• The Beginner’s Guide to Crosshatching

    If you want to add dimension to your artwork, consider using a crosshatching technique! Today, I’ll show you what you need to get started and walk you through a detailed illustration tutorial.

    The Beginner's Guide to Crosshatching

    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.

    "Springtime in Paris" Illustration
    The location and density of the crosshatched lines here communicate different colors and contours.

    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.

    How to Make a Gorgeous Calligraphy Family Tree
    This calligraphy family tree relies on crosshatching to give it dimension.

    Supplies Needed

    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.

    The Beginner's Guide to Crosshatching

    • 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.
    • Eraser 

    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).

    The Beginner's Guide to Crosshatching
    It’s important to note that these crosshatching lines follow the contours of this sphere. Instead of being straight, they’re nice and rounded. This helps to give the sphere dimension and interest.

    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.

    Making a Pencil Draft
    I used a light box to trace my bluebird photo in my sketchbook. You can learn how to use a light box to make pencil drafts in this article.

    Once you’ve made a good outline, reference your photo and use your pencil to add shading to shadowy areas.

    Making a Pencil Draft

    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.

    The Beginner's Guide to Crosshatching
    Don’t fill in too many areas with this dramatic black, or you might overwhelm the piece.

    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.

    The Beginner's Guide to Crosshatching

    Then, cross the lines perpendicularly with parallel lines.

    The Beginner's Guide to Crosshatching

    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.

    The Beginner's Guide to Crosshatching

    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.

    The Beginner's Guide to Crosshatching

    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.

    The Beginner's Guide to Crosshatching

    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!

    The Beginner's Guide to Crosshatching

    Inspiration Photos

    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:

    Crosshatched Hand
    I made this hand for the How to Draw Gemstones with Crayons tutorial.
    "Afternoon Shopping" Printable Illustration | The Postman's Knock
    That is a just-for-fun illustration of a woman enjoying some afternoon shopping.
    Illustrated Lace Butterfly Card Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    Crosshatching gives subtle shadow to this lace butterfly‘s delicate wings.
    Janet Style Brush Pen Calligraphy
    I created these illustrations for the Janet Style Brush Pen Calligraphy Worksheet.

    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!


    Lindsey's Signature | The Postman's Knock