Up till now, my main shading technique with traditional media was to use graphite and charcoal pencils and smudge it a lot.

It works fine on charcoal-heavy drawings, but charcoal has its own pros and cons - it's messy, it needs a "preservative" sprayed over it, I cant really carry it around for quick sketches, while a pencil is always handy.

Graphite pencils alone don't look too good when I smudge them though – the drawing loses all texture and sharpness, the tones get unified – bright parts get a bit darker and dark parts get a bit lighter.

That's why I wanted to learn hatching shading techniques. I saw some amazing works done that way, but mine didn't even come close to looking good. I saw some people recommending different, often contradictory techniques, but I can't seem to get the desired effects.

My question is what are the rules I should follow when hatching and crosshatching using pencils? How to shade big format pictures (say A3 portrait)? While hatching small drawings, it's easy to cover the whole shaded area of a single shadow in a single stroke, but not quite so on big formats...

2 Answers 2


There is no real right way to make the marks: the difference in mark-making between Van Gogh and Michelangelo is vast, but both can be said to be crosshatching.

The thing to keep in mind is that you are not "filling in" but "defining" an area. To this end, one typically will identify the "shaded areas" and use that opportunity to describe and define the shape of the feature. In this respect your marks become more a way to trace a curve. Imagine a white cylinder can where you cannot show the top or bottom edges. The ONLY way you can describe its roundness is by using curved lines, so you incorporate that mark-making into the so-called shading:

Two cylinders

Crosshatching is basically repetition of this idea where your additional marks are at angles to the existing marks but always in a manner that contributes to a description of the object.

The scale, shape, and proximity of the mark you make is up to you. Typically one uses marks that mimic or work best with the object but you obviously do not have to, and a contrast of mark type to the thing being depicted is probably going to be called "synthesis" or "style".

Here is a great specimen of drawing by Michelangelo mostly in that it shows various states of finish and you can see how he builds up his drawing. This is chalk/conte crayon but he is not smudging or rubbing really at all:

(michelangelo) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/337497

(van gogh) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/335537

(if you click through on those images and then right+click then pick "veiw image", they are fairly high res, so you can see the marks pretty clearly)

One parting thought: the eraser is a tool to make marks, not destroy them. There is no reason why you cannot "cut back in" with an eraser to hatch with white...

  • I especially like the fact that there are three version of the same toe in the Michelangelo. This allows you to see the process and look for subtle differences in the descriptions of the shapes based on his line choices.
    – horatio
    Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 21:53

Begin with an understanding of a simple one-light method of illumination and, in addition, the effect of different surfaces of the subject. Each different surface has different values.

You have been using one of the two methods of shading, continuous. To do that with pencil you'd use a fairly soft pencil with its point flattened. A medium-rough paper is best with continuous tone shading.

Shade lines use a sharper point on a fine-tooth paper. Features are drawn with heavy lines on the shade side. Alternatively, darker features can be represented by condensing the space between lines. Shade lines should be used sparingly as the inclusion of too many heavy lines simply adds weight to the drawing and doesn't give the best effect.

Have fun. Good luck.

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