Cross hatching

Cross hatching, the ancient art of drawing intersecting lines, is something that has never seen a significant amount of favour in web comics. This may be due to a number of issues, the main one being the dominance of low-res images during the formative years of online comic publication, but with the advent of higher quality displays, adding a little cross hatching can really add a sense of depth to your comics.

Advantages of Cross Hatching

Let’s face it: flat colour sucks. It sucks almost as much as wide patches of white space in black-and-white art (which always makes me feel like the artist forgot to finish the drawing). Cross hatching adds texture to the art. It adds an extra sense of detail to the piece. If you combine it with standard shading techniques when colouring your work, it enhances the shading.

Franky from 'The Life of Nob T. Mouse' in various stages of cross hatching

Cross hatching adds depth

For example, have a look at this image here. This is Franky and in the image on the left, he’s flat as a pancake. By the time I’ve finished adding cross hatching (I’ve only used three sets of lines here but you could add more if you want), he’s really starting to feel solid and as a result, the picture turns from a doodle into something that could be used in a comic. In other words, it’s now more art than sketch.

How it works

One set of lines (hatching)

One set of lines (hatching)

Cross hatching is a very simple artistic device. You begin by drawing a series of lines, all going in the same direction; which is called ‘hatching’ (I don’t know why. It’s probably a foreign term pinched by English centuries ago, or something). You can either have these as simple diagonals or, if you want to emphasise the curve of a shape (a technique I love to use because it tricks the eye into thinking the shape you are cross hatching has actual curvature) you can draw the lines to match the desired curve you want to invoke.

Two sets of lines (cross hatching)Next, you draw another series of lines over the top of the original lines. These new lines should be perpendicular to the original lines, so they cross over one another (hence ‘cross hatching’). You don’t need as many of these lines as you had of the original hatching. In fact, it’s often better if you don’t because the lack of symmetry implies a level of texture to the drawing. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean.

Three sets of lines (cross hatching)You can stop at this point if you are only wanting a small amount of depth and shadow added to the drawing. Your work will already look way more three-dimensional at this stage. If you want to continue, it’s time to draw a third set of lines, in a direction that is part way between the first and second set. This adds more shadow to the piece and thereby gives more depth, but in a small space you should really question whether it is going to add anything because too many lines results in a black or grey smudge on your artwork; at which point you may as well have block shaded.

Four sets of lines (extra cross hatching)If you want to go further, a fourth set of lines perpendicular to the third set could be added butt by this point you’re getting way too messy in most spaces. Best used for large areas where a lot of depth is needed. Again, vary the amount of lines and experiment with drawing a patch of fourth (or third) lines here and there, for added texture.

So when you’re next drawing something and it doesn’t quite feel right, why not consider taking a few minutes to add an extra level of depth to your work? It may solve your problem.

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