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Pen Shading for Beginners

Shading with pen is such a huge part of the illustration process and is really a whole subject in itself. This post is dedicated to that. I'm still drawing flowers but the focus will be on how to add shading. I love to bring drawings to life with a lot of shading, this can be easier with pencil and other mediums, so hopefully this will help if you are struggling with pen shading.

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To begin my shading practice I created some contour drawings of flowers - just line drawings without shading, like a coloring page. Then with a smaller nib pen I start to add lines, scribbles, or dots, to make the image pop off the page by giving it depth and perspective. Having two or three pens with different nib sizes can make such a difference when shading.

On my practice page I've broken down the different types of shading I most often use. The first of these is line shading or hatching - this is placing straight lines parallel to one another to create shading. The closer they are to one another, the darker it looks. Cross hatching is using those same lines but adding angled lines across them. Again, the closer they are, the darker the shading.

Scribbling or doodling is just random scribbling to fill in. I drew a circle and started filling it in to create a sphere by darkening the edges and leaving a highlight of white space. You will see this used a lot in comics. I often use scribbling for the stamen or center of a flower.

Contour shading is when the lines follow the same shape as the contour drawing. I started with a circle and another contour drawing and then slowly follow the lines from the outside in. This is probably my most used form of shading, I find it helps to add shape to the subject as well as shading. By adding angled lines to darken an area you can also create cross-contour shading in the same style as cross-hatching.

Stippling is using little dots to create shadow and depth. Like all the others, the closer you place them, the darker the shading will appear. In my practice I drew a rectangle and am attempting to take it from really dark to really light. Using that rectangle or a circle is a great way to practice any of the shading techniques.

What I really want to convey is that it is not about having a super deep understanding of stippling or hatching. I tend to move from one to another, using them interchangeably and using whatever feels right for the project. I recommend doing a practice page like this one so you can try them out, having some different nib sizes, and then just going for it. If you want some more practice you can try shading the flowers from the post and video 'Five Flowers You CAN Draw'.

To put everything into practice I added the tulip to the top of my page. I used my Molotow blackliner 04 nib for the contour and a 005 for the shading so I can do very precise hatching. Since the petals and leaves are different colors I want to show that by shading the leaves darker. As the artist, you get to decide where the light is coming from. Here I've decided the light is coming from the upper left. I started with contour shading on the leaves, creating shadows under the blossom, where the leaves come to a point, and at the bottom right - furthest from the light. On the blossom the inner petals are a little darker. Overall the blossom is lighter to show both proximity to the light and a lighter color. To finish it off I added some cross hatching to darken the deepest shadows.

For my final practice I decided to draw a seasonal flower, the paperwhite. Like all my drawings I begin with a guide, add more details in pencil, and create a contour drawing in pen. Still working with my 04 nib, I added shading to the stems of the flowers since I want to keep them quite dark. With the smaller 005 nib, I'll shade the flowers. Since they are a bright white flower I don't want to give the impression that they are darker so I keep the shading to a minimum. By adding a little contour shading in the center, we can add shape and movement so they look convex with curving petals.

Have fun with your practice, pick your favorite flower and try different types of shading to see how they all look. Remember that nib size and even paper can make a difference so keep experimenting!

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