Lesson 4: Basic Pony Shading and Lighting.


Although this is a weekly 'Thursday' lesson, i'll try to answer your questions well after this is over. Don't hesitate to leave a comment!

Hey guys, here's the fourth lesson in this weekly thing. I've intended to split lesson 3 into two parts, one on basic shades, and one focusing on pony, but it seems busy-ness and bad scheduling has destroyed that plan. Hence, today i'll have lesson 4 pick off where lesson 3 left off and focus on working on pony shading.

(You should probably use RES for this. Lots of picture links.)

We'll have a couple of activities down below, so keep your pencil or tablet handy.


Previous lesson, I mentioned splitting up the pony into several basic shapes, much like this picture here:

A dash of shape

See how the pony is formed out of cylinders, spheres, and jellybean shapes? The muzzle is a curved box. The ears are cubes squished at the top.

(These are just one approach to the shapes, though. Different artists prefer to have different interpretations on how ponies are shaped.)

For example, note how Saurabhinator uses thin ears and box-like muzzle, differently from tsitras more cylindrical muzzle and thicker ear shape.)

To shade, we shade it much as we shade individual basic shapes. Like so:

Shaded outline pony

I used a single tone and a single highlight for simplicity.

Just shades


Now, try it out yourself.

  • Pick a pony reference.
  • Break the pony down into basic shapes. Don't be shy about drawing on top of the reference, just as long as you get the basic idea. (Also put it on a separate layer so you can shade over it.)
  • Pick a light source direction.
  • Use two tones, light and dark. Shade away.
  • Put down your cast shadow. It'll be roughly the shape of your pony.
  • Post the resulting pony down below.

If you're having trouble with figuring out how a pony is shaded, take a gander at this shading helper I made. Don't worry. It's perfectly safe, and pretty useful, imo. Right click pans, and light direction is adjustable using the GUI on the top left.

Types of shading

Alright, lets go over a few examples of the different types of shading you can do: list

  • Simplfied: by WhiteDiamonds. Notice the lack of detailing in their shading. Shape is shown but they don't really go into specifics. Hair is shaded as big swathes of darks and lights. Take aj's muzzle, for example. It's hinted that her muzzle is a separate shape, but for the most part its as though its flush onto her face. AJ's shades have soft transitions and reflected light is still used, and so is not cel shading.
  • Realistic: By kevinsano. Notice that kevin takes a lot of other things into consideration. His detailing of hair is more specific. Note the occlusion shadows on where twi's limbs overlap her body. Also, more attention is paid to the shading of the forms of various body parts. Take twi's muzzle for instance. Its shaded as a separate shape, rather than just part of her face.
  • Cel Shaded: by Feyrah. Cel shading consists of two tones, one for darks and one for lights. Darks are placed where they should be, and so are lights. Simple. Clean.
It might sound like i'm biased towards more realistic shading, but every shading style is fine, and it doesn't really matter what type of shading you wish to employ. Whatever works best for you works.

Light directions

Keepin it simple. Now, lets see a few examples of how different light directions can affect how ponies/people are shaded.

Front, top-lit

This is a very common light direction, mostly because this lighting condition occurs in daylight or in a room with ceiling-lights, which we see everyday.

(directly) Front lit

A less common lighting situation. Shades are scarce because not much is blocking the light from getting where it needs to be on the face.

Side lit

Happens when the light is directly to the left or right of the subject. The side of the face opposite the light source is blocked off, and will be mainly lit by reflected light.

Rim lighting

Neat lighting condition that occurs when the light source is to the side, above, and behind the subject. It has to be decently intense for those slivers of light to occur, though. Notice the nice sliver of light that hugs the form of the subject. The size of the sliver depends on the width of the surface it touches.


Happens when the light source is directly below the subject. This light direction gives a neat dramatic look. Shades around the eyes are more prominent.

Backlit, or conte jour

This happens when the light source is directly behind the subject. Like rimlight, but the slivers of light kind of hug the shape of the figure. James Gurney akins this light to be like a cloud of light moving in towards the viewer. In more dramatic lighting, any detail in the figure will be shrouded in dark, much like if you put your hand up against a bright light source and blocked it.

Activity time again

Now, take this outline of a pony and try to shade it using a couple of lighting techniques that I have described above. (eg. one rim lit and one top front-lit).

Or use the same picture you made with the reference if you'd like.

Use the helper I linked above if you're having trouble. Although keep in mind that its just a helper, and won't recreate effects like the backlit effect.

Post results down below.

And thats it. Next week's lesson is not really decided yet. We might have a little brief on pony anatomy, or on the ins and outs of composition.