Hyper Real Skull Study in Pencil – Shading in the Background

In this session we will just be focusing on the background – shading it all in and darkening the shadow cast by the skull to make it start to pop off the page.

  • Using a soft leaded but sharp pencil, lightly shade in the background.
  • Try to keep your tone even.
  • An easy way to do this is to work in several lighter passes, rather than trying to go as dark as you can straight away.
  • If you see any light patches, just make them a bit darker to match the rest and eventually you will have a fairly smooth and darker background tone.
  • After you’ve added the general background tone, you can start to darken the cast shadow below the skull.
  • This will need to go as dark as possible right under the bottom of the skull, to help make the form pop off the background.
  • You can also start to soften the transition between this darker shadow and the rest of the background.
  • Remember! The further away the cast shadow is from an object the softer it will be (the technical term for this is ‘penumbra’).
  • That’s it! Your background is now blacked in and you can start working on the shadows in the skull.

The materials you will need for this course are:

  • Paper
  • Range of pencils (H, HB, B, 2B) – ideally a few mechanical pencils as well as regular ones.
  • Kneadable eraser

You can download the source image for the series here:


Hyper Real Skull Study in Pencil – Getting Started

This 5 part series will teach you how to draw a hyper realistic skull in pencil. You will be introduced to a range of concepts and techniques that will help you to draw more convincing representational drawings.

The materials you will need for this course are:

  • Paper
  • Range of pencils (H, HB, B, 2B) – ideally a few mechanical pencils as well as regular ones.
  • Kneadable eraser

You can download the source image for the series here:


  1. Start by loosely sketching a general oval shape for the whole skull using a soft pencil (2B or B).
  1. Then use a few simple lines to place the major forms within the skull; browline, jawbone and nose.
  1. Once the general proportions are correct, you can begin finding the shadow shapes (parts of the skull that aren’t being hit by direct light) and shade them in.
  2. Make sure you pay attention to the foreshortening in the skull as the main part of the head appears quite large because it is closer to use than the lower portion (jawbone etc.).
  1. Finally, once all the shadow shapes are in place and you’re happy with them, you can put in a darker shadow behind the skull. This will start to make it pop off the surface of the paper.

Task 3: Charcoal Forms

Learning to Draw: TASK 3

You can use a range of Charcoal equipment, but I like for this task to look at the effects I can get using the blocks of Charcoal! They create such dark effects and so you can achieve eye popping results due to the tonal range you can create.

Charcoal pencils are great too…but the skills you are learning from using Graphite are being utilised again. The reason I like to encourage students to grab the blocks is to widen their experience and knowledge of alternatives. So, come out of your comfort zone and grab a compressed charcoal block for this task 🙂


Other Equipment that is useful:

Putter rubber / kneaded eraser is crucial for the technique I will show in my next video (Facebook live tutorial). Willow sticks are nice but more light and good for midtones… the break easy and smudge easy too- this is good for some effects but the block you will get a solid black covering.

White charcoal, or even a white chalk stick, is great for making highlights when using midtone paper- I will be! Creating a stark tonal range, and again, making that eye popping result.

So, the paper… Brown parcel paper is what I use in my demonstrations. I really love this paper as it is textured, providing a rougher surface to work on. This holds powder media really well and allows for harsh mark making. It can be cut to any length when bought on a roll, so it adds to your flexibility of what you can create. White paper usually is set to one size and when working in a sketchbook it can restrict creativity sometimes.

For this task, I will go big! I want to work on nothing less than A3 for sample and produce a final outcome around A1 size…don’t be daunted by this, it is great and much easier to do when you have blocks of media to spread all over the surface in no time at all 🙂

The Task

For this task you are continuing your skill building with using tone. By using Charcoal this time, you will not only be trialling a new medium, you will also be using much darker tones and testing how you see tones in these forms.

You first need to add the tonal scale to the universal forms; Cube, Cylinder, Sphere and Cone. This allows you to understand the range of forms you will encounter when taking on a still life observation in the future. If you can shade these 4 forms, it is commonly thought you can apply tone to any object you may want to draw 🙂

You may wish to use your own photography and still life compositions to further explore adding tone to your art. Check out the resource for inspiration and guidance;

charcoal practice

Also, see me in this quick demo to see how to use charcoal in different ways 🙂


I will be on Facebook soon giving another tutorial using this great media! Look forward to seeing you there 🙂



Join our Facebook Group for LIVE lessons and friendly art community – see you there:)

Creating Exciting Landscapes from Imagination

This exercise is an extension of the previous lesson that covered thumbnail sketching from imagination. This time we will be following a similar process but we’ll be working to a slightly larger scale which will allow for more detail.


  • Charcoal
  • White Chalk
  • Eraser
  • Toned Paper
  • Start by lightly sketching in a medium sized box (about 15-20 cms wide).
  • Then place a horizon or hill line to separate the sky from the land.
  • Add any features that you want.
  • I add some trees on the left and a winding river shape in the bottom of the valley.
  • Then start massing in tones in the darker parts of the landscape.
  • Once the dark tones are sketched in, add the lighter tones.
  • I added a large bank of clouds on the right, starting with a line for the left hand edge that describes their shape.
  • Using this basis, you can start to elaborate, deepening the tones and developing the lighter forms with chalk.
  • Keep gradually adding detail until you are happy with the result!

Sketching Landscape Thumbnails from Imagination

In this lesson, we will be making small, quick thumbnail sketches of landscapes from imagination. Starting with basic gestural lines before adding light and dark masses of tone to flesh out the scene.


  • Toned paper
  • Graphite Pencils
  • White chalk pencil (or white pen)
  • Eraser
  • Begin by drawing a set of different shaped boxes.
  • They can be square or rectangular – whatever you like.
  • The more varied their shapes are the better.
  • Make them no larger than about 5-8cms at their longest edge.
  • Begin with a horizon line, this will separate the land from the sky.
  • If you want to give the impression of hills. the horizon will be blocked or maybe curved.
  • Then add some features, this may include winding paths, rivers, trees or clouds etc.
  • Decide the direction of light from the sun and begin shading the land in accordingly.
  • If the land or feature is facing towards the light, it will be light, if it faces away, it will be darker.
  • Trees are usually darker than grass as well.
  • Once you have added darker tones, you can use the white chalk or pen to add the lighter tones.
  • Usually the lightest tones will be the sky or clouds and reflections of the sky and clouds in water.
  • Finally, spend as long as you like adding gradients and detail to your sketch.
  • Try to get a strong sense of luminous light if possible!