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  • Writer's pictureKonstantin

5 Ways To Shade With A Pen

Every artist should be knowledgeable and skilled in shading as it is an important skill that adds depth and character to any work of art. Though many are at least familiar with shading with a pencil, many are not fully aware of the distinct ways that pen shading can change an artwork.

Shading with a pencil can be very straightforward; put more pressure on the pencil and the area you’re shading will get darker. You can achieve this effect very consistently with most pencils out there. However, many cheap pens will blot, bleed, or tear through your paper; destroying your drawing in the process.

While it’s absolutely doable to replicate pencil-style shading if you have an expensive art pen, you might experience blotching or tearing if you try this with any old ballpen at home. With that in mind, I’ve put together a comprehensive beginner’s guide to the 5 basic ways to shade with any kind of ballpen.

In today’s article, we’ll talk about some general tips for shading, then explore scumbling, stippling, hatching, cross-hatching, and contour shading for pens, their uses, and guide you on how to start learning them.


I. General Tips

II. The 5 Ways To Shade With A Pen

1. Scumbling

2. Stippling

3. Hatching

4. Cross-Hatching

5. Contour Shading

III. Conclusion

I. General Tips

It’s important to analyze the drawing that you’re going to work on before you start shading. Take into account light sources, shape, and your own style to form a rough plan of how you’re going to shade your drawing.

A trick that I often use while shading is to take a drawing compass or ruler and divide the drawing by how dark I want certain areas to be, marking with a pencil as I go. After I’m done shading, the pencil marks can be erased.

I often find it more fulfilling to practice shading on drawings that I’ve done myself, so if you’re really trying to perfect your shading technique, a fun way to do so is to follow one of our easy tutorials like Sketch Exercises for Newbies or 4 Easy Plants for Beginners then try to shade in the result. Double the practice, double the fun!

II. The 5 Ways To Shade With A Pen

The following subheadings will cover exactly what you came here for; The five most common and battle-proven ways to shade with a pen. Grab your pen right now and in the best case scribble along to reading this part of the article. Have fun!

1. Scumbling

Scumbling is arguably one of the easier and more intuitive techniques, and chances are that you’ve done it before without realizing it. It can provide a unique texture and flavor to your drawings and is a great technique to practice and perfect.

What Is Scumbling?

Scumbling is a technique that adds value to your drawing by the condensed application of small circular strokes or “squiggles” in a particular area. Sometimes lumped together with scribbling or circulism, it can produce very interesting textures.

How To Scumble

An easy way to start is by deciding on what shape of mark you want to use, such as half-circles, loops, or even figure-eights. While you can vary these, later on, using the same stroke will assist in building muscle memory.

After you’ve planned out which parts you want to shade, begin to place down the marks, preferably of the same type, and flowing in the same direction. The closer together the marks are, the darker the shadow will appear. You can also layer marks on top of each other to get this effect.

Once you’re more comfortable with the technique and familiar with how it looks you can start to be a bit more free and random with your strokes. Using curly lines, deliberately repetitive patterns or layering different strokes on top of each other will give your drawing a unique and interesting texture and flavor.

When To Use And What To Know

Scumbling is easy to learn but hard to master, it’s very versatile and can be used to lend its unique texture effect to almost any drawing. I find it very useful for making drafts or for visualizing drawing values. Because of how loose and simple it is to perform, it’s great for drawing on the go, whether you see a cool scene at a train stop or an amazing vista while traveling.

It’s also great for drawing organically overlapping elements that have a lot of randomness, such as curly hair, waves, or vines.

An important thing to know is that the many strokes you do when scumbling can wear through your paper, sometimes causing unwanted holes. Additionally; Gel pens, fountain pens, and other pens with thin tips that can dispense a lot of ink can damage low-quality paper by soaking through it. Thus, it might be wise to find a soft-tipped pen and invest in good sketching paper.

2. Stippling

Stippling, sometimes referred to as pointillism, is a difficult, time-consuming technique that can lead to jaw-dropping results. While this segment will show you how to get started the easiest way possible, it’s recommended you read our article on the 7 Elements Of Art to familiarize yourself with the concept of Value.

What Is Stippling?

Stippling is the creation of a pattern simulating varying degrees of solidity or shading by using small dots. While this may seem simple, stippling will test your knowledge of Value in ways that you may have not imagined before.

Stippling is unique in that, unlike scumbling or hatching, you’re not simply adding value by placing down lines to darken an area. Rather, you’re breaking down that line even further into dots and implying value rather than simply showing it.

The Human mind is amazing in that, when shown an arrangement of dots, it will connect them all on its own. Stippling plays with that part of our brains, making the viewer of the art see every piece in a unique way.

How To Stipple

Though outwardly simple, the phrase “Place dot on paper” does not quite encapsulate stippling as a mode of artistic expression, rather it is a tool with which the artist can play with the audience’s perception of negative and positive space.

Think of each unshaded drawing as full of positive space. Since it has not been shaded in, no value has been deducted. Each dot you place on the paper reduces value in that particular space, making it slightly darker. This effect gradually increases as you more densely cluster dots.

Some pieces have absolutely no lines at all (this is called pointillism) But when you use it for shading, what you want to avoid is putting down a slanted dot, or one with a “tail”, to avoid doing this, hold your pencil at a very sharp angle as you place down dots. Depending on the kind of pen you have, you may be able to vary the amount of pressure and time behind each dot for better effect.

A good way to practice is by making a “value scale” where you slowly and smoothly increase the density of dots. When practicing, make sure to take your time as one of the big advantages of this technique is that you can spot mistakes easily; provided you work slowly.

Click on the image or here to get to the source of said image. There you'll find amazingly well explained and short tutorials about stippling.

When To Use And What To Know

Stippling’s unique style stands out when used, but requires you to put a lot of time and effort into each piece. It can enable an impressive range of tonal flavor in your art as well as add layers of texture that will make your viewer look twice every time they see your work.

Due to its nature, you’re unlikely to create a wonderfully stippled drawing when on the go or in record times, so I find that larger pieces that you can spend more time on really cater to the main strength of stippling; that being the fact that you must be careful and deliberate as you shade in the drawing, potentially over multiple sessions.

Though many say Stippling looks best when done with the finest point available (with smaller dots) It may be wiser to start practicing with any pen you find comfortable to start learning the technique, then transition to finer, more delicate pens once you are more comfortable with the style.

Since it requires so many dots to be placed down, try to use thicker papers and pens with non-blotting, quick-drying ink.

Remember that repetition of this technique can potentially damage your pen tip, so check on it regularly.

In the following segment we’ll talk about Hatching and a few of its derivatives; Cross-Hatching and Contour Shading. Though very similar in concept, they have their own distinct flavor and look in practice.

3. Hatching

Hatching is a technique that uses parallel lines to alter the value of a drawing. The concept is very simple; place lines going in one direction to adjust the value in that specific area, its simplicity is a great benefit that frees up the artist to be creative while not worrying so much about their style.

How To Hatch

As previously stated, Hatching is very simple; after analyzing the drawing and deciding where you want to subtract value, simply take your pen and (preferably in a single stroke) draw straight lines parallel to each other. The closer together the lines are, the darker that area will seem. Consistency is very important when using this method, and while it is totally fine to use a ruler to get exactly straight lines, spaced out perfectly, there’s a certain organic texture that is achieved when you don’t.

An easy way to practice this technique is to draw a square and fill it with parallel lines, slowly and evenly increasing their density. Take your time while doing this and focus on training your muscle memory so you don’t have to think too hard about each stroke.

When using this technique to shade in a drawing it’s important to remember that while they should all be parallel with each other, the lines do not need to be the same length. Using a pencil to mark out the borders of where you want to shade can make this easier, the ends of the lines suggesting a drawn border where there is none.

This can be practiced by drawing a free-form “blob” then filling it in with parallel lines that slowly increase in density. For more advanced practice, slowly shade in more deliberate shapes until you feel confident enough to try it out on a drawing.

When To Use And What To Know

A fun way to think about hatching is by considering it as the natural evolution of stippling. Rather than placing individual dots to suggest Value, you are instead using lines. This inherently makes it faster to do, making it wonderful for drawing on the go.

You can use this technique to quickly add form to an object or as a placeholder when visualizing more complex methods of shading.

Since you’re quite literally just drawing lines on a paper, you shouldn’t have to think about particular papers or pens to use, though of course investing in higher-quality materials is always a good idea. Don’t overthink it when you’re doing this technique, using lighter strokes and going faster can work just as well as firmly slicing your pen through the paper.

4. Cross-Hatching

If Hatching is the evolution of Stippling, Cross-Hatching is the next baby step. Though it may seem like a simple extra step to a hatch-shaded piece, finding a deliberate and creative way to use it can make your piece stand out.

How To Cross-Hatch

Cross-Hatching is very simple; follow the steps discussed previously and hatch a drawing, then flip the drawing over and do it again!

Jokes aside, Cross-Hatching involves you drawing two sets of parallel lines over each other, going in different directions. This seems quite simple and straightforward until you realize that nowhere does it say that the second set of lines must be perpendicular to the first, as long as you keep the second set of lines parallel to each other.

Practicing Cross-Hatching follows the same steps detailed previously in the segment on Hatching, all you need to do is add a second layer of lines after it.

When To Use And What To Know

Cross-Hatching is great for adding a layer of complexity to drawings that Hatching just doesn't suit. Try playing around with the angle of the second set of lines, and when you start using this technique to shade in more complicated figures it can result in very unique and fun textures.

Since you’ll be using more lines, you might want to consider a pen with faster-drying ink and thicker paper to draw on.

5. Contour Shading

Similar to what we’ve just discussed, Contour Shading is another method of shading that uses lines to adjust the Values in a drawing. While mechanically less complex to perform, you’ll need a lot of time to learn the ins and outs of this style.

This technique is similar to hatching or cross-hatching, except you're curving the lines to follow the contour of the form you are shading.

Contour lines can be drawn vertically, horizontally, and even diagonally. This is a great shading technique to practice giving form to your line drawings.

How To Contour Shade

Just like Hatching, you’ll be drawing lines and increasing their density to subtract more Value. What makes contour shading unique is that you’ll finally be curving those lines.

When you analyze your drawing, not only will you have to consider which parts you want to shade in, you’ll also have to think of the overall form of the shape you’re shading. Take note of its curves and angles, since you’ll be curving your lines that way.

When you start putting down the lines, curve them so that they follow the outline of your drawing, trying to emphasize the already present curves. While this looks great if you manage to pull it off in a single stroke, there’s nothing wrong with going over your lines again.

When To Use And What To Know

This technique is great for emphasizing more organic shapes like fruits or flowers and can be done fairly quickly once you’ve put in the practice. Because you want to have very smooth and flowing lines, try to find a pen that dispenses ink cleanly and consistently without blotches, and use higher-quality art paper that it won’t slip on.

III. Conclusion

Like all works that we invest our time and energy into, this article too must come to a close. Before you leave, I’ll summarize the main points of the article:

Even before you start shading your work, it’s important to understand Value and what shading does to alter it. Plan ahead before you start working, and take into account your style and other elements of the piece. It’s straightforward and simple, though it has some hidden complexities.

Scumbling is a method of shading that involves putting down circular marks in overlapping layers to edit Value. Stippling is an advanced, time-consuming technique where you alter the viewer’s perception of light and dark by placing down individual dots and letting your audience draw the lines in their heads. With lots of practice and patience, you can do some stunning things.

Hatching and Cross-Hatching use parallel, straight lines that increase and decrease in density to alter a drawing’s Value. It is quick to learn and easy to perform, so it’s a great place to start.

Contour Shading has you drawing lines that emphasize the natural contours of a drawing. This technique requires a lot of spatial knowledge and a strong understanding of how your object flows.

While what you end up doing may feel less perfect, deliberate, precise, or exact than described in this article, what matters most is that it looks the way you want it to look, and for some, that is the peak of artistry.

Because in the end, these techniques are merely tools through which you channel your own unique vision. Make good art, and share it with good people.

Be the artist who makes the works that you want to see in the world.

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