Fundamentals of Art, Lesson 4.0


When I was called upon to teach Girl Scouts drawing so they could get their drawing badge, the Shading a Sphere handout was both my favorite to hand out and their favorite to do.  After learning how to shade a basic gradient from light to dark, shading a curved object is the next step.  For some students (of any age, really) this is quite a leap in hand-eye coordination.  Having an example to copy really does help a beginner….Mine’s on the upper right of the page, although doing it live in class is a lot more instructive.

If you have the time, the best way is to shade a real sphere in class before their eyes!  Make sure everyone in the class knows what you mean by “light source”.  Explain that the light source is simply where the light is coming from.  Get an orange or basketball or globe and place it on a table.  Draw the shades and dim the lights.  Then, put a desk lamp to the right of your spherical object and turn it on, adjusting the light so that it hits from the upper right.   This is useful because it’s the same shading as the example on this sheet, making the effect really easy to see and reproduce exactly.

  1. What I like to do is first show the class where the light is brightest on the object. Very lightly, indicate where that area is.  Because your object is spherical, that highlight will be perfectly round in shape.  So, they’ll draw a light circle to indicate the brightest spot, along with you.
  2. Then, show them that the furthest from this spot, the darker their shading will be. Closest to the highlight spot will be very light – about 10% gradient, as previously explained in lesson 3.  I like to start lightest and work my way darker and darker toward the edges of the circle.
  3. Don’t worry about reflected light from the tabletop, or a cast shadow onto the tabletop, at first. Nothing too fancy!  Just shade out to the edges and explain that your gradient is now rounded, not flat.  Every mark they make will be curved, according to the curvature of the surface.  The deepest shadows will form a crescent shaped area furthest from the highlight spot.  Encourage them to “think around” the sphere — run your pencil or a stick along the surface of your object to show what you mean.  If you have a globe, explain that as an airplane would fly around the world, so would the tip of your pencil (as opposed to “flying” in a straight line).
  4. After your demonstration and taking the time to walk around and help them with their work, that’s the time they’re ready to get the handout and start shading the first pre-drawn circle according to the example.

Shading Sphere

Sometimes starting with a pre-drawn circle, and an example to copy, makes all the difference.

For the advanced student, who might find copying the example to be boring and tedious, the same page can be used to try out different light source directions and different shading techniques, like smudging with a finger.  Or they can try stippling (using dots placed closer together and further apart) to create shading.  As an instructor you can use this page whether you have 30 minutes or two hours of teaching time – it can be adjusted to fit your class session by placing it at the end (one hour of practice shading using their own round shapes in their sketchbook) or by attempting the top sphere alone, and assigning the remaining spheres to try at home after class.  Use sphere shading to launch your student’s ability to shade any rounded surface – more on this next month!

Congratulations – you’ve just taught your students a foundational principle of representational, realistic art.  You might have noticed in prior Art History or “art survey” classes some of the qualities of abstraction and realism.  The next time you’re observing some abstract art, look for a light source, and light-dark shading that corresponds with that light source.  (Chances are there won’t be any to find!)  There may be “shading” but not representational shading.  In realistic work (i.e. classical painting, portraiture, etc.) once you start training your eye to look for it you will notice corresponding light sources everywhere you look.  This is another aspect you can explore further with your students in conjunction with this lesson.

Depending on your class you might have some “aha!” moments and I absolutely LIVE for those!  It’s great when you see someone “get it” for the first time.

I’ve attached it as a .pdf so you can print out and use this handout to help you teach.  As usual, if you have any feedback about how your sphere shading class went, I’d be happy to hear…particularly if there’s an “aha!” moment or two. Download Sphere Shading PDF Here

© 2017 Leah Jay | Leah Jay Artworks Creative Commons License

This document, with associated images, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Leah JLeah Jay (Jakusovszky) has been an artist and illustrator in San Jose for 25 years. She creates using a variety of media including watercolor, acrylic, pastel, ink, and collage. Her illustrative work has been featured in many books, and highlights from her career include directing 2001’s WTC Memorial Art Project to facilitate artist’s responses to 9/11 and successfully crowdfunding her artbook “Amphibian Love” to benefit Save the Frogs in 2015.

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Ben Gill
3 years ago

Great tutorial. I’m always on the lookout for new teaching resources and this looks like a winner! Spheres are a tricky one no doubt. Also really nice blog you have here, I’ve been following along in the background for a while now.