Art Blog

Monday’s Mini Art Lesson #2: Values and Shading Techniques

Dorothy, by Susan E. Brooks, 11 x 8 inches, Pencil on Paper

What’s so important about values?

Values are variations of darks and lights in our artwork. As an art teacher for many years, I encouraged my students to push dark values and contrast in their work. When they entered art contests, I would show them that the winning entries nearly always had lots of light and dark contrast to catch the eyes of the judges. Too often, a talented student would have a nice pencil drawing she had rendered accurately, but it was just a light outline that paled in comparison with a drawing full of contrast and a range of values from dark to light. Even a quick sketch like the one above needs to have dark areas that draw the eye towards the centers of attention, such as the eyes and the smile.

Tanzanian Girl, by Susan E. Brooks, 8 x 5 inches, Pencil on Paper

How do I add values?

You add values to a drawing by shading. So many shading techniques exist, but let’s start with these three: filling in an area with the point of the pencil, laying the pencil sideways, and cross hatching.

  1. Around the eyes and mouth of the portraits above, I filled in those smaller areas by pushing harder with the point of a softer, darker pencil, such as a 6B.
  2. In the larger areas that needed shading, I laid the pencil sideways and used a broader stroke to shade.
  3. To shade around the nose and mouth on the Dorothy sketch, I used cross hatching. To cross hatch, you put down a series of parallel lines, and then go back over them with a second set of lines in another direction to darken the area. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, but you might want to practice on scratch paper before attempting it on a favorite drawing.

That’s enough for now. Experiment with shading and push those values!

For more on pencil drawing and to see my time-lapse drawing video, go to Mini Art Lesson #1, Pencil drawing for beginners at

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