My name is Jonene Ficklin, and I'm a full-time wife, mom, writer, and professional artist. I've been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I use colored pencils, oil paints, and watercolors. I love what I do!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Drawing Lesson 1 a - Shading

I like to teach things backwards. For a lot of people, shading is scary, but once they know how to do it, it’s the best part. So I teach shading first, then go into form (or how to draw shapes accurately). So here’s lesson 1a. (For the list of supplies, see blog post on Wednesday, August 11, 2010.)


Shading is very much about being able to see. Below is a shading scale. It goes gradually from black at the top to white on the bottom.

There are also numbers, with black being a 10 and white being a 1.

The ones in between, numbers 2-9, are mid-tones, with 2-5 being lighter mid-tones and 6-9 being darker mid-tones.

Let’s talk about black for a moment. In nature, black isn’t a color, but the absence of light. It is what you see in a shadow, at the very spot where no light is getting in. Black is very important to have in EVERY drawing. It gives depth. Put a metal pot or pan on a table.

Look to see where no light is hitting. Do you see black? It might only be a very thin line at the base.

In drawing, white is the highlight. Look around you until you see something that sparkles. That is your highlight. In drawing, this is equally as important as black. It gives the drawing life. You must have white in every drawing.

Now that you see black and white, the midtones are easy. They are every shade between the two. Look at a place that sparkles. Now look for a light area near it. If it is nearly white, that is your number 2. You can barely tell the difference between white and this one, but it is often a 2 that shows a sparkling white for what it is. If you look at where the black, or 10, is under your pot, around it is another area that is almost black. That is your 9. If you look on the side and inside your pot, you will notice lots of shades as the pot curves. Inch by inch, compare each shade to the shading scale and see if you can identify all the numbers.

Now that you can see the shades, it’s time to draw them. You can use a standard number 2 pencil (that you can buy in any store) or you can use fine drawing pencils. See the supply list on the Wednesday, August 11th blog post for details.

If I’m using fine pencils, which pencils do I use for which boxes?
Shades 2-4: 6H
Shades 5-7: 2H
Shades 8-10: B
You will notice a different feel on each of the pencils. The B is very soft graphite that leaves a lot of crumbs, and misses little spots on the paper. You need to go back and fill those spots in (you can even use a 2H to fill in the spots if you need to). A 6H is very hard. You need to use this pencil lightly because it will easily push a groove into the paper when you push hard. This pencil is meant for only the very lightest shades, so remember to use it lightly. The 2H is the standard sketching pencil. It will shade all shades, except it can’t go dark enough to make a 9 or 10.

Whenever you draw, put an extra sheet of paper (called a cover sheet) down that your hand will rest on. This paper keeps you from smudging or getting oil from your skin (it happens when you sweat and stains the page). Each time you move your hand, move this paper under it.

Ready? Let’s get started:

1) Make a long rectangle and break it into 10 boxes like in the picture of the shading scale.

2) Number the boxes 10 to 1, 10 at the top, 1 at the bottom

3) Let’s start shading the black, or 10 box. To get a true black, it will take several layers, or in other words, you’ll draw over the same area several times. You have to put some pressure on, too. Push hard, just short of tearing the paper. Fill in all the little holes. Now go over the whole box, pushing hard until what comes out is shiny. You will have little crumbs of graphite coming off your pencil. (Use your drafting brush to wipe them off.) When the whole box is shiny, smooth and very black, you are done.

4) Now we’ll go to the other end of the scale. White you leave alone. Let the paper be the tone. So go to the 2 box. This is the hardest shade to get. It is a lot easier with a 6H pencil, but you can get it with a standard number 2 pencil, but here’s how you do it:
This tone has to be barely one shade darker than white, which means that you don’t want to put any pressure on your pencil. The easiest way to achieve this is by sliding your fingers to the back of the pencil (see photo below) and then carefully sweep the pencil from side to side. As you go, lift slightly on the pencil until the shade gets lighter and lighter. When you can barely see it, you are there. Now focus on keeping your strokes even and right next to each other. This takes practice. One good way to practice is to use another paper and make several swatches. When you are confident, go back and fill in the box on your scale.

1) After drawing a 2 shade, a 3 is easy. Go to the box and do a 2, only a little darker.

2) After the 3 box, do box 4 even darker. Your 6H will have a hard time going this dark. Use a 2H if you need to, but be warned, it will be a lot darker right off.

3) For box 5, switch to your 2H pencil. Start light, then put on other layers until it is one shade darker than box 4.

4) Continue on to box 6 and box 7. By now, it will be getting hard to get dark enough with your 2H pencil.

5) On box 8, switch to your B pencil. Go light at first! Then if you need to darken it, do another layer.

6) Box 9 will be easy. Just go one shade darker than 8, but not quite a 10.

7) Now lay your paper down and step away a few feet. Look at your shading scale. Squint your eyes (old artist’s trick). This exaggerates the shades. Look for a drastic jump between any two boxes. This shading scale should be a gradual change from white to black. Make any adjustments needed.

How do I make an adjustment if the shade needs to go lighter?
This is where your kneaded eraser will become your best friend.

Take it out of the package, then stretch it and ball it, just like a wad of clay. When it is soft and supple, then tap (don’t scrub like a standard eraser) the square that is too dark. It will go between ½ to 1 shade lighter with each tap. If you have spots that are too dark, then pinch out a point and tap until the tone is right (see photos below). If it gets too light, simply take your pencil and lightly adjust the shade until you’re satisfied.

What do I do if my shading is patchy and there are blank spots between the pencil strokes? This is where your blending stick will become your other best friend.

It can smudge and smooth your square. FIRST you need to know that this is only rolled paper and you are NOT to use the tip, except in corners and then, use it very lightly. It will collapse if you push with even moderate force. The way to properly use the blending stick (without collapsing the tip), is to first hold it like you would a pencil, but when you lay the tip on the paper, tilt the blending stick until it is touching the paper just off the tip, but near the top. Now gently sweep or circle the tip until the tone underneath smoothes out. But there are a few other things you need to know. ALWAYS start with the lightest tones (your 2’s) and work your way up to the higher tones.

After each square, take your blending stick to a scratch piece of paper and clean it. This is done by placing the blending stick, just off the tip like before, on the paper and rubbing the dirty part on the paper, back and forth, until the edge is clean. You can twist the blending stick as you go, if needed, to clean off a larger area.

You will notice that the boxes with the darkest tones will stain your blending stick and make it very difficult or impossible to completely clean. I use one end of the blending stick for lighter tones, and the other end for the darker tones.

Once you’ve smoothed each square, you will notice that the tones might have changed, either lighter or darker. Step back and evaluate the gradual change again. Make adjustments as needed so that it is a smooth, gradual change from white to black, with no big jumps.

Congratulations! You have just completed your first shading lesson. Keep this shading scale, and write the date on the bottom. You will be using it a lot in the future. One good way to keep things neat and easily accessible is to buy a 3-ring binder and page/sheet protectors. Slip your shading scale in a page protector and put it in your binder. Do the same with all future lessons, as well as notes or pictures. You will be glad later when you can see how much you’ve progressed.


  1. very interesting!
    I took color class in school~
    Lovely weekend!

  2. Thanks! Did you ever try Prismacolor pencils? I love them. After I finish the basic drawing lessons here, I'll show how to use them -- or at least how I use them. Thanks for commenting!

  3. it is so awesome that you are doing this. This takes me back to the first art classes I took in high school. I wish I had this blog back then!

  4. Lydia,
    I would love to see some of your work! Hope you had a great vacation.

  5. Great lesson! I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog. I remember watching my father sketch and paint and longing to be able to do it.

    He deserted our family before I could gather my courage to ask him for pointers. Now, long years later, I have your great blog. Thanks, Roland

  6. Roland,
    Glad you came and welcome! Hope this helps. If you have any specific questions related to drawing, feel free to e-mail at:


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