Tips on Pencil Portrait Drawing - Shading

As soon as you have finished a line drawing of your subject you are ready to start with the shading process. The purpose of shading is to give your subject three-dimensionality. When you are done with shading, your subject should look like it is anchored in space and is not just an object in a plane.

Values (or tones) are, by definition, degrees of darkness and lightness. It is good practice to develop a visual sense of at least five values or tones. To help you with this, I suggest making a five-value scale. Draw five boxes next to each other and make the first one on the left totally black while leaving the last one on the right completely white. Then, fill up the middle one with a value that is just in between black and white. This value is called the "halftone" or "medium gray". Next, fill in the second box from the left with a value that lies between black and medium gray. This value is called "dark gray". Finally, fill in the second box from the right with a value that lies just in between white and medium gray. This value is called "light gray".
These five values are enough to start and can already do wonders for your pencil portrait. Practice these five values until you can recognize them instantly when you see them. Now, armed with the knowledge of these five values we can now approach our line drawing which has already mapped out various shapes with different values. We now can start the shading process (i.e., applying of values).
One thing that you should always keep in mind as you shade is the location of the light source or light sources. In the beginning it is best to work with only one light source. Every value you observe should be seen as a function of where the light source is located. Each value you apply should make sense in relation to the light source. Assign each of the areas on your line drawing one of the five values you have internalized. You do that through careful observation. Later, the boundaries between the differently valued areas will be blended together yielding a so-called transition area which has a value in between the two values of the adjacent areas.
To help you further, it is good to think of the different value areas in terms of the five elements of shading:
1. The Halftone
This is the value in the middle of your value scale. You can think of this value as representing the true value of your subject without the effects of direct light or shadow. It is neither light nor dark.
2. Full Light
This is the value of areas where the light hits the subject straight on. It is the white of the paper. This sort of value is also called a highlight.
3. Cast Shadow
This is the darkest value which is the black in the first box on the left of your value scale. This value occurs in places that are completely shielded from the light source or any reflections. These areas are usually to be found among the shadows the subject casts on other surfaces.
4. Shadow Edge
This is the dark gray located in the second box from the left on your value scale. This value type is found in areas that are not quite in the cast shadow areas but are beyond the halftone. These areas are often between a halftone area and a reflected light area or between a halftone zone and a cast shadow zone.
5. Reflected Light
This is a value corresponding to light gray, the second box from the right on your value scale. Reflected light can often be found as a small band between a cast shadow and a shadow edge. It is the light that bounces back onto your subject from surrounding surfaces. The bottom of the jaw often shows reflected light. Be sure not to make this sort of value totally white because it never is. These reflected light areas are important to notice and to render because they contribute significantly to the appearance of roundness and three-dimensionality of your subject.
In conclusion, a satisfactory line drawing together with your knowledge of a five-value scale and the five elements of shading should give you a good start at developing your shading skills. Work with short strokes and blend the adjacent areas into a value that lies in between the two areas. A ball on a table lighted by one light source is a good setup for practicing the five elements of shading.
Remi Engels is a pencil portrait artist and oil painter and expert teacher. Check out his Pencil Portrait Course and his Portrait Print Package Special