Graphite Pencil drawing: Advice on shading

Hello, everyone. I’m seeking some advice on my shading and the tones I am currently applying in my drawing. I’m working from a black and white publicity photo that offers quite a bit of detail on both sides of his face. The light is primarily coming from his right side but the left is not significantly darker. I’m just beginning to work on the hair, which is the darkest part of the portrait, and wonder if it’s better advised to work on the darkest part first and then to go back to the left side of his face to darken it up a bit for more contrast to the right. I’d also welcome a critique of my facial feature proportions as well as the over all facial proportions. To give you an idea of my background, this is what I consider one of my best works so far in my 5 years of community college drawing and life drawing classes. Where I live now there are no classes and, hence, I welcome input as I am open to learning. Thank you.

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Greetings Katherine!

I am thrilled to see that you chose to share an effort with our critique corner. I am also very pleased that I absolutely recognize the subject of your drawing, the late Chadwick Boseman. I would think that my recognition is a testament to your drawing skill as the subject was immediately recognized. Cold(ish) critiques (which means critiques without an agreed-upon rubric) of any work can be rather difficult as I must assume a great deal. However, since you did introduce some aspects of your focus (specifically value/contrast) I would like to offer something that may help.

Very often, representational work can seem incredibly difficult. One of the big reasons for that perception is that our concepts about what something “is” can overwhelm the types of observations that we are trying to make, For example, take for example the scleras in a portrait (what we colloquially call the white of the eyes.) These areas are almost never bright white—yet it is very common to see this in drawings. In addition, we tend to enlarge our eyes overall due to just how much information we garner from the eyes of another in conversation or other engagement. We also tend to overshoot the application of hard lines in an effort to emphasize where one thing “ends” and another “begins”, etc… These are all conceptual issues that invade our process that can observational representationalism a real challenge.

But let’s just focus on general contrast as you mentioned the hair, asking if you should start with the darkest dark in a drawing like this. The short answer is yes. I often establish those anchors in the beginning (darkest dark, lightest light, highest chroma (in painting) and go from there. Each mark we make establishes a context by which we judge everything else. Having the first few blocks of the context be super reliable is an absolute game-changer in subsequent judgments throughout the work.

If you were sitting in my studio right now, and I knew that your goal was to get closer to the representation of Mr. Boseman that you are (I assume) using as a reference, I would walk you through a process of darkening much of it–something like this:

Here is a closeup of your drawing with two sample circles from the last image in the above progression so you can see just how much darker that right side can be.

So this is where I would focus if your goal is something akin to my assumptions.

I hope this is helpful! :smile:

Oh, my, Mr. Waichulis. I am so honored that you recognized the subject of my drawing and have replied with such a generous amount of helpful information. I understand the role perception plays in our work; and yet, I’ve not used that as a consideration in my efforts. Your explanation of the size of the eyes in particular helped me to review my submission with a better comparison to my reference photo.

Shading has always been my nemesis and my past instructor (for five years) had been encouraging me to break away from my tendency to avoid delving into the darker areas first. I’ve always been concerned that there’s no eraser effective enough to remove those dark marks once I’ve placed them there. But your examples here of the process of darkening explains the gradual working of the shading and the building up of the darker areas as they compare to the lighter ones. What was especially helpful was the example with the two circles. I can see how my perception of “dark” has been hampered by my unwillingness to experiment with it.

I will take this information to the easel and begin work on this process.

And thank you for sharing your expertise as though I were fortunate enough to be sitting in your classroom,


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It was truly my pleasure Katherine! Again, thank you for sharing your work here. I look forward to seeing your continued progress!!!

:heart: :smiley:

Hello, Mr. Waichulis,

I’m working at my shading and would appreciate it if you could take a peek at it to offer some feedback. As I’ve said previously, I have an inclination not to go very dark; but in this case, I may have gone too dark on the left side of his face. I feel I could make the hair darker, for sure, and will work towards that, as well as his sideburns and small beard. I made an attempt at lightening the deep lines around his left eye and I feel I blended a bit too much in that area, making the shades too uniform. Any thoughts?

Again, thank you for taking time to review my work. It means a great deal to me and has re-energized my passion for my work.

I look forward to hearing from you,


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Hi @KatherineC , One thing that I would also recommend is to use a softer pencil to achieve your darks. I was an HB and HB only kinda guy in college. Darker meant pressing harder which really just destroys your surface. Try at least a 2B until you get more comfortable psychologically with darker. It’s a matter of getting past the fear of not being able to erase something that keeps us from matching the value sometimes. So HB is great to use if that’s a comfort zone, but after you’ve really looked at your piece and reference and made your accuracy adjustments then go for it with a softer pencil and start working on your values. The squint technique is perfect for this. And never limit yourself by thinking that you’re not good enough. You already are, you just have to mentally give yourself permission to be as good as you want. This is often the part of leaning that most of us don’t focus on. Hope I wasn’t repetitive of anything Anthony said and that I made sense and was helpful.

Cheers, Mark

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Thank you, Mark, for your kind reply. Unfortunately, for me, I WAS using a 2B pencil! LOL! I typically use H pencils for the light lines in the whites of the eyes or on highlights. But thank you for sharing this. I especially appreciate your comments about limiting myself and giving myself permission to be as good as I want. For a while, I’d stopped drawing because I couldn’t find classes in my new hometown. Then someone said that with the skills I already demonstrated, I just needed to keep drawing. And that’s why I’m here. Because someone like you, took the time to care.


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Good morning Katherine!!!

I’m so sorry I couldn’t get to this sooner, but I was determined to wrap up that latest painting, so I let much of my correspondence go unanswered for a few days.

Your pushing of the darks here is SOOOOO much better. The differences (or contrasts) that you are pushing between the lights and darks is a big step in the right direction where such representations are concerned. If you feel you may have gone too dark in an area, as you mentioned, consider this before you remove material: check that the context around said the area is “dark enough.” Many times, artists will keep themselves in an “under-modeled” realm in which the darkest darks are not established as usefully as they can be—with resulting judgments leading to applied values looking non-committal at best.

Before you change anything—make that hair dark as you already stated. THEN, see if the slightly lighter darks next to it are “dark enough.” Continue in this way until you get to the light regions that you currently think may be too dark—and you might find you are not that dark at all (in a more developed context.)

When I work, I engage in a good deal of dynamic squinting. This is different than the traditional method of squinting to see general light-dark patterns better. It helps me to evaluate certain values in their respective context more effectvely. You can read about it in this entry here:

Looking forward to seeing more Katherine!!!