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Lines, Shading, Value

Types of Lines

The width of a Line is referred to as Line Weight.

A thin Line is sometimes called a "Pure Line", while a thick Line is sometimes called a "Bold Line". When the Line Weight varies throughout the same Line, it is sometimes known a "Lost & Found Line". [Note: This is not to be confused with "Lost & Found Edges", which we will cover later.]

Sometimes people scratch their writing instrument back-and-forth, putting together several shorter Lines into a single sketchy Line. This is sometimes known as a "Broken Line".

The thickness of a Line can often be changed through the angle of the instrument (e.g.: the point of a pencil will make a thin Line, while the side of the pencil will make a thick one). We can also produce use a "broad-stroke pencil technique" (i.e.: flatten the tip into a chisel-point with a sandpaper paddle). Likewise, if one retraces a Line several times over, then it can be made more bold. If those retracings do not meet end-to-end, then the Line becomes sketchy. Some use sketchy Lines to "feel out" what they want to draw. There is nothing wrong with freely exploring like this, but it is also sometimes more efficient to set down Lines intentionally. Either approach can be used effectively. What matters most is that we are able to produce different types of Lines at will.

• Thin = Pure Line
• Thick = Bold Line
• Varying Line Weight Through The Same Line = Lost & Found Line
• Sketchy = Broken Line

Ways of Using Lines

Usually, lines are used to draw 2-dimensional (i.e.: flat) Shapes. These Shapes can be combined in various ways to give the illusion of 3-dimensional Forms on the surface of our paper or canvas.

Shapes = 2-D
Forms = 3-D

This illusion of depth can be created through Perspective. For example, things that are closest to the viewer could be rendered with a Bold Line, while those things which are farther away could be rendered with a Pure Line. This variation in Line weight tells us something about the Perspective of a scene.

However, we can also create the illusion of depth by trying to emulating how Light and Shadow reacts to the surface of a Form. This is generally referred to as "Shading".

The Lines that make up the outer boundary of a Form are referred to as its "Outline". The area inside of this boundary is called a "Silhouette". The empty areas between Forms are called "Negative Spaces". Notice this polarity between "Positive Forms" (or volumes) and "Negative Spaces" (i.e.: the distance between those volumes).

Shading usually occurs within the Outline of a Form, but can also appear within the Negative Space depending upon the affect that we are trying to achieve.

Types of Shading

We can combine several parallel Lines into "Hatching". If we make another layer of Lines on top of it at a different angle, then we get "Cross-Hatching" (i.e.: the Lines intersect one another).

When multiple Lines cross at particular angles, it may produce a jarring sensation. This is called a "Moiré Pattern". [This is why people do not wear items of clothing with patterns of closely spaced Lines when they are on camera.]

We can avoid Moiré Patterns within our Cross-Hatching by only crossing the two layers at 45-degree angles. [There are some instances in which you may actually want to create a Moiré Pattern (e.g.: to produce a shimmer effect).]

If we do Hatching with curves instead of lines, then we can simulate a Form with a curved surface. This is called a "Contour". We can also use intersecting curves to produce a "Cross-Contour".

However, we are not limited to lines and curves within our Shading. We can also use:

• Dots (known as "Stippling" or "Pointilism")
• Small, Overlapping Circles (known as "Circulism")
• Squiggles
• Squiggles + Circles = "Squirkles" (a term used by the artist Brenda Hoddinott)
• Zig-Zags and/or Loops = "Slinkies" (a term used by the artist Anthony Ryder)

We can produce even more variation by combining the different types of Line (e.g.: Lost & Found Line + Hatching = Wavy Hatching). We can also produce gaps within the Lines of Hatching to make Shapes. [This can allow for some interesting effects, a kind of "drawing with Negative Space". However, don't leave these breaks unintentionally.]

Controlling Value

Generally, "Value" (or "Tone") is how light or dark something is. We usually talk about it in terms of a "Value Scale" (or "Tonal Range"). This is the range from completely white to completely black and with various shades of grey in-between. Each shade of gray is usually assigned a number to distinguish it from others. This is referred to as a "Grayscale". The shade of gray in the middle, between white and black, is the "Midtone".

"Contrast" is how much one Value differs from one another. For example, two Values that are close together on a Value Scale have "Low Contrast" and two Values that are far apart on a Value Scale have "High Contrast".

There are various ways to control the Value of the markings we make:

• We can use different grades of pencil.

The letter "B" stands for "Black" and means that the lead is soft and dark. The letter "H" stands for "Hard" and means that the lead is firm and light. The number after this letter tells us how dark or light it is relative to other pencils. The higher the number, the more light or dark it is. For example, a 3B is darker than a 2B, while a 3H is lighter than a 2H.

Sometimes you might see a "HB" or a letter "F" (meaning "Fine"). These two types exist between H and B. They are smack dab in the middle of the spectrum. See how similar pencil grades are to the concept of a Grayscale? This is part of the reason why different grades of pencil exist, to help us render Shading effectively!

• We can use more or less pressure on the instrument.

Be careful, especially when using a harder lead. If we press too hard, it will leave a little indentation that cannot be erased! [You may or may not want this to occur.]

• We can use more or less distance between Lines of Hatching, Dots of Stippling, and so on.

The closer together they are, the darker they become. The farther apart, the lighter they become.

• We can superimpose more or less layers of Lines, Dots, etc.

The more layers used, the darker it becomes. The fewer layers used, the lighter it becomes.

In summary, it is all about our instrument and how we use it:

• Grade
• Pressure

• Spacing
• Layers


We can intentionally smear together Lines, Dots, etc. to make them smooth. This is called "Blending". We can Blend with different tools, such as:

• Blending Stick / Paper Stump - This is a type of rod made out of compressed paper. It can be cleaned and shaped with a sandpaper paddle.
• Tortillon - This is a small sheet of paper rolled into a fine point.
• Chamois - This is a type of soft cloth.
• Facial Tissue
• Ear Swabs
• Felt

Each of these Blending tools produces different effects. We should not use our fingers to Blend, as that may lead to smearing, graphite fingerprints, or oil spots where we do not want them.

The Relation Between Shading & Value

When Shading stays the same Value throughout, it is called "Flat Shading". When the Value gradually changes, it is called "Gradient Shading".

We can produce both Flat Shading and Gradient Shading in various ways. Some examples:

• We can make Flat Shading by keeping a consistent pressure on our instrument and using a uniform distance between our Lines while Hatching. We can also use graphite dust and a brush (much like how one would do an ink wash).

• We can make Gradient Shading by gradually changing our pressure or changing the distance between our Lines while Hatching. We can also gently remove graphite with a kneaded eraser.

We can practice Flat Shading by making Value Scales and Gradient Shading with "Graduated Tone Exercises".

It is important to be able to produce both at will. Again, Shading is how we render Light and Shadow.

Understanding Light & Shadow

There are different kinds of Light Sources and that the Light coming from them can act in different ways.

• There are Light Sources that are "Natural", like the sun. These have a tendency to be "Diffuse". In other words, the Light that comes from them scatters around throughout the environment.

• There are also Light Sources that are "Artificial", like an electric lamp. These have a tendency to be highly "Directional". In other words, the Light that comes from them seems to move in a very distinct direction.

We also have to keep in mind the intensity or "Brightness" of the Light from a Light Source. For example, the Light coming from the flame of a candle is very different from the Light coming from a spotlight. In general, Light radiates from a point according to "Inverse Square Law" (i.e.: it gets weaker with distance). The farther away we are from a Light Source, the less intense that it is.

Now that we generally understand Light itself, let's look at how it interacts with Form. First, take note of the type of Light Source and the direction in which it is facing. Then, note the structure of the Forms that it is falling on. This helps to determine how the two interact. For example:

• Depending on where the Light Source is, a flat plane may be completely of one Value. This would be rendered with Flat Shading. When two different Values are clearly separated from one another it makes a "Hard Edge". Hard Edges often appear when two planes are at an angle to one another in a way that causes the amount of Light falling on each of them to be different.

• Depending on where the Light Source is, a curved dome may have multiple Values across its surface. This would be rendered with Gradient Shading. When one Value transitions smoothly into another Value it makes a "Soft Edge". Soft Edges often appear on rounded Forms. People sometimes breakdown curved surfaces into a series of flat planes at different angles to more easily render Gradient Shading.

There are also "Lost & Found Edges". This is when the Outline of a Form seems to disappear because its Value matches something behind it.

All of this might seem complicated, but it boils down to a simple principle: Some parts of a Form turn towards the Light Source, while others turn away from it. These parts will be lighter or darker, respectively.

Different terms are sometimes used to describe how light or dark any part of a Form is. From lightest-to-darkest, they are...

Highlight - This is the reflection of a Light source on the surface of a Form. It usually appears as a bright white spot. [Unlike the other aspects, this is not as dependent on the location of the Light Source but upon the location of the observer relative to it. In other words, it does not necessarily coincide with the Core Light (see below).]

Core Light - This is the area of a Form that is directly facing a Light Source. It is darker than the Highlight.

Midtones / Midlights / Halftones / Halflights - These are the darkest Values on any surface that is still facing towards the Light. They make a gradient, with the parts closest to the Core Light being lighter than those that are farther away. [Notice how this sense of the word "Midtone" subtly differs from the one given before!]

Terminator - This is an edge that divides the area pointed towards the Light Source from the area pointed away from the Light Source. It sometimes makes a Hard Edge of Shadow.

Core Shadow - This is the area facing away from Light. Like the Halftones, it also makes a gradient.

Reflected Light - This is Light that bounces off of nearby surfaces into a Shadow area. It usually makes a gradient as it blends into the Core Shadow. The location of a Reflected Light is determined by the orientation of the surface that it reflecting off of. Reflected Light also has a tendency to take on the color of that surface. For example, this means that Light reflecting off a dark colored object will produce a darker Reflected Light.

Cast Shadow - This is when a Form blocks Light from reaching another surface. The edges of a Cast Shadow can be Soft or Hard depending on the intensity of the Light Source and the distance of the object from it. For example, a Cast Shadow made with a strong, Directional Light Source will probably be rendered with a Hard Edge. Likewise, a Cast Shadow made with a Diffused Light Source will probably be rendered with a Soft Edge. Again, if two items with the same Values overlap, then their edges will blur into each other to form a Lost & Found Edge. If enough of a Cast Shadow is seen, it can even have sections that embody all three: The part of the Cast Shadow nearest the object might have a Hard Edge, while further away the edge becomes Soft, until it falls away completely as a Lost & Found Edge at the very tip of the Cast Shadow.

Occlusion Shadow / Dark Accent - This is the darkest area, the part of the Cast Shadow least affected by Light. It often coincides with the area directly underneath an object and is rendered with a Hard Edge. We can think of it as the opposite of the Highlight, which is usually the lightest part of the whole image.

To recap:
Core Light
Core Shadow
Cast Shadow
Occlusion Shadow

These terms are not all that important. What matters most is that you understand the lighting situations that what they represent!

There are also a few other situations to be aware of when it comes to Light and Shadow, such as:

• If a Light Source is pointing directly at the viewer from behind an object, it can make the Silhouette of that object mostly, if not completely, black. The direction of a Light Source sometimes completely changes what a thing looks like. For example, think of when people shine a flashlight under their face when telling a scary story at night. The angle of the Light might make them look very different, giving them a ghastly appearance.

• Some surfaces, like mirrors, will repeat the images of nearby objects upon their surfaces. These are "Reflections". Like regular Forms, Cast Shadows and Reflections also follow Perspective. In short, if our position changes, the way Light and Shadow appears on the surface of an object can also change.

The Effect of Different Materials

Not only does the structure of a Form determine how it interacts with Light, but also the material that it is made of. Generally:

• Matte surfaces (like some fabrics) absorb Light.
• Glossy surfaces (like polished metal) reflect Light.
• Transparent surfaces (like clear glass) transmit Light.

Each reacts differently, so we can also use Shading to help convey the type of material that a Form is made of! For example, glossy surfaces often make sharp Reflections, while transparent surfaces can distort the images behind them. [Place a stick into a pool water and look at how it seems to "bend" at its surface.]

Adding these details can help give a scene a sense of realism.

Learning To See Value & Drawing From Life

One can see Values and the Shapes that they make more easily by squinting to filter out details. Change the amount of focus to see different levels of detail (i.e.: more squinting = more blur and less detail). There is an old invention called a "blur glass" created specifically for this purpose. It is essentially just a lens that makes everything blurry. However, one can also use a color filter / colored gels to help see changes in Value too. In general, making something monochromatic (i.e.: all one color) helps. If you have a digital photo reference, this can be done on a computer in applications like Photoshop or GIMP.

Values often appear lighter or darker than they actually are (e.g.: Adelson's Checker-Shadow Illusion). Therefore, we can use a "Grayscale Finder" to make sure that our Values are accurate. A Grayscale Finder is just a card with a Value Scale on it. It allows us to compare a Value on a photo reference or from life to a Value on a drawing. Again, keep in mind that the Shading around a particular Value can make it appear lighter or darker than it actually is. If you are unsure, follow the principle of: "The darkest light is lighter than the lightest dark." In other words, all areas pointed towards the Light Source will almost always be of a lighter Value than all of the areas pointed away from it, no matter how light they may seem.

People sometimes practice drawing from plaster casts. This helps to learn Shading because the matte white surfaces more clearly show Value gradients. Whenever we are drawing from life, it is important to keep a drawing and the drawing subject in the same lighting. This also helps to faciliate the recognition of Values. Again, a subtle change in Lighting can greatly affect how something looks.

Value Considerations

Images don't have an infinite range of Values, so we should limit our Value Scale accordingly. For example, before we start drawing, we can plan out how many Values we will use and the pencil grades that we will use to render them. Start with a small Value Scale (e.g.: 3-4 different shades of gray), and do not overwhelm yourself by using a huge number of different pencils.

Inversely, if we stick to a single Value throughout an entire image, it can make it seem "flat" through a lack of Contrast. Therefore, using a wider range of Values can sometimes help to give the illusion of Form.

Just like how we can convey a sense of Perspective by changing Line Weight, Value changes can also be used to demonstrate Perspective. For example, objects in the Foreground have a tendency to be of High Contrast, clear and distinct. Simultaneously, objects in the Background are of Low Contrast, fuzzy and indistinct. This is a consequence of "Atmospheric Perspective" (i.e.: objects that are farther away seem blurry because Light scatters through the atmosphere before it reaches our eye).

Generally, there is a relationship between intensity and depth. Bold Lines, darker Values, and Warm Colors "push forward", while Pure Lines, lighter Values, and Cool Colors "pull back".

However, it is important to keep in mind that darker colored Forms have a darker Midtone than more lightly colored Forms. This is called "Local Value". For example: If we take a black-and-white photo of two people, one with darker skin and another with lighter skin, we could still tell which is which. The same is true of the color of any objects. In a black-and-white photo, a purple object is probably going to look darker than a yellow object, yet the surface of both objects still interacts with Light to produce a range of different Values!

There are different approaches for laying out Values. To give a few examples:

• We can build up from light-to-dark by layering.

• We can work from dark-to-light by drawing darkest Shadows first.

• We can fill in the Midtone and moving in both directions simultaneously. In other words, start by giving every object in the scene it's own Local Value, and then put in Shadows and Highlights accordingly. This is similar to how one would work on toned paper (i.e.: rendering in two directions by using both a dark and a light pencil, with the color of the paper itself being the Midtone). Notice how the choice of medium can influence the approach.

Each approach has its own benefits, but starting out with the darkest Values first can help us to make sure that there is a high enough Contrast between all Values.

Highlights are almost always added last. Try pulling Highlights with a kneaded eraser or a gum eraser cut into a fine point. White paint, ink, or correction fluid also works. Do not underestimate the affect that the addition of a simple Highlight can have. The shine on a wet eyeball can be the difference between a character looking alive or dead.


Generally, "Composition" is how we choose to lay things out within a scene. This applies not only to the location of Forms, their Proportion, and their Perspective, but also to their Values.

This concept is called "Nōtan". [This is a Japanese word that literally means "dark and pale".] It is a balance between the lighter and darker areas within an image. It usually corresponds in some manner to Positive Forms and Negative Spaces, but not always. [Check out these image examples!]

The Silhouette that a Form makes may be another consideration, especially if there are characters within our scene. There is a general principle used in figure drawing that characters should "be easy to read". This means that we should be able to tell what they are doing with their bodies, even if we were only to see their Silhouette. In other words, if the Silhouette of a human figure looks like a blob or potato, we should probably change it.


Hopefully, you now have a solid understanding of Shading and Value and how they are used to render Light and Shadow! This will serve as a good foundation for learning and applying Color Theory.

Thank you for reading!