Shading and Tonal Values In 4 Steps

Elvis Elvis

In this section I’ll be showing you the steps I usually go through when shading a drawing using pencil. Other media require different techniques – and the best way to find out is to experiment with them as much as possible. Think of it as play: when you were a child and someone gave you something new, you most likely spent some time simply seeing what you could do with it and this is the most rewarding way to approach all drawing materials.

To work through this tutorial you will need


Kneadable eraser

2B and 4B pencils – these should give you an appropriate range of values.

A sheet of white paper


Light source – either natural, e.g. a window, or a lamp

To show you what I do and how I do it, I’m going to draw an egg so the first step is to put it in position on the sheet of white paper, like this:

The light is slightly diffuse as it is coming from a window on the left – this is why you see a strong shadow surrounded by a more diffuse one. If you need to use artificial light, place your lamp to the left of the egg and a short distance away as artificial light will be harsher.

I haven’t yet talked about shadows and light, but obviously we are going to encounter them here. The subject is too involved to delve into in this lesson (watch out for the one specifically dealing with shadows) but for the purposes of drawing this egg all we need consider is the differences in tones when shading – the shadows will then look after themselves. In fact this is true whenever we draw shadows – rather than labelling an area as shadow, or for example, egg, try to think of your drawing as simply a pattern of lighter and darker tones.

Shading and Tonal Values In 4 Steps

One last word before we begin. In the photograph the values appear more contrasty than they did in reality – and I drew my egg from life, not the photograph.

Step One

Place your egg in position with a direct light source either from a nearby window or a lamp placed to the side and a short distance away – experiment until you like what you see. But ensure your light is coming from one side: this will give you good lights and darks.

Once you have positioned your egg, sketch in the outline of both egg and the central shadow lightly using the 2B pencil. Don’t draw the diffuse, lighter shadow. The egg shape itself is a basic shape but in actuality, eggs are varied in shape as well as size, so pay careful attention to the unique shape of your egg!

Step Two

Next I squint at the egg to look for the mid tone – if you’ve made a scale now is the time to hold it up and try to match the overall mid tone of the egg to a value on your scale.

Once you’ve identified the mid tone use either close hatching lines or circular shading and the 2B pencil to cover the egg and shadow to this mid tone or middle value.

Step Three

Next, I identify where the highlights are – on my egg there is a clear highlight in the upper left area and also a lighter area in the lower right. I lift these areas out gently with a kneadable eraser.

Step Four

Then I look for the darkest areas – to the right and underside of the egg and in the shadow. Now is the time to try comparing the egg and your value scale if you are using one.

I then begin shading using the 4B pencil, building up to the appropriate value gradually, working from dark to light. I also soften the edges of the highlights and lighter areas. To finish I darken the line where the egg meets the shadow.

The shadow gets lighter towards its edges, because it is a natural light shadow. Shadows cast by artificial light have much more definite edges.

I did not include the lighter, diffuse shadows in this drawing, because they weren’t necessary, and would not have enhanced the drawing.

And that’s it – a three dimensional egg drawing achieved by shading. The basic principles I demonstrate here can be applied to anything you are drawing. And as you become more and more familiar with values and shadows and how to use shading, you will also be able to apply these principles to imagined scenarios.

There are an infinite variety of ways of creating the effects of differing values with mark making. Once you become familiar with shading continuous tone do try exploring other ways of creating drawings too. In the mark making tutorial I show you ways of exploring the different types of marks you can make to create highly individual, unique drawings which convey emotion as well as content.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this drawing tutorial – do check back regularly as I am always adding new ones.