Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hatching Trouble-Shooting Guide

USk Chicago: Tuesday Tips & Tricks by Wes Douglas

I learned a long time ago that I like hatching as a sketching technique. It’s efficient, effective and it is almost effortless. "Efficient" because you can literally use just one pen and a pad of paper to hatch your sketch. "Effective" because you will not have to convert your sketch to a halftone conversion in order for your sketch to be reproduced in the newspaper or magazine article. I say almost effortless because sometimes it does not work out the way I had planned. 

There are several forms of hatching: Linear, quick tonal, radiating, contoured, precision hatching and the popular cross-hatching. But sometimes hatching just doesn’t turn out the way you had planned. Some days require a LOT of effort. So I thought I’d submit my trouble-shooting guide for hatching:

ISSUE: The resulting sketch did not match what you envisioned in your head. Believe it or not, this sketch of the woman on the train (at left) is messed up--the hatching was too light and I stopped short of completing the texture in the lower half of the sketch. Perhaps I was in a rush to finish this before I had to depart the train or I got tired of making little hash marks? Who knows? Regardless, it is fixable.

TRY THIS: Keep this sketch and move to the next page and create a new sketch. The beauty of sketching is that you can always try, fail and learn. In the case of this sketch, I could go back and add in more cross-hatching and a frame to finish off this sketch.

ISSUE: Maybe it came out too dark and it looks like the subjects changed ethnicity or the female grew a 5 o’clock shadow.

TRY THIS: You can use a blank page and just practice different styles of hatching with different pens. When you find the pen that makes the marks you like, make note of it for the next sketch. In the case of this couple at the Jamba Juice, I went back over the problem areas with white paint and lightened the heaviness of the hatching, particularly on the man's face. One other thing this sketch could use is a frame to give the lines a place to end. As it shows right now, the lines fade off arbitrarily and pull the eye away from the main subjects.

ISSUE: The direction of your lines did not enhance the shape or sense of volume for the subject. The lines should indicate the way a surface reflects light, folds or wraps around an object.

TRY THIS: Pay attention to the surfaces as if they have a grain to them and make your lines follow that “virtual grain direction.” Take a close look at the motorcyclist above and notice how I changed the direction of the hatching to convey the wrinkled pant material, the shape of the tires and gas tank and even the boots.

ISSUE: What if the style of hatching I chose does not go well with the subject matter?

TRY THIS: If you haven’t gone too far, paint white over your curly-cues and try again with linear or cross-hatching. If you have covered the building, like I have in this sketch at left, you might be best to start over and try a new hatching style.

Another trick I like to do: when you are finished with your line drawing, stop and scan or make black & white copies of your sketch. Take one of those copies and try out a hatching technique to see if you like the line quality and linear direction. If all goes well, you can now create your hatching tones on your original sketch. This coffee house was one where I did not like the original attempt because my light source was off. But I came back a few months later, redrew it, and applied a different hatching technique to where I like this much better now.

Please tell me that you have had hatching issues as well and how did you fix them. I can't possibly be the only one with these issues, right? Help!


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Peggy. Do you have any pen & ink stories for us?

  2. Hi Wes, another excellent post. My main bug bear with hatching is occasionally needing to hatch a long area with long lines. I still have not worked out the right approach for this (I just don't like substituting shorter lines as I don't like the broken up lines and slight dots where each line ends). Have you any thoughts on this?

    Also, do you have any comment on using different weights of pen for your hatching? I am so used to using one pen for everything (from years of drawing in transit) that I'm uncertain of the best combo of thicker and thinner lines when I do have various pens with me. Eg., use thick lines in foreground and thin lines in background? Or vice versa? Or something else entirely?