Fundamentals of Art, Lesson 5.0


Last time I helped show you how to teach your students (or yourself) how to shade a sphere.  You can use sphere shading to launch your student’s ability to shade any rounded surface.  Once you can shade a rounded surface, shading something like a cube is amazingly simple by comparison.

This lesson is all about showing the kids how to shade various three dimensional shapes…not telling them how.  Show, don’t tell.  Make sure you’re able to confidently shade a CUBE, PYRAMID, CONE, and various CYLINDERS including short (soup can) and long (tube). If you can’t do this yourself, or if it takes you a long time, have examples ready to show.

Shading Shapes

  1. IMAGINE THE PHOTONS! Again, you’ll show them where the light source is coming from.  Very lightly, indicate where the light direction is on your example with arrows.  Because your object is not spherical, that highlight will be perfectly round in shape.  At this point I usually say “Imagine the Photons!” Literally pretend you can see photons (light particles) shooting out of the light and striking the object.  Where are the photons hitting?  (highlight) Where are they hitting the most?  Where are they hitting the least? (shadows) What areas are completely hidden from the photons? (darkest areas) Remember: Photons always travel in a straight line.  Photons are always consistent.  Photons always follow the rules.

Shading Shapes

  1. SHADING FOLLOWS THE SHAPE OF THE OBJECT. Just as in the last lesson, your pencil marks will be rounded for round shapes, and straight for flat shapes.  The perfect example of this is the CONE. Show them that the pencil moves straight across the flat bottom (the ellipse).  Then, to shade the curved cone part, your pencil strokes will echo the ellipse edge.  I like to show an object (like a cup or vase) and then literally run my pencil around it horizontally.  Can they do it another way if they want?  Sure, but show them the difference in effect.  Have them try it for themselves (see my cylinder examples here – which one looks more realistic?) Remind them that the goal here is to make it as realistic as possible – you want the drawing to “pop” right off the page, right?

Shading Shapes

  1. ADVANCED MOVES: CAST SHADOWS. For the older or more practiced student, they can draw a light horizontal line behind their shape (bam – instant surface!) Then, have them try casting a shadow on the darkest side of the form.  Remember the surface is flat, not diagonal, and not rounded.  The cast shadow is smaller, flatter, and more skewed than you think.  Again, show them using examples.  Even if they copy it, they will learn experientially from this.
  2. ADVANCED MOVES: NO LINES. For the student that strives for true realism, let them in on a little hint: Nothing has outlines in reality.   If they don’t believe you, ask them to observe something like a table or chair, right in front of them.  “Where are the outlines that follow the object?  If this were a photo, with instructions “Cut out this chair” then where would you put your scissors?”  This realization can sometimes be an a-hah! moment for them.  Then, panic.  I’ve been drawing things by drawing their outlines for my entire life!  How do I draw these shapes now?  Relax, it’s easy.  Indicate your object using very light construction lines.  When you complete your shading, resist the temptation to redraw those outlines, and they will disappear.  The change in values (not cartoonish outlines) will indicate where the form ends, and empty space begins.   If the part of the object is white (the color of the paper) then shade lightly outside that part.  The highlighted side of the object will now “pop” forward.

Ask your student/students to come up with forms to shade that you haven’t thought of.  Ask them to wind their tubes around in different ways.  Get them used to changing their light sources around = if they always put their light on the left, have them switch to the right.

Spheres are actually the most difficult geometric form to shade.  Now, the other forms will seem far easier by comparison.  After learning how to shade like this, it opens up so many more artistic possibilities!

If you liked this post check out the first four Fundamentals of Art articles

© 2018 Leah Jay |

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.

We would love to hear what you think - Leave a reply

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments