Draw large areas in seamless sections. Draw complex areas one small section at a time. This video comprehensively covers the drawing of tapered lines - why you should use them, and how to form them. Mike explains, in easy to understand ways, how to teach your hand to draw lines with tapers on one and both ends. A four-stage exercise will help you explore your new-found technique - and expose any faults!


The problems of blunt-ended pencil shading

Blunt-ended shading

Mike explains the inherent disadvantages of using blunt-ended, or zig-zag, shading. Banish unnatural blunt ends from your shading and teach yourself, with Mike's help, to draw tapered lines.
How to taper lines for seamless pencil shading

Seamless shading

Mike explains the fundamental mechanics of tapered lines that lead to the drawing of seamless shading.
Blunt-ended versus Tapered pencil lines

Blunt v Tapered lines

Mike shows two similar drawings and explains why one (with blunt ends) looks rough and unnatural and the other has flowing lines and smooth three-dimensional form.
The 3-step approach to drawing tapered pencil lines

3-steps to tapered lines

Drawing tapered lines is a three-step process: a beginning, middle, and end. Practice each individually. Avoid the frustration of trying to taper both ends before your hand has learned what you want it to do.
How to train your hand to effortlessly draw tapered pencil lines

Training your hand

Magicians call their sleight of hand "muscle memory". Just like magicians, you learn by practice until your hand draws tapered lines without conscious thought.
Demonstration of seamless graphite pencil shading


A simple demonstration of seamless, tapered line, shading. Mike shows you how to lay down an area of solid tone, and then a second adjacent area that flows seamlessly into the first. Suddenly, shading large areas has become so much simpler!
A 4-stage Exercise - tapering lines with multiple pencil grades


Try out your new-found technique using multiple grades. Mike walks you through an exercise that only needs a taper on one end of each line.
Tapered lines - Common faults and the solutions

Faults and solutions

Mike stops you during the exercise to make sure you're not making one of the three most common errors. He explains why the errors arise and the solutions.
Exposing faults in tapered pencil lines by blending

Exposing the faults

The final result of the exercise is blended to expose any faults in your shading - and discovering there are faults is, without a doubt, the first step to improving your shading.

Watch the 2-minute PREVIEW:

Tapered Lines
Duration :
9½ mins
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Tapered lines are now so easy and really smoothed out my shading after watching this video.
Really useful - thanks!


When you shade large areas, the shading will inevitably need to be carried out in sections, and that presents problems. For example, if all your lines just stop there will be a visible hard edge down your paper. And adjacent shading will overlap that edge and create a double layer of graphite, rendering it even more noticeable. The solution is tapered lines.

First, varying the length of the lines helps to prevent a visible edge, but to banish it completely, taper - feather - the ends of all your lines so they fade to white. You do that by gently lifting your pencil clear at the end of each line. Adjacent shading now joins seamlessly. Tapered lines are invaluable for seamless shading.

Shading without them creates unnatural edges and ugly dark marks. But when tapered lines are used, the result is splendid smooth shading and an enhanced sense of reality.

As I mentioned, often some sections of a drawing are too expansive to shade in a single operation. This sky, for example. By tapering the lines and staggering the ends, I can shade in sections that seamlessly flow into each other. This sky was also lightly blended to remove all traces of line. But within the tree and the old fence rails and posts, line played a major part. All those were drawn in sections too. However, here values were allowed to differ between sections to suggest decay and age.

Practice tapered lines. You need to. I could argue that every line you draw should be tapered - and at both ends. It's fundamentally important to drawing realistically. You need to practice until drawing tapered lines becomes second-nature. There's nothing quick or uncontrolled about drawing tapered lines. It's not a quick flick. It's a very deliberate movement with a rhythm. Treat the line as being in three parts. I think of it as being like landing a light aircraft on the runway - taxiing along it - and then smoothly taking off again.

Let's take those three steps. STEP 1: Don't just place your pencil on your paper - land the aircraft. Swing your pencil down to form the taper, which only needs to be very short. STEP 2: Taxi along the runway. Draw your line just as you've always done. Take your time. There's no need to hurry. STEP 3: Take off again. As you approach the end of the line, gradually decrease the pressure, or weight, until your pencil leaves the paper.

Practice tapering in as many ways as you can. This is something to be learned. That is, you have to teach your brain what you want your hand to do. Magicians know all about this. We call it sleight-of-hand, they call it Muscle Memory, because they know only constant practice will perfect the movement.

When you're reasonably comfortable with the start and end tapers, draw straight lines, curbed lines, long and short lines - every line you can think of. Don't make life difficult. Start by tapering only the beginning of the lines, and when you're happy with that, taper only the ends. Now try both ends. And then teach yourself to do it in every direction. I cannot stress how important this skill is. It really is fundamental to good drawing. For example, it only needs one blunt end in hair to damage the overall sense of reality. Unless it's been cut, no hair ever just stops dead. And no gap between hairs ever begins or finishes with a square end.

Now let's put it into practice. Remember the blunt-ends/double-graphite problem? Let's try that again but using tapered lines. The basic technique is this: a line with a taper, and a line coming back to meet it so its end taper overlaps the other one's taper.

Now let's try an area. To keep it simple I'll just taper one end. I'll stagger the lengths too, so there's no obvious line down the paper. Now shade back to overlap tapers over tapers. The result: seamless shading. You've still drawn graphite over graphite, but a taper over a taper is a single solid line.

Now let's take that stage further and use multiple grade - more of an actual drawing situation. And this exercise will show you how successful your tapering is - or isn't! Draw a box about 1 inch (2.5cm) square. There are four stages. STAGE 1: Begin with a 2B with some weight from the top right-hand corner, or top left if you're left-handed. Don't draw fast and lose control. There's never any need for speed. Now stop and look for errors. The three most common are:
  • Blunt ends
  • Hooked ends. These occur when you try to return to the beginning without finishing the taper. Don't work too quickly!
  • Zigzag shading. This is worse than blunt ends, because you now have blunt ends with double graphite.
STAGE 2: Shade half way across to the bottom left, again from the top right, and use an HB so you burnish the 2B. That will smooth it and remove any white holes. STAGE 3: Now shade three-quarters across to the bottom left corner, again from the top right corner, and this time use a 2H. STAGE 4: Now blend the result, but never blend with your fingers. The natural oil in your skin will leave fingerprints that, like forensic dusting powder, graphite will indelibly stick to - and there's no fix for that!

I use toilet tissue or kitchen paper wrapped around my finger. Kitchen paper absorbs less graphite, but toilet tissue gives a smoother finish, so I'll use that this time. Blend dark to light in tight circular arcs, and avoid the top right corner to preserve your darkest value. Blending will remove graphite. And use a light touch.You're redistributing graphite, not pushing it into the paper.

When you've finished blending, if you've left any blunt ends or hooked ends they'll now be visible, because blending cannot remove them. In fact, blending will increase their visibility.

So now you know the secrets of seamless shading, and you can break any area down into easily manageable sections - such as this wood. It takes practice, but if there's one drawing skill you'll always be grateful you taught yourself... the tapered line is it.

© copyright: Mike Sibley 2018

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