Hatching – how to use parallel, contour and crosshatching for life drawing + exercises (video)

It’s best to view the video since you can see the demonstrations, but we’ve also written it out as an article below if you prefer.

Here is the file you can download to practise Raphael hatching (right click and ‘save link as…’). If you haven’t already, consider signing up to our awesome newsletter below, for great tips about life drawing every few weeks in your inbox.

We love hatching. It’s not just a way to shade but also can add extra information about the form of the figure and inject energy to a drawing. Good hatching can make the viewer feel like they’re in the hands of a master.

In this article, we are going to quickly go over different types of hatching and their roles, then we are going to go through a set of exercises to help you improve your hatching. We are going to use this drawing but we have erased Raphael’s original hatching with Photoshop and will redo it as an exercise, we’ll look at some drawings by Mayko and also some examples from some artists on Instagram who use hatching to great effect – Chris Glib @ChrisGlibArt and Nick aka @madeinhammersmith.

Types of hatching

Single, parallel hatching

In some ways the simplest type of hatching – it’s one I really like because it’s very clean and tidy. Tone is created with uniform parallel lines – you can just vary the density of the lines and / or the thickness of the lines to create darker or lighter areas.

The lines can all go in the same direction for a nice uniform look across the picture, or you can mix up the directions between patches of parallel hatching, for example you may like to roughly follow the plane of each area, or maybe to guide the viewer’s eye to the desired focal points in the drawing.

Cross hatching

Some artists like to create uniform, right angled crosshatching while others use subtler angles. Some artists like Nick, aka @madeinhammersmith, select angles that follow the plane that the hatching is on, which gives a natural feel and helps explain to the viewer the volume of the figure or the face.

The overlapping patches of hatching help explain the changes in the planes of the surface.

There isn’t a correct here, each gives a different effect and you can use these effects according to your style. Uniformly right angled hatching can feel kind of mathematical or mechanical, which might be an effect you’d like to use. Gentler angles might feel a little more natural.

The lines in parallel hatching, whether single or crossed, don’t follow the curvature of the form, so within the hatching there isn’t much sense of volume, instead each patch of hatching gives a flatter feeling.

That’s not bad, it’s an effect you can use to your advantage, for example for a simple and clean look. The varying densities and strengths of hatching in combination with contours is often enough to explain the volume of the form. Notice how Chris’ hatching doesn’t follow contours or even the planes they are on, they all go in one direction, and yet there is volume to the figure because of the shapes of the hatched area.


Contour hatching

Contour hatching can help give a sense of form to curved 3D shapes. The lines follow the figure’s curvature rather than just being parallel. Contour hatching can also be crossed.

You can also use parallel hatching to establish background values and add layers of contour hatching on top of it to emphasise the volume and form. In this Raphael drawing, parallel hatching and contour hatching are mixed, with parallel hatching creating a base tone across an area and contour hatching used when a curvature needs to be emphasised.

Chunky hatching

A quick note that hatching doesn’t always need to be comprised of only fine lines. You can hatch chunky marks too, especially in larger drawings.

Expressive hatching

Hatching needn’t be too technical or correspond only to form and shade. You can also hatch according to feeling, emphasising movement in what you are seeing. Mayko hatches layers of pastel colour, balancing warm and cool tones. The hatching loosely follows some of the contours of the figure, but basically is not following any particular rules, instead it is dictated primarily by the movement she sees in the figure.

Van Gogh’s starry night isn’t really hatching, but it’s a set of distinctive marks which don’t necessarily make sense individually but in aggregate the pattern works. There aren’t rules to all this – there are just effects. All sorts of ways to put down marks which have all sorts of effects. As you learn more effects, you have more tools in your arsenal to create the images you want to create.


How to improve

Hatching inside 2D shapes

Filling 2D shapes with hatching will help develop your physical ability to hatch uniformly and cleanly, and within different boundary shapes. A quick way to start is with some rectangles. You can fill these with vary densities of hatching.

From here you can move on to random shapes. If you’re chatting on the phone or waiting for something, you can grab an envelope or whatever, put down a random squiggle and a straight light, and just hatch the area between the two.

Hatching to create 3D forms

To understand what hatching does, you can practise shading different 3D shapes to give them a light source and give them volume and form. Here Mayko is hatching some cylinders. With the first, she’s using parallel hatching and then adding a crossed layer.

With the second, she’s using contour hatching. Hatching spheres is a great exercise. Finally, for a slightly less uniform shape, she’s moved to drawing and hatching apples. You could watch our video on simplifying tonal shapes if you need help seeing the shapes of the different levels of tone you should be hatching.

Hatching for figure drawing – copy the masters

And finally, a fantastic way to practise hatching for figure drawing is by copying the hatching of your favourite artists. We learned a lot by recreating Raphael’s hatching.

(Here’s Raphael’s drawing without hatching in case you’d like to print it and practise, or hatch on it digitally.)

He was flexible. He didn’t just hatch for shading, but for explaining the direction of the plane. Some of the hatching follows the volume of the muscle where he felt more information about the shape was needed.

For the head, a lot of the hatching has nothing to do with hair strands, it follows the shape of the head. This is in line with our general advice to treat the hair as a 3D mass and ignore the strands, except for the stray strands that fall away from the mass. (We’ve not shown the head here).

Raphael’s hatching describes as much about the form as the contours. It is not just ‘filling in’ the outline, it is way more than that. Maybe even think of contours as packaging for the hatching.

Where there is a clear change in direction, a joint, he will put more pressure into the lines.

He builds up layers, and isn’t afraid to go back and add more layers to a complex area such as the waistline where there is a little squash in the torso. There’s more folds, more planes, and therefore more layers of contours.

Where there is less tension, fewer elements coming together, there might be just one layer of simple single hatching. The multiple layers of hatching don’t just tell you about light and dark, but also the complexity of the elements and the tension between them.

Quick side tip – we recently did a podcast with Jake Spicer. Off the top of this head, he reckoned you should do general drawing practice and specific focused exercises for a particular technique, like these ones for hatching, in a about a 6 to 1 ratio (so specific exercises about a sixth of the time).

In our next hatching video, we will look at the mechanics of hatching – i.e. what each part of your arm does when doing using different hatching motions and how each impacts the quality of the hatching, and also the different ways to touch the drawing instrument to the paper and how each way impact your hatching.

If you need help seeing the shapes of the tones you should be hatching, check out our video on simplifying tonal areas, and our video on exercises to help practise simplifying shadow shapes.


And finally, I’d really encourage you to check out the Fresh Eyes challenge, our ten-day drawing challenge all about transforming the way that you see the figure. It’s completely FREE to join and is suitable for all abilities, whether you’re a complete beginner or an experienced artist.

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