What is Crosshatching?
Crosshatching is a technique that utilizes parallel, intersecting lines to shade an illustration. The denser the line spacing, the darker your object will appear. For example, take a look at the French flag below. The left represents dark blue, the middle is white (with some folds), and the right is red. Since the crosshatching density is different, we can tell that the color on the left side of the flag is darker than the color on the right side of the flag.
When to Use Crosshatching
Use crosshatching when you want to add dimension to your artwork in an elegant and subtle way. For example, I recently combined crosshatching with calligraphy and gold watercolor in order to make a beautiful family tree. The crosshatching serves to enhance — rather than distract from — the calligraphy and leaves.
You can use a crosshatching technique on most papers and with most pens. That said, I prefer to crosshatch using a specific set of supplies.
- Straight pen fitted with a Nikko G nib – Using a medium-flex nib like the Nikko G results in clean, dramatic lines. (You can use a regular pen for crosshatching, but the results will be different.)
- Sumi ink – Sumi ink has a beautiful matte sheen and an excellent flow. If you plan to paint over your crosshatched illustration with watercolor, use Ziller ink instead (which is waterproof).
- Good-quality paper – I like drawing paper, 32# laserjet, or sketchbook paper (I use a Shinola sketchbook).
- Pencil – I prefer to use a mechanical pencil.
The Basic Technique
Let’s start simple and crosshatch a circle to transform it into a 3D sphere! First, use a pencil to draw a circle (1). Then, use sparsely spaced parallel lines to shade the circle (2). Cross those parallel lines with perpendicular parallel lines (3). Next, draw additional crossed lines to add a medium value to the sphere (4). Then, draw dense crossed lines to add a dark value (5). Finish up by adding additional lines to make an almost-black value on the opposite side of your light source, then add a few sparse lines to the lightest part of your sphere if necessary (6).
Putting It All Together: Drawing a Crosshatched Bluebird
If you want to learn how to crosshatch, the best way to go about it is real-life practice. So, for this beginner’s guide, I prepared a tutorial detailing how to draw a lovely crosshatched bluebird. Get your supplies out and follow along to try out this technique!
1. Draw from a Photo
First, select a photo of your subject. I chose to use this bluebird photo that I found on a florist’s website. Once you’ve got your subject, either freehand draw it or trace it onto your paper of choice.
Once you’ve made a good outline, reference your photo and use your pencil to add shading to shadowy areas.
2. Fill in the Shadows
I like to start detailed crosshatched illustrations like this one by completely filling in the most shadowy areas with my dip pen and sumi ink.
Now, use quick, light strokes to make dense parallel lines in areas that are shadowy but not quite black, like under this bird’s wing.
Then, cross the lines perpendicularly with parallel lines.
Continue to use dense crosshatching to fill in shadowy-but-not-black areas.
3. Add Medium Values
Now, use fairly dense crosshatching to fill in the bird’s tail and the wingtips. Then, add thin lines that are spaced fairly far apart to light-colored areas, like this bird’s belly and neck. Once you’ve drawn those thin lines, cross them with densely spaced perpendicular lines in areas where you see a bit of shadow in the reference photo.
Then, cross the thin, sparse lines with perpendicular lines. These new lines should also be sparse.
Continue to build up your bird with your three different crosshatching values (dark, medium, light). Don’t forget to make lines that hug the contours of the bird. For example, you can see that the bird’s head and chest feature lines that curve, much like the lines you saw in the sphere example earlier in this guide.
Continue to add drama and interest with additional crosshatching, especially in areas with a lot of color (like the blue part of the bluebird).
4. Look at the Drawing from a Distance
No matter what illustration technique I’m using, I always finish up by regarding my drawing from a distance. Prop the artwork up somewhere, then stand at least 5 feet (~1.5 meters) back. Seeing your crosshatched drawing from far away will help you to identify where you need more — or less — contrast.
5. Add Finishing Touches
Now, use what you observed while standing away from your drawing to add improvements. I decided that my drawing needed a little more contrast, so I added more crosshatching to the shadows and the blue part of the bluebird.
You’ll know you’re finished when you regard the illustration from a distance and feel satisfied with how it looks! If you aren’t quite sure whether you want to declare the illustration as finished, put it away for the day and come back to it tomorrow. Looking at your work with fresh eyes can make a huge difference!
Now that you’ve seen how to crosshatch, I’d like to show you some examples of illustrations that I’ve made in the past using this technique:
Don’t be discouraged if your crosshatching efforts don’t look fabulous at first. It’s an illustration technique that takes a fair amount of practice and patience! If you have any questions about this technique or the bluebird project laid out in today’s tutorial, please let me know. Thanks so much for reading, and have a great weekend!