Shading Practice

After yesterday’s less-than-stellar pencil drawing of the back yard, I took some advice from John Ruskin, 19th century artist, through his book Elements of Drawing. In the first few pages of ‘Elements’ there are some basic exercises intended to instruct a beginner in uniform shading of and area, and shading from dark to light with a pen or a pencil.

Today’s experiment: Shading

Pen and Ink: Shading Practice Using Pen and Pencil

Shading Practice
11″x14″ 140# Mixed Media Paper

In the first exercise, Ruskin asked the student to draw a square box and, using lines that are drawn swiftly, in different directions, completely fill the box. The end result should be a uniform tone that looks like a patch of fabric.

In the figure above, I used a 005 Prisma Color pen to shade the two squares on the left. The nib of this pen is very fine. For the other squares, I used a Micron .5mm pen, much thicker than the first. Most of the patches are uniform in shading. Ruskin suggested that if the patches are not uniform, the student was to use the pen to correct the error. This sounds much easier than it actually is.

In the next exercise, (skipping Ruskin’s exercise II) I drew two long rectangles and started using dots to shade from light to dark. For the light areas I spaced the dots far apart, making them closer together to obtain darker shades.

In the topmost strip, I used the fine nib; the .5mm pen tip dots filled the strip immediately beneath.

Underneath the two strips, I innovated. I spaced parallel lines with wide spacing at the top, gradually narrowing the distance. The idea was the same as in the dot exercise: to gradually shade from light to dark. Based on the results, I need more practice with long parallel lines.

Below this, I did the dot exercises with pencils of different hardnesses: HB, 2B and 4B (unfinished).

Shading exercise in practice:

When I finished the shading exercises (after icing my throbbing hand), I desperately searched for a subject on which to put my sharpened skills to use. The ink box caught my eye.

Photograph: Box with Ink Bottles Inside

Box of Ink – Reference Photo

I used lines and dots to try getting the appropriate dark and light patches onto my paper.

Pen and Ink: Box of Ink Bottles

Box of Ink
6″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

Aside from the dodgy perspective and some errors in tonal values, I am fairly satisfied with this study. I do think it wise for me to continue practicing, however.

11 thoughts on “Shading Practice

  1. I’ve been having a go at the Ruskin exercises too (and it was due to my difficulties that I did the Google search which brought me to your Blog). I am stunned by the final words in Exercise 1: “The paper ought, at last, to look lightly and evenly toned all over, with no lines distinctly visible”. No lines distinctly visible!?! How on earth are we supposed to achieve that with a black ink pen on white paper, however we draw those lines? I would be interested in your thoughts, or even an email discussion of this subject, if you’d be interested…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Mike, It’s been a while since I drew with ink. Shading with different kinds of strokes is a way to replicate tonal values. Of course, if a person looks closely at a pen and ink drawing that uses shading, individual strokes will be apparent. You can camouflage individual strokes by using a variety of them: stippling, cross-hatching, random lines, short and longer lines, etc. It is worthwhile trying to make a grayscale chart of 10 different tonal values using different strokes. The more strokes you use, the more resolution you get.
      Good luck and if you have a link to some of your drawings, let me know.
      best regards,


  2. Hey Jack, thanks for the tips, I will take them on board and keep practicing! I do photograph all my drawing work and store it in a Google photos album, so when I’ve added some of this Ruskin stuff I’ll send a link – is there a way to send you a link here, or somewhere else (email, Facebook, etc)? Cheers, Mike.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Mike, REALLY nice work, my friend! I like how you assemble your lines to make shapes in the proper proportions. You reproduce the scene in front of you. That is, of course one goal. Another approach you may wish to try is to avoid lines and just go with an assembly of shaded patches. It would be like squinting your eyes so you only saw shadows and draw them. The trick in using that method is to get the proportions of shaded patches just right.

      Keep up the good work!


      • Well thank-you, Jack, generous praise indeed!

        Regarding the ‘lines vs shaded patches’ thing, I’m totally on-board with that. When I started, 4 years ago, I went to classes where they concentrated more on getting the outlines right than the shading, and yet I could always see that there were no outlines in nature, just areas of different tone/colour, but I didn’t know how to render the tones…

        So, when I stumbled upon Ruskin’s book and he said the exact same thing about lines and shading, I was very excited! And that is where I’m at now, starting to work through his exercises as best I can – kind of like starting learning to draw all over again, but with my ‘outlining’ experience still there in the background. Needless to say, I am feeling very positive about improving my drawing skills these days…

        And one other thing, I have learned basic Watercolour painting too, but it was always my drawing skills that let me down there, so another good reason to learn to draw better!

        Best Regards, Mike.

        Liked by 1 person

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