What Is Tonal Shading? [Everything You Need to Know]

Have you ever looked at a drawing that was so realistic you had to take a second glance to see if it was a photograph? Drawings such as this are created mostly by utilizing tonal shading. You may be wondering what tonal shading is and how it is essential to creating a realistic-looking piece of artwork.

Tonal shading is a technique that artists use to create depth and dimension when they are drawing an object. It gives an image perspective by showing how the light or lack of light affects the appearance of an object. The direction in which the light is coming will affect how objects are shaded. 

For more detailed information about tonal shading and how it is used, continue reading.

What is Tonal Shading and Why is it Necessary?

There may be 50 shades to Christian Grey but in real life, the average human eye can only detect around 30 shades of grey and those shades are what give a drawing depth and perspective. Without tonal shading, a drawing is simply flat and dimensionless.

For any drawing or painting, regardless of the subject matter or medium tonal shading is a must to create a recgonizable or realistic image.

Whether you are producing fine art, sketching for fun, or creating an image for informative purposes tonal shading is necessary to accurately get your message across.

Tonal shading needs to be done correctly to properly represent the image you are drawing. The direction in which light comes from and the shadows it creates are extremely important to study and practice drawing

The section below talks more about how tonal shading works and how you can become a better artist with some time and practice.

The Difference Between Dark and Light

The first thing you must do is define the light areas from the shadow areas. The best example is to set a ball in the center of a table, shine a light on the ball, and study where the light is and where the shadows lie.

Notice the different tones in the shadows depending upon the intensity of the light. Start to look at the toned areas as individual shapes with each tone being its own shape as a way to help you visualize.

Create a Gradient Reference

Utilizing a value scale can be a very helpful visual aid when first beginning to master the art of tonal shading.

A value scale can easily be created with a sheet of paper and a pencil. Your scale can include as many tones as you like however, a nine-value scale is the best way to get a good gradient so you can see the differences between tones.

To create your own value scale begin by drawing a long rectangle on your paper. Next, draw dividers until you have nine equal sections. Label the sections one thru nine.

Then begin by shading box number one until it is completely black. It is recommended that you then go to the middle of the scale to shade and shade the box using medium pressure to create a lighter shade than the first box.

Next move to the very last section of the box and lightly fill in the box using very little pressure when applying the pencil to the paper. Once those three boxes have been filled in you can then go back to box number two and begin filling in your gradient.

Be sure to apply the appropriate pressure as you are filling in the spaces. Each box will require less pressure as you fill in your value scale.

One Object Affects Another

This means that you need to study how the tone of other nearby objects can affect the way your focal point looks. For example, if you put a grey square on a black background it will not stand out as much as if you place it on a white background.

Reflected light is the light that bounces (is reflected) of other lighter objects in the area. It is important to study how light reflects from one object to another and can change its appearance when moved in different directions.

Study How Light Levels

Every place the light touches has a different effect. It is important to study the different levels of light and how they affect an object. For example, if you are looking at a smooth round object such as an egg, you will notice that there will be different intensities of light.

Keep Your Light Shining In The Right Direction

If composing a drawing with multiple subjects or objects it can be very easy to get off track with your lighting.

To avoid improper shading of the wrong areas it can be helpful to create a light guide as a tool to remind you of the angle and direction the light is shining on the scene. This will help you to keep all tones and shadows consistent and realistic throughout the entire composition.

A light guide can easily be made by using a blank piece of paper. Begin by drawing a small sphere indicating the direction of the light.

Next draw lines indicating how bright the shadows are and where the light is reflecting as a guide. This can be done individually for each figure or object in the scene or as a whole. The more complicated the scene the more helpful a light guide will be.

Life Would Be Flat And Boring Without Tonal Shading

When it comes to tonal shading practice makes perfect. The more you study light and how it reflects and causes shadows the better understanding you will have and the easier it will be to create drawings that are recognizable and realistic looking.