How to Draw Shadows: 8 Steps (with Pictures)

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How to Draw Shadows: 8 Steps (with Pictures)
How to Draw Shadows: 8 Steps (with Pictures)

Make your sketches, doodles and drawings look more realistic by learning to add shadows. Shadows add depth, contrast, character, and even movement to your images by capturing the shadows and highlights of your drawing objects. Learn how to draw shadows to perfect your artwork, either for your own enjoyment or to improve your skills as an artist.


Shade Drawings Step 1
Shade Drawings Step 1

Step 1. Choose the right equipment

Although you can draw using school pencils and printer paper, to create complex shadows it is important to use artist-specific pencils. You can find inexpensive graphite artist pencils at art and craft supply stores. If you can, use sturdy drawing paper with a smooth surface to help absorb your shadow image.

  • Artist pencils consist of hard and soft. The mark on the pencil is the letter "B" or "H". Pencils marked "B" are pencils with soft graphite, and are usually available from 8B, 6B, 4B, and 2B with 8B being the smoothest. "H" is a hard pencil with "8H" being the hardest and "2H" being the softest.
  • For the best shadows, use the softest pencil. The pencil will allow you to blend easily, while the hard pencil will be difficult to use for shading.
  • School pencils are generally HB pencils, that is, their hardness/softness is in the middle. You can use an HB pencil if that's all you have available, but using a softer pencil will be easier.
  • Paper that is too smooth (printer paper) or too hard (tracing paper) will be difficult to use to create shadows. If you can, use good drawing paper.
Shade Drawings Step 2
Shade Drawings Step 2

Step 2. Outline your subject

Use real objects or take photos of your objects and print the photos. Make sure your subject is still and you have enough time to outline.

  • Look around the house for ideas. Indoor objects such as flowers, plants, kitchen utensils, and tables can make good subjects. You can also use collectibles of your own, such as figurines or hats.
  • Look at negative space to create a more accurate outline drawing. Negative space is the space and shape around your subject. For example, if you draw a chair, the negative space is the space between the floor and the legs of the chair.
  • If you're using photos to draw, consider converting them to black and white before you print. This will help you get more accurate shadows, since your object is already in black and white.
Shade Drawings Step 3
Shade Drawings Step 3

Step 3. Create a rating scale

Values are the dark and light of your image. The value scale will help you determine the different depths of the image with your shadow. The complete scale of values ranges from white to black with many shades of gray in between. However most objects only use 5 values according to your value scale.

  • To create a value scale, you must start by drawing a rectangle. You can do this in the corner of the drawing, or if you prefer, you can draw it on a separate piece of paper.
  • Divide the rectangle into 5 squares, numbering 1 to 5. You can make more than 5 as your shading skills develop, but 5 shadows on a scale are enough to get you started.
  • Emphasize darkness for each number: 1 should be completely white, 2 should be slightly shaded, 3 should represent a medium shade, 4 should be dark, and 5 should be as dark as you can make it.
  • You should have neither white nor black in your shadow scale, unless your subject is under a very strong direct light source. If that's not the case, your scale should contain only shades of gray.
Shade Drawings Step 4
Shade Drawings Step 4

Step 4. Find the light source

You will create a shadow based on the shadow source; The brightest areas are those that are closest to the light, and the darkest areas are those that are farthest from the light.

  • Pay particular attention to glare or reflected light, as they tend to be the brightest areas of your subject. Mark these areas on the drawing.
  • Your light source will create the shadows you need. Shadows are what make an image realistic, real, so don't forget to shade as well as light areas.
Shade Drawings Step 5
Shade Drawings Step 5

Step 5. Choose a shading method

Depending on your subject, light source, and desired image texture, you can choose from several methods of creating shadows. The most common of these are with shading, cross shading, and circular shading.

  • Shading is the process of drawing many parallel lines that are close together to create shadows. This method is best for objects that are less textured or have a fine texture (like hair).
  • Crosssharing is a method of shading by drawing criss-crossing lines that form multiple 'X' shapes in your drawing. This is a great way to quickly and easily add darkness and add texture at the same time.
  • Circular shadowing is done by drawing small circles that overlap each other. You can create a lot of texture by spacing the circles over each other and using thicker lines, or you can create a subtle blend by making the circles close together.
Shade Drawings Step 6
Shade Drawings Step 6

Step 6. Create the initial shadow of your image

Since you're still in the editing stage of your drawing, don't just fill in the darkness with your pencil so you can still erase or move shadows and points of light. Don't put too much pressure on your pencil and only fill in the areas that need shading.

  • Leave the brightest parts of your image white. Or use the eraser to erase the pencil and create highlights or light reflections.
  • Look at the subject frequently to compare it to your image. Make sure you get the main shadows and reflections in the right places.
Shade Drawings Step 7
Shade Drawings Step 7

Step 7. Add more shadow layers

Darken gradually, adding a light layer of shadow each time. The contrast between the light areas and the dark areas should become more distinct and distinct.

  • Use your rating scale as a guide. The scale will help you stay consistent throughout your drawing.
  • Use your time. "This process is similar to a black and white photo that slowly emerges when washed in a dark room. Patience is important at this stage."
  • As you deepen the shadow, the outline of the image will slowly disappear. In real life, most objects don't have solid outlines-there's only changes in value (dark-light). The same should happen to your image, don't darken the outlines, darken the shadows.
Shade Drawings Step 8
Shade Drawings Step 8

Step 8. Blend the shaded areas

For the smoothest blend, use a blending stump. This will smooth out any rough edges and make the shadows more gradual and realistic. Hold the blending stump like holding a pencil. Press gently at the beginning, until you determine how much blending you want. If you wish you can repeat it again.

  • You can also use your fingertips or a cotton bud for blending if you don't have blending stumps.
  • Use an eraser to highlight an area that you accidentally blended in. Usually occurs around the outline of shapes or areas where there is direct light.
  • Keep in mind that most people, even great/famous artists, are not as good as they are now when they were beginners


  • Hold your pencil almost horizontally to the paper, tilting it nearly flush with the paper as you shade instead of using the tip perpendicular. This method will make you produce a more unified/ blended look.
  • Place a piece of paper between your hand and your drawing. This will avoid smudges on the image.
  • Use a strong light source. This will strengthen the contrast between the highlights and shadows.
  • Use a vinyl eraser if you accidentally smudge your image. The vinyl eraser erases pencil lines perfectly without damaging your paper.

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