaction is the key to achieving realism in your artwork.

Practicing Textures

Here's how you can practice and improve your texturing skills:

  1. Look at an object in your surroundings and observe its texture. Is it smooth or rough? Shiny or dull?
  2. Try to replicate that texture on paper using different types of pencil strokes. For instance, for a smooth texture, you might use light, even strokes, while a rough texture might require more uneven, harder strokes.
  3. Keep practicing with different objects and textures. The more you practice, the better you'll get at translating real-life textures onto paper.

Using Textures in Shading

Once you've got the hang of creating textures, it's time to incorporate them into your shading. Remember, the texture can affect how light and shadow play on an object, which in turn impacts your shading. So, when you're shading, pay attention to the texture of the object you're drawing and adjust your shading techniques accordingly.

Texture can be a game-changer when it comes to improving shading in realism. It can add a level of depth and dimension to your work that can make it stand out. So, don't shy away from experimenting with different textures. You might be surprised at the results!

Use Highlights Effectively

Highlights are the lightest areas on your drawing — they're where the light hits the object most directly. Just like shadows, they play a vital role in creating a sense of depth and realism in your work. Here's how to effectively use highlights to improve shading in realism.

Identify the Light Source

First, you need to identify your light source. Where is the light coming from? The direction and intensity of the light will determine where your highlights should be. For example, if the light is coming from the top right, the highlights should be on the top right parts of the objects in your drawing.

Keep It Subtle

When it comes to highlights, less is more. You don't want to go overboard and make your drawing look too shiny or glossy (unless that's the effect you're going for!). Instead, try to keep your highlights subtle and balanced with the rest of your shading.

Choose the Right Tools

Choosing the right tools can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your highlights. For instance, a hard pencil (like an H or 2H) can be great for creating subtle highlights, while a softer pencil (like a B or 2B) can create stronger, more pronounced highlights.

Practice Makes Perfect

Like everything else in art, effectively using highlights comes with practice. So keep experimenting, keep practicing, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. Remember, every mistake is a learning opportunity.

When used effectively, highlights can add a touch of realism to your drawings that can take them from good to great. So don't overlook them in your quest to improve shading in realism.

If you're looking to further improve your realistic shading techniques, don't miss out on the workshop 'Shadow Casting In Perspective Like A Pro' by Roberto Bernal. This workshop will teach you the essentials of shadow casting in perspective, helping you to perfect your realistic shading skills and take your art to new heights.