Some time ago, I decided I wanted to get a handle on cross-hatching, but when I searched the interwebs for a tutorial to help me along, I felt more at sea than a guy trying to cross the Atlantic in a rowboat made of Snickers wrappers and stale bread. Yes, there are lots of articles that show the different sorts of lines artists make, but what about the bigger questions, like “how do I know where to put the lines?” and “how do I know where not to put the lines?” and “what if I make bad lines and look like a jackwagon?” This tutorial aims to help you through all of those crises, so grab a pencil (and an eraser, if you like), and let’s go!
To start, I’ll define hatching as “making a variety of marks to add dimension, shading, and interest to your work.” But what does that really mean?
The goal of representational drawing, as my husband recently reminded me, is to create the illusion of three dimensions on a flat piece of paper. Look at this example of striped socks drawn in three different ways on Cindy’s paper doll, which we published a couple of weeks ago:
The stripes drawn with straight lines don’t look right, because three-dimensional legs aren’t flat; they have curves. Stripes running across curved legs should be drawn with curved lines. Add in some basic hatching – done either with lines (on the left leg) or with dots (on the right ) – and suddenly, the curved, three-dimensional legs are interacting with light, which makes them look still more convincing.
That’s why I say that hatching adds dimension and shading (or put another way, the suggestion of light and shadow). As for visual interest, I don’t think there’s any contest. Of the three pairs, the socks on the right are the most interesting to look at.
Making the Marks
Hatching can be done in a wide variety of ways. The most traditional explanation looks like this, although you’ll probably want a thinner pen than the one I’m using (thin pen marks don’t scan well):
The truth is, however, that you can use dots, Vs, and lines going in all directions. That leads me to my next point: There is no single “correct” type of mark to make in any given situation, which means you can relax about getting it “wrong.” More lines, dots, or Vs indicate darker areas of shadow, while fewer indicate lighter areas. That’s your basic guideline!
Placing the Marks
Since cross-hatching indicates shadow, placing your marks means knowing the location and nature of your light source. In this portrait, for example, there is a large, diffuse light source, which results in soft shadows:
In contrast, here’s an example of a harder and more focused light, which produces darker shadows:
If you are drawing from life or from reference photos, the lighting decisions have been made for you. If you’re pulling from your imagination, you can pretty well put the light wherever you want it. Hatching then helps you demarcate areas the shadows created by your light source as it hits a body or object. Here, for example, you can see a strong side light (on the left), along with a more diffuse and centralized light:
Used in a finished drawing, it looks even cooler:
As an exercise, look up a favorite actor in IMDB and study the lighting in different publicity and portfolio shots. You can practice drawing and cross-hatching at the same time by drawing those photos, or you can print this sheet and practice different types of marks and lighting scenarios there. Spend an hour practicing, and you’ll be both significantly better and more confident! (To print, click on the image, then click again and select “File / Print” on your browser.)
Cross-Hatching as an Element of Style
One final note: Cross-hatching doesn’t fit every type of drawing. Cartoon characters, for example, don’t feature cross-hatching. If you Google “The Jetsons” and look at the images, I doubt you’ll find even a single instance.
That said, for many of us, cross-hatching adds not only visual interest but also a degree of sophistication to our work. Over time, it becomes an integral part of a recognizable personal style. Take a look at this draft drawing of mine, prompted by #49 our list of 100 Things to Draw When You Are Bored: Bigger isn’t always better:
If you’re familiar with Cindy’s and Sarah’s styles, you will perhaps join me in being amazed at the way that my drawing almost looks like their work, simply because they hatched it!
Here was my final version of the drawing, with my own hatching:
Now you have examples of three different approaches to cross-hatching the same image. Although Cindy obviously has the most technical training when it comes to cross-hatching, you don’t have to be her – or have her level of talent and experience – to improve your drawings with the addition of dimension, shading, and visual interest. You can practice on our drawings or your own, but either way, practice!
The great thing about practicing is not only that you’ll improve, but also that you can submit any drawing you make using this tutorial to our monthly contest – and the same is true for Cindy’s body proportions tutorial and her facial proportions tutorial. You can check out the contest rules HERE. The prize, meanwhile, is this!
For a shot at winning, you have until March 31 at 11:59 PM to post your entries in to our FLICKR group, so get to drawing!