Heather Harding: Looking at Line and Tone

Heather Harding: Looking at Line and Tone

Sketch of Matt

Drawing with line is a bit like telling a good lie. If you think about it, objects or people don’t have lines. They have surfaces and/or edges, but not lines. Yet, when making a line drawing, you’re using line and line only to depict whatever it is you’re looking at. Because you’re relying on line to describe what you’re looking at, it’s very important to pay close attention to the details, as it’s this attention to detail that makes the drawing work.

Take this sketch of Matt, for instance. There’s no shading but there is plenty of detail. I paid particular attention to the area around his eyes, the shapes, folds and creases of skin (he’ll love me saying that!) I used line to describe the character in his face and that’s what makes it work.

Sculpture in the V&A Museum

The drawing here is of a sculpture in the V&A Museum. I used ink on tracing paper (at the time I was thinking of laying the finished drawing over another image) and used only line to create it. There’s no shading in it at all but focusing on getting the shapes and proportions right and using line to describe the form of the chest and legs give it the illusion of being 3-dimensional.

Try this exercise:

Make a line drawing of a plant or flowers. Select a small pot plant, something with a mixture of leaves and flowers like a geranium, a bunch of mixed flowers or, if the weather’s ok, something growing in your garden. Avoid plants like long ferns. Choose something that has interesting edges, petals and veins. Roses are nice to draw but as a beginner you may find a face on view a bit challenging, as roses often have a lot of petals and you can easily lose your place. If you’re going for roses, try drawing the side or back view. Roses may be a little tricky from the front but they have great leaves – lovely jagged edges and veins. Whatever you choose either draw the whole thing or focus in on a particular area you find interesting.

Marragon Lily

Pay close attention to the details. Look at the frilliness of the edges of petals, the folds and creases, the joints where stems meet flower heads or other stems. Look at the shapes and the curves. Notice how and where petals, stems and leaves overlap and also look at the shapes in between (known as negative space). It’s focusing on these details that will make your drawing look 3-dimensional as opposed to flat.

In contrast to line drawing, which relies on attention to detail to make it work, you can add shading, also known as tonal drawing. Adding shading to your drawing will give it more depth. It’s your way of depicting light and dark, showing where the light falls on your subject and where there are shadows.


The most common form of shading is hatching. Where ever you put hatching in your drawing it will make that area look darker or in shadow.

Hatching is where you use rows of straight lines drawn side by side and closely together. Take the quick pen sketch of roses I made recently (notice I’ve focused on the back and side views rather than the fronts). I’ve used simple hatching to show the shadows and darker areas. On the rose heads I’ve placed the lines closely together and made them quite short, whereas on the leaves I’ve drawn them a bit wider apart and longer. This is because I wanted to differentiate between the leaves and the petals; to give them each a different feel.

The pen drawing of the Statue of David, which I drew on a visit to the V&A, uses only a small amount of hatching but is layered more heavily, because I wanted to accentuate particular areas only.

Statue of David

Have a go at some hatching in a sketchbook or on some paper. Just practice to begin with. Vary the lines, making them long or short. Place them closely together and then see what effect you get when you place them further apart.

Try this exercise:

Choose your own subject to draw. If you want to select another plant or flowers, that’s great. If you fancy doing something completely different I can highly recommend drawing a shoe! Shoes are great as you have an interesting set of shapes to tackle, especially if laces are involved, shadows on the inside of the shoe and heel, as well as the texture of the upper material. Use simple hatched lines to create your darker areas and leave the areas where the light falls empty so the white of the paper will appear as the highlights.

Cross-hatching is a move on from hatching. You create a set of hatched lines and then draw a 2nd set of lines across them, running in the opposite direction. To create darker areas, you simply add more layers of hatching.

Portrait in Red Pencil

Practice in your sketchbook or on some paper. Try drawing your cross-hatched lines very closely together and then more widely apart.

This portrait in red pencil was drawn from a life model almost completely using cross-hatching. I left areas completely blank to show where the light hit the models face and neck. I layered the hatching in some areas to add movement to her hair and to pick out the features in her face.

Contour hatching – this is a variation of both types of hatching but instead of using straight lines you use curved lines. This is a very good way to work if you’re drawing curved objects like pots or fruit. You can darken areas in exactly the same way, by adding more and more layers of hatching.

Try this exercise:

Draw your hand. If you’re right handed, place your left hand out in front of you. If you’re left handed then draw your right. Place the side of your hand on the table so your fingers curl a bit. Now draw your hand, focusing on the shapes your fingers are making. Notice where they overlap each other. Look at where the lightest areas are and leave those blank so the white of your paper becomes the highlights and use either hatching, cross hatching or contour hatching to describe the areas of shading.


As well as using shading to add depth to your drawing, think about other marks you can make to describe details or textures. You can add dots, dashes and all manner of marks to do this.

This sycamore drawing was made using a fineliner (I really love using a pen to draw). I’ve used line, hatching, cross matching and little dots to show the texture in the leaves.

Stone Arch

The detail in this stone arch was made using hatching – sometimes loose and scribbly – contour hatching and wiggly lines to show the texture of some of the stone carving.

Try this last exercise:

Go to a local church or building that has some architectural interest. Take a sketchbook and pen or pencil with you. Make some quick sketches of details you like. It could be a stone arch, sculptures or wall carvings or wrought iron work. Work quickly and focus on ways to portray the detail you see. Don’t worry too much about making mistakes or being perfect. Look at the details from different angles. You’ll end up with some lovely pages in your sketchbook and this kind of practice will give you more confidence and improve your drawing skills no end.

I really recommend having a sketchbook small enough to carry round in your coat pocket or a bag, together with a drawing pen or pencil. Then you can pull it out and make quick sketches whenever and wherever you see something that interests you.


Browse WHSmith’s selection of Art and Craft materials for the right tools to get started

Heather Harding

Heather Harding – Art, Crafts, Textiles & Fashion I love drawing, painting, printing and textiles. I’m a very instinctive person, always wanting to reach out and touch, taste or sniff things! I’m drawn to images and textures, constantly staring at colours, imagining drawing or painting things in my head when I’m out and about. I’m a terrible hoarder really, always collecting things because I like their shapes, texture or colour – pebbles, bits of wood, patterns off packets, bits of fabric, leaves when they’re changing colour, articles on art, interiors and fashion.

I’m in and out of art galleries a lot, poring over books and researching artists on the internet that I’ve just come across. I don’t have an all time favourite artist, there are far too many to like, it’s more ‘flavour of the month’ with me. My favourite drawing at the moment is “Poldi” by Egon Schiele.

My proudest moment? Making it through 6,500 amateur artists to be selected to take part in BBC1’s The Big Painting Challenge which aired earlier this year. It was a fantastic achievement, great fun and intensely nerve-wracking all at the same time. I made it through 3 episodes before going out. Painting Blenheim Palace did me in. It was too big and so many columns! I didn’t warm to it at all and had a bad painting day with that one, although my other challenges were fine. My friends and family all think I was robbed, being kicked off at that stage. Bless ’em. (I agree!!!).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *