Realistic Lead Pencil Shading


Hey all,

I’m trying to draw some portraits using a lead pencil and hatching isn’t giving me a realistic finish. I want to achieve the same realism that can be seen in most of these images:

Any tips or tutorials on how to achieve this would be greatly appreciated.


Using a graphite pencil and a toothed paper helps, not just slick printer paper or canvas. Hatching can work, but also a series of erasing and drawing…
Much like Jim Dine’s work…
Otherwise it just takes a sensitive hand and an eye for contrast.


Hi there,

I recommend doing copies from artist Anthony Ryder: - he has a great book you can buy off of his site or purchase online / in a bookstore.

A long while back I put up this very basic tutorial:

Also, check out the work of my students who have been copying from Ryder:

They’re basically using graphite pencils (2B) to create very small, consistent patches of tone. This type of shading just requires patience and a knowledge of the basic principles of light:


great visual Rebecca!


Heh, thanks, it’s all thanks to Google. :slight_smile:

Edit - here is an example of a master copy by a student of mine, showing the principles of light and shade as applied to a figure:


Thanks for your replies, Rebeccak and mrdpoe.

I’ve been wandering around cyberspace looking for some tutorials and I found this one quite informative. It includes some good general advice, like the importance of being aware of how much pressure you apply to your pencil; applying shading evenly; and avoiding “rounding” shades or colours because you will flatten your image. Unfortunately, although very helpful, it’s still very general (except for a few tips about smudging tools.) I’m looking for more practical advice, such as how to hold the pencil - something that varies between individuals, I’m sure.

Another tutorial I stumbled upon was this one. It’s worth checking out for the image gallery alone. It’s astounding how very real these drawings look. This tutorial was a little better as far as offering practical advice goes, especially when it came to drawing equipment. I’ve become convinced I’m now slightly unequipped to draw well: I’m trying to use some HB pencils I found at the bottom of old pencil case for school. At the very least, it seems, I need some 2B pencils, a kneaded eraser and perhaps some blending stumps and/or tortillons. Any thoughts of the usefulness of each? Will I likely need to go to a special store to purchase these things, or would a stationary supplies shop suffice?

Finally, I found this tutorial which did tell me how to hold my pencil. Interestingly, this tutorial suggests you can use your finger to smudge - although it’s a little clumsy - while the previous tutorials warned against using fingers to smudge. Thoughts, anyone?

A technique suggested in this tutorial was to colour everything in a middle tone and use your eraser and pencil to achieve the lighter and darker tones respectively.


It’s somewhat surprising to think that you can do so many different things with just one simple tool like a pencil.

I would caution you against taking to heart any advice that shows you “wrong” ways of doing something, as there will undoubtably be people who create successful works using just those techniques. For example, in the first link you posted by Rebecca Lynn, she shows a “wrong” way of blending. You can make marks any way you want. Find a method that works for you, or better still try several. Draw relaxed and practice often.
There are a number of different types of graphite tools you can experiment with: soft or hard leads, chisel points, carbon pencils, even graphite chunks. I would avoid using fingers to blend as that puts oils on the paper. Blending with pencil lines is best way, but a tortillion works also.


I’d really like to hear from students of official drawing classes to get an idea of what they teach in the way of shading techniques and exercises. Should I start with shading simple geometric shapes, such as the sphere shown above? Or, just get right into it and practice on portraits (my goal?)


I’d say to shade simple shapes first, and work on copies of portraits second - use Anthony Ryder’s work as a reference.


I’m afraid I’ll need a bit more information than that. What should I be trying to achieve? A replica of the sphere shown above? Even transitions between the different lighting areas?

I’ve viewed a few video tutorials on about shading simple shapes and there doesn’t seem to be much to it - obviously the point of starting with simple shapes - but it doesn’t teach anything to do with texture or how the light reflects off different surfaces; which is what I need to be able to draw skin, hair and clothing.

I’ve actually made quite a bit of progress on the drawing that drove me to properly investigate shading. I ducked out to the local store and got some 2B pencils and that’s helped beyond measure to achieve the type of shading I want. I still have yet to find somewhere to buy a knead eraser and some blending stumps (not a lot of drawing supplies stores around.)

My main problem so far - and it really is becoming quite a problem - is with making the transitions from highlight to shadow smooth and natural. At the moment, although I’ve captured both light and dark - and most of the in between - areas quite well, they still appear as discrete areas of shading. I need to work on easing the borders and making it look all smooth.


Post what you’ve done so far.


I’ve created another thread on the WIP board. You can see my work there.


I’m pretty sure that Ryder’s book (you can see his website - or alternately purchase the book from or a bookstore) - has a sphere as well that you can copy.

I think you should get his book and do copies of his work. Try to get as close as you can to his shading style. Look at the student work I linked above and try to emulate that as well. I recommend to my students to try to keep their shading as smooth as is possible without blending, using 2B pencils and a kneaded eraser where necessary.

Shading just takes practice and mileage. Get a sphere - any sphere - and use Ryder’s book as a guide for learning how to shade. Feel free to create a Sketchbook thread in the forum here:

Alternately I can move your 2D WIP thread to the above forum and rename it as your Sketchbook thread.

All of the beginning life drawing students I teach struggle with shading initially. The usual complaint is “I can’t shade”. When this statement is followed by actual attempts at shading, students find that they are able to shade. :wink: One drawing will not an artist make - look at Ryder’s work and do intensive copies of his work. It’s all about sweat equity.

Check out Icey’s tutorial here as well:


Thanks, Rebeccak.

I want to avoid buying books because of the very tight budget I’m on. (I can barely afford the drawing supplies.) And I believe that I should be able to find most - if not, all - of what I need on the internet for free.

I must admit I’m not quite sure why you’re so insistent on Tony Ryder’s work. I may be looking with laymen’s eyes, but although impressive, I’d imagine there are thousands of other artists capable of producing the same standard of work. Is there a reason he is a favourite of yours? Was he particularly helpful in your own artistic development or is his book especially helpful? I don’t mean anything by asking; I’m just curious. :wink:

I appreciate the offer, but I’d prefer my other thread to say where it is for now. I’ll keep the anatomy forum in mind when I create my next thread.

I’ll be sure to take a look at the tutorial you suggested.


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