Practicing Shading/Committing to Dark Values

Today we will practice shading using a simple ball with differently placed light sources. There are two goals to this: The first is to simply practice shading and notice how shadows create volume and depth to a subject.

The second is to learn how dark your pencil can get, and commit to going as dark as possible with these drawings when it is warranted. Depending on the pencil, your darkest dark could be very different from someone else’s. a 6B pencil will be extremely dark vs an H pencil, which has a much harder lead and won’t be nearly as dark, no matter how hard you press.

You can use my photo here, or make your own setup. The more dramatic, the better, just try a few extremes.


balls_process_01 balls_process_02

You don’t have to shoot for perfect circles here, that is not the point of the exercise.  This is my rough start to the ball on the right.


These are the rough pieces (I refuse to keep saying “balls”) finished. What I really want you to do in your drawing is pick the darkest part of the subject and decide if that is as dark as it can be, and then commit to going as dark as you can in that spot. Because there were three subjects here, I noticed that one of the subjects did not have a space that got quite as dark as the other two, so I made an effort to show that and not make the darkest spot on that subject THE DARKEST it could be.


There is actually an excellent tool for blending graphite and pastels and other soft material that I used in college and love tremendously, I call them “smudge sticks” (they are actually called “Stumps And Tortillions”, which I did not know until just now). Because most people don’t have easy access to these, here is a trick: Just use your finger.

balls_process_04 balls_process_05

It’s not as effective as the stumps and tortillons but it will do some good to smooth the shape out.

Another thing that is hard for people to grasp is that there is almost never actual white in any subject. When I first started drawing full portraits in graphite, I would leave the whites of the subject’s eyes white. My teacher pointed out that in nature, actual white looks unnatural, that the “white” of the eye is actually a light grey or pink. In these subjects, the only actual white is where the light reflects strongly.

Why is this important? Because your finger smudge/blending is going to fully remove those (or any) white bits, which is totally fine, but you will want to pull those whites back out. If you are using graphite, then you need only use an eraser to pull up the whitest parts of the subject.




It could continue to be worked over but I got what I needed, forced my pencil to go as dark as it could go, and learned a little about how the darkest shadow isn’t always exactly opposite to where the light is coming from.


Light a very simple subject (or use mine) and shade them using the instructions in this lesson, then send it over to the Facebook group and let me know how it went for you.


1Draw subjects using shading
2Talk about the results in the Facebook group