What Is Hatching?

A Basic Art Technique to Add Tone and Shadows

Sketch artist working on a drawing
Nicola Tree/Getty Images

In the art world, the word hatching refers to a shading technique that implies shade, tone, or texture. The technique is done with a series of thin, parallel lines that give the appearance of shadow in varying degrees. It is often used in drawing and sketching, most often in pencil and pen-and-ink drawing, though painters do use the technique as well.

How to Use Hatching 

For pencil or pen-and-ink drawing, using hatching is one of the easiest and cleanest ways to fill in the dark areas. By drawing a bunch of fine lines that are more or less parallel, the area as a whole is perceived as being darker than the individual lines are in reality.

Artists often apply hatching lines quite quickly. This makes the areas look as if they're just a series of randomly placed marks, or hatches. However, an artist skilled at the technique can make even the deepest shadows look clean. 

The quality of the application of the lines depends entirely on each individual mark. The lines can be long or short, and they're almost always straight. Some lines can have slight curves to indicate subtle curvatures in the subject.

Although people tend to visualize hatching as "messy" pencil slashes (and they may appear so on purpose in chalk or charcoal drawing), the results of using the technique can be very controlled as well, such as in ink drawing, where it can be done in uniform, crisp, clean lines.

The distance between your hatching marks determines how light or dark that area of a drawing looks. The more white space you leave between the lines, the lighter the tone will be. As you add more lines or move them closer together, the grouping as a whole appears darker.

Famous artists who used hatching, especially in drawings and sketches, include Albrecht Durer, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt van Rijn, Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, and Michaelangelo.

Crosshatching and Scumbling

Crosshatching adds a second layer of lines that are drawn in the opposite direction. The second layer is applied at right angles to the first and typically uses identical spacing. Using crosshatching builds the illusion of darker tones with fewer lines and is very common in ink drawing.

Hatching and crosshatching are very similar in drawing, painting, and pastels. When used wet-on-wet in painting, the techniques can create tonal shading and blends between colors as one color is applied over another.

The technique of scumbling is a different matter. In painting, scumbling describes a dry brush technique used to create shadows with a small amount of paint. The base color shows through and creates a gradation in color rather than blending the two colors.

When drawing, scumbling is more of an extension of hatching. Scumbling is a bit like scribbling. It uses random hatching along with irregular erasing to create texture. This technique also uses more curved lines than in hatching, and the lines can even be squiggly. Scumbling is a common exercise in art classes.