How do I choose the right paper for graphite pencils?
The selection of paper for shading techniques is influenced by the type of pencil used, the degree of darkness desired, the shading technique used, and the expression of the shading technique desired.
The key is to select a paper surface (medium or smooth) based upon the effects you’re looking to achieve. As a general rule, a medium or textured surface will be able to produce a more even, luminescent shade than a smooth surface.
Scroll to the bottom of this post to download a printable practice shading chart. Try printing it on a variety of drawing surfaces so you can experiement with each technique on different textures.
Graphite pencils are created by mixing and grinding graphite and clay together, then encasing them in wood. The proportion of graphite to clay mixture determines the hardness of the pencil and degree of darkness of the pencil mark. They are available in hardness from 9H (hardest) to 9B (softest). Softer grades produce broader and darker strokes and harder grades produce more precise and lighter strokes. H stands for Hardness, B stands for Black. There is also a pencil designation of F, for Fine Line. F is in-between B and H.
Shading is the technique of building tone through specific types of pencil applications. There are 4 basic types of shading techniques..
Hatching: Creating dark value (shades) by application of parallel lines. The closer together the lines the more even the resulting shade.
Crosshatching: Creating shades through a series of intersecting lines. The intersecting lines crisscross each other at various angles. The lines can be straight, scribbled or circular.
Stumping: Creating shades by “smudging” the applied shade. This is done by pressing and smearing the applied graphite with your finger, a soft cloth or a “stump”.
Stippling: Creating shades through a series of dots. Building up more dots closer together results in darker shading.
How to Shade
- Hold the pencil at approximately a 45º angle. Shading is done with the side of the pencil tip.
- You can move the pencil with your shoulder or wrist. Each produces different types of marks. Moving the pencil with your elbow and shoulder produces larger strokes that may be more expressive. This approach is usually used with large-scale drawings. Moving the pencil with your wrist produces smaller strokes that are less expressive. This approach is usually used for smaller-scale drawings.
- The harder you press during shading the darker the mark produced and the darker the shade. The softer the pencil grade, the darker the mark.
How to produce an even shade
- Start with a light pressure and increase pressure of application as you proceed in overlapping pencil strokes.
- Apply strokes in various overlapping angles and strokes. By overlapping at several different angles and directions the resulting shade will be more even with greater luminosity.
Textured vs Smooth Surface Paper
The smoother the paper grain the more difficult it will be to produce an even shade. Smooth paper surface cannot produce as great a range of tone (shade) as textured surface papers. Textured paper surfaces are usually chosen for shading as the texture of the paper makes shading easier and produces a greater range of tone that can be more evenly applied.
Smooth Surface Paper
It is difficult to shade evenly on smooth paper without using the Stump Technique. Smooth paper does not have the peaks (ridges) and valleys of a textured paper. This makes even, subtle shading difficult.
- Use a soft grade pencil – 2B and softer.
- Create desired shade.
- Use Stump Technique (smudging) to create even shade.
- Variation: On a scrap piece of paper apply soft pencil until shade is black. Rub finger, cloth or stump into the black shade. Then apply with your finger, cloth or stump directly to drawing paper surface. This will produce an even shade on smooth paper.
Textured paper surface should be thought of as being a 3-Dimensional surface, with peaks and valleys, not unlike a mountain chain. To achieve an even shade it is necessary to surround the peaks (paper texture) with graphite from all angles. This not only produces an even shade, but it is easier to achieve and has greater depth of tone.
The harder you press and the softer the graphite pencil the deeper you will go into the grain (valley) of the paper, producing a darker and darker shade. If a softer shade is desired, you can use the stump technique over the area you have shaded.
The visual difference between direct shading and stump (smudging) shading, is that the tone produced by the stump technique will be generally smoother and more even, but it will have less luminosity, since you are pressing the graphite into the grain (valley) of the paper surface.
Strathmore Textured Papers
The higher the grade of textured paper surfaces the deeper and more even the resulting shading will be. While all Strathmore Series – 200, 300, 400 and 500 will produce even, deep, luminescent shades, the 500 papers will produce the richest and deepest shade.
Strathmore Medium Surface Drawing Paper
Even, medium textured surface. Random surface produces subtle, rich shades that are expressive with great luminosity and sensitivity.
Click here to see all of our Drawing papers
Strathmore Bristol Vellum
Medium textured, random surface that is slightly more pronounced, (peaks and valleys slightly further apart than drawing paper), enabling paper to handle very soft graphite pencils.Produces shades that are extremely expressive, but not as sensitive as Strathmore medium surface drawing paper.
Click here to see all of our Bristol papers
Strathmore Charcoal Paper
Traditional “laid” finish. Produces shades that reflect the “mechanical” pattern of the laid finish surface.
Click here to see all of our Charcoal papers
Strathmore Pastel Paper
Deeper, medium textured surface. More pronounced peaks and valleys that are closer together than Bristol Vellum surface. Able to hold softer pencil applications without clogging.
Click here to see our Pastel papers
Strathmore Mixed Media Paper
Even, medium textured surface. This specialty paper has the attributes of a watercolor paper and handles wet media beautifully, but has a vellum drawing finish.
Click here to see our Mixed Media papers
Strathmnore Illustration Board & Illustration Board for Wet Media Vellum Surface
A soft vellum surface. The random texture is ideal for sublte and even shading.
Strathmore Smooth Papers
Strathmore 500 Series Plate Drawing or Plate Bristol papers are our very smoothest. The smoother the paper, the more difficult it can be to produce an even shade.
Smoother surfaces are ideal for thin line applications, mechanical pencils, and pen & ink. Some of our smooth surfaced papers include:
Download our free printable practice shading chart below. Print this chart on a variety of textured papers trimmed to 8.5x11 to practice each technique and see how they differ on each paper: