Improve Shading in Editorial: Expert Tips & Practices
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. How to select the right tools for shading
  2. How to create a value scale
  3. How to apply the value scale in your art
  4. How to use light and shadow for realism
  5. How to apply gradient shading
  6. How to shade difficult shapes and forms
  7. How to shade textures and patterns
  8. How to correct shading mistakes
  9. How to practice shading techniques
  10. How to keep improving your shading skills

Everyone starts somewhere, and for those interested in editorial art, learning how to improve shading can make a world of difference. Shading adds depth to your work, bringing your creations to life. Let's dive straight in and explore some expert tips and practices to help you master the art of shading in editorial!

How to select the right tools for shading

The first step in improving your shading in editorial is choosing the right tools. The tools you use can either make or break your artwork—so choose wisely. Here's what you need to keep in mind:

  • Pencils: When it comes to pencils, you have a range to choose from. The softness or hardness of a pencil can affect the darkness or lightness of your shading. For instance, a 2B pencil is softer and darker than an HB pencil, making it ideal for darker shades. Conversely, a 2H pencil is harder and lighter, perfect for light shading.
  • Erasers: An eraser is not just for mistakes! A kneaded eraser, for instance, can be a great tool for lightening areas of your drawing, adding another layer of depth and complexity to your shading.
  • Blending tools: Blending tools, like a stump or tortillon, are essential for creating smooth transitions in your shading. They can help you achieve a gradient effect, which is a key element in how to improve shading in editorial.
  • Paper: The type of paper you use can also influence your shading. A paper with a bit of texture, often referred to as tooth, can hold more graphite and help you achieve richer shades.

Remember, practice makes perfect. The more you experiment with different tools and their effects, the better you'll understand how to use them to your advantage. Now that you know how to select the right tools, you're one step closer to mastering how to improve shading in editorial!

How to create a value scale

Understanding value—that is, the darkness or lightness of a color—is vital to creating realistic, three-dimensional art. The value scale is your roadmap to understanding this concept and improving shading in editorial. Here's how to create one:

  1. Choose your medium: Whether you're working with pencils, charcoal, or another medium, choose one and stick with it for your value scale. The results can vary between mediums, so it's best to create a separate scale for each one.
  2. Draw a rectangle and divide it into boxes: The number of boxes can vary, but 10 is a good starting point. This gives you a range from pure white (no shading) to pure black (the heaviest shading).
  3. Fill in the boxes: Start by leaving the first box blank (for pure white). Make each subsequent box progressively darker until the last box is filled in as darkly as possible.
  4. Use your value scale: With your value scale in hand, you can now accurately depict the different levels of light and dark in your artwork. This is crucial in creating depth and realism in your shading.

Creating a value scale might seem simple, but it's an invaluable tool for any artist. It gives you a reference to ensure your shading is accurate, helping you create more realistic and visually appealing editorial art. So, don't underestimate the power of a well-crafted value scale in learning how to improve shading in editorial!

How to apply the value scale in your art

Creating a value scale is the first step, but knowing how to apply it to your work is where the magic happens. Here are some tangible ways you can use your value scale to improve shading in editorial:

  1. Identify the values in your reference: If you're using a reference photo or object, identify the range of values present. Where are the darkest areas (highest on the value scale)? Where are the lightest (lowest on the value scale)?
  2. Plan your shading: Before you dive into your artwork, plan out where each value will go. This is especially helpful when you're dealing with complex forms or textures.
  3. Start with mid-tones: It's often easier to start with the mid-range values on your scale, then add in the darkest and lightest tones. This gives your artwork a balanced, realistic feel.
  4. Adjust as necessary: Your value scale isn't set in stone. If something doesn't look right, don't be afraid to make adjustments. Art is about observation and adjustment as much as it is about skill and technique.

Applying the value scale is a skill that takes time to master, but with practice, you'll find it becomes second nature. And remember, the value scale is just a tool—it's there to help you, not to restrict you. Feel free to experiment and find what works best for you in your quest to improve shading in editorial.

How to use light and shadow for realism

Light and shadow are the twin pillars that hold up the house of realistic shading. They set the mood, define form, and breathe life into your editorial illustrations. So, how can you improve your shading by mastering light and shadow?

  1. Understand the light source: The direction and intensity of light will determine the placement and depth of your shadows. Always keep the light source in mind when you're shading.
  2. Use shadow to define form: Shadows aren't just darker areas—they're a way to show the shape and volume of objects. Try to imagine how the light would wrap around your subject and cast shadows.
  3. Don't ignore the ambient light: Ambient light can soften shadows and add depth to your illustrations. It's subtle, but it makes a big difference.
  4. Experiment with contrast: High contrast between light and shadow can make your illustration pop, while low contrast creates a softer, more subtle effect. Both can be used to great effect, depending on what you're trying to achieve.

Playing with light and shadow is like learning a new language—you start to see the world in a different way. It's not always easy, but the payoff is worth it. So keep experimenting, keep observing, and most importantly, keep shading. You'll be amazed at how much it can improve your editorial work.

How to apply gradient shading

Gradient shading is like the secret sauce that adds depth and dimension to your editorial work. It's the smooth transition from light to dark that gives a sense of volume and realism to your illustrations. So, how exactly can you improve your shading with gradient techniques?

  1. Start with a light touch: Begin with the lightest value you need. It's easier to add more shading than it is to erase it. Remember, less is more.
  2. Build up layers: Gradual shading isn't about going from 0 to 100 in one step. It's about slowly building up layers to create a smooth transition. Patience is key here.
  3. Keep your tools sharp: A sharp pencil or a fine tip pen can give you more control over your shading. It can be the difference between a smooth gradient and a patchy one.
  4. Blend your shading: Blending can help smooth out your gradients and eliminate harsh lines. Use a blending tool, a clean brush, or even your finger to blend your shading.

Gradient shading might seem tricky at first, but with practice, it can become second nature. It's a powerful tool in your shading toolkit, one that can help you create stunning, realistic editorial illustrations. So why not give it a try? You might just find that it takes your shading skills to a whole new level.

How to shade difficult shapes and forms

Every artist, no matter how experienced, comes across complex shapes and forms that seem impossible to shade. But worry not, there are ways to conquer this challenge. Here's how you can improve your shading skills when dealing with difficult shapes and forms.

  1. Observe and analyze: Before you dive in, take a good look at the shape or form you're about to shade. Understand its structure, its curves, its edges. This will provide a roadmap for your shading.
  2. Break it down: Complex shapes can be broken down into simpler, more manageable parts. Think of it as a puzzle, where each piece is a different part of the shape. This will make your shading process much more manageable.
  3. Shade in stages: Start with a basic layer of shading, then gradually add more detail. This approach allows you to build up complexity without feeling overwhelmed.
  4. Don't forget the light source: Remember, the light source will affect how you shade the shape. It determines which parts are in shadow and which parts are illuminated. Always keep this in mind.

Shading difficult shapes and forms may seem like a tall order at first, but with these steps, you'll find yourself handling them with ease. So go ahead, pick up that pencil, and let's tackle those tricky shapes together!

How to shade textures and patterns

Textures and patterns bring an artwork to life, but shading them can sometimes be a bit of a puzzle. So, how can you improve your shading when it comes to textures and patterns? Here are a few tips to help you out.

  1. Study Your Texture: Whether it's the roughness of a tree bark or the smoothness of silk, the first step is to study the texture you want to recreate. Look closely to understand the interplay of light and shadow and how it defines the texture.
  2. Start with a base tone: Just like building a house, start with a solid foundation. A base tone will give you an overall sense of the texture or pattern you're trying to achieve. From there, you can start to add the details.
  3. Focus on the Details: Textures are all about the small details. Pay close attention to these. For instance, the small cracks on a brick wall or the intricate patterns on a bird's feather can make all the difference.
  4. Gradual Transitions: Textures often have subtle transitions between light and shadow. Make sure to capture these gradual transitions in your shading. It can make your texture look more realistic.

Texturing can be a fun and rewarding aspect of shading, but it does require some practice. So, don't be discouraged if you don't get it right the first time. Remember, every great artist started somewhere.

How to correct shading mistakes

Shading is an art, and like any other art, it's not uncommon to make mistakes. The important thing is not to let these mistakes discourage you, but to learn how to correct them. So, how do you go about fixing those shading errors?

  1. Use an Eraser: It may sound obvious, but an eraser is your best friend when it comes to correcting shading mistakes. Use it to lighten areas that are too dark, or to clean up smudges and streaks. Just be sure to use it gently to avoid damaging your paper.
  2. Blend, Blend, Blend: If your shading looks too harsh or uneven, use a blending tool like a stump or a tortillon to smooth it out. You can also use your fingers for softer textures, though be careful not to smear the graphite.
  3. Re-apply Shading: If a shaded area is too light, don't be afraid to go back and add more shading. Just remember to build it up gradually to avoid making it too dark.
  4. Learn From Your Mistakes: Every mistake is a learning opportunity. Take a step back and try to figure out what went wrong. Did you use the wrong value? Did you not consider the light source? Understanding your mistakes can help you avoid them in the future.

Correcting shading mistakes is a part of the learning process. So, don't be too hard on yourself when you make them. With practice and patience, you'll soon be shading like a pro.

How to practice shading techniques

Now, we've talked about how to correct shading mistakes, but let's shift gears a bit. How about we focus on how to improve shading in editorial by practicing our techniques? The key to mastering any skill, shading included, is practice. Here are a few ways you can start honing your shading skills.

  1. Start With Basic Shapes: Before jumping into complex subjects, start by shading simple shapes like spheres, cubes, and cylinders. This will help you understand how light and shadow work on different surfaces.
  2. Experiment With Different Shading Techniques: Try out different shading methods such as cross-hatching, stippling, and contour shading. This will not only build your skills but also help you find the technique that works best for you.
  3. Use a Value Scale: Remember the value scale we talked about earlier? Use it as a reference when shading. It will help you achieve a range of tones and add depth to your work.
  4. Draw From Life: Nothing beats drawing from real life. Try to draw objects around you and pay special attention to the shadows and highlights.

Remember, the goal is not to create perfect drawings but to improve your understanding of shading. So, don't be too critical of your work. Instead, focus on the process and enjoy the journey of learning and improving. After all, isn't that what art is all about?

How to keep improving your shading skills

So, you've started practicing your shading techniques and you're seeing some improvement. That's great! But how do you ensure that you continue improving? Here are some strategies to keep you on track:

  1. Keep a Sketchbook: Make it a habit to carry a sketchbook everywhere. Use it to practice shading whenever you get a chance. You'll be surprised how much you can improve with regular practice.
  2. Study the Masters: Look at the work of accomplished artists who are known for their shading skills. Try to understand how they use light and shadow to create depth and realism. Artists like Rembrandt or Da Vinci can teach you a lot about shading.
  3. Take on Challenges: Don't shy away from complex subjects. The more you challenge yourself, the quicker you'll improve. Try to draw and shade different textures, patterns, and difficult shapes. You'll learn a lot in the process.
  4. Get Feedback: Show your work to others and be open to their feedback. It can provide you with a fresh perspective and help you identify areas of improvement.

Remember, improving your shading skills is a journey. It's about the progress you make, not perfection. And the more you practice and study, the better you'll get. So keep going, keep learning, and most importantly, keep shading!

If you're looking to further enhance your editorial skills, especially in the area of shading, we highly recommend the workshop 'Editorial Submissions: Shoot Development To Publication' by Jose Espaillat. This workshop will not only help you improve your shading techniques but also guide you through the entire process of creating a successful editorial submission. Don't miss this opportunity to learn from an expert and elevate your work!