Cross- hatching

The technique of cross- hatching seen through Rembrandt, Albrecht Duerer and Gustave Dore.

Hatching and cross hatching are techniques frequently mentioned in the manual to create different values and tones in the drawings. So my tutor Joanne recommended taking a closer look at this technique based on the works of Rembrandt, Albrecht Durer and Gustave Dore, before exploring this technique when drawing still-life.

A definition by Wikipedia:

Hatching (hachure in French) is an artistic technique used to create tonal or shading effects by drawing (or painting or scribing) closely spaced parallel lines. (…) When lines are placed at an angle to one another, it is called cross-hatching. (….)


Linear hatching
Hatching in parallel lines. Normally the lines follow the direction of the described plane.[1]
Layers of hatching applied at different angles to create different textures and darker tones. At its simplest, a layer of linear hatching is laid over another layer at a 90° angle, to which further diagonal layers may be added. Other methods include layering arbitrary intersecting patches.[1] Crosshatching in which layers intersect at slight angles can create a rippled moiré effect.[2]
Contoured hatching
Hatching using curved lines to describe light and form of contours.[2]

A definition by

with some beautiful examples:

Cross-hatching is a method of line drawing that describes light and shadow. The representation of light utilizes the white or openness of the page, while shadow is created by a density of crossed lines.

If you examine the value scale below, you can see how the light end (left) uses a simple pattern of parallel lines spaced widely apart to represent light. The dark end (right) layers criss-crossing lines to create a feeling of shadow.


BUT cross-hatching is also very much an attitude about drawing and understanding what you see. The lines and marks that make up cross-hatching describe planes of form and begin by following planes of form–like cross-contour lines do.

For example, if we look at this etching of pillows by Albrecht Durer, we can see how the lines curve and move as the folds of the pillows do. The density and movement of lines give us a feel for the forms by showing light and shadow.

“Albrecht Durer (1471 – 1528) was a German painter, printmaker and theorist from Nuremberg. His still-famous works include the Apocalypse woodcuts, Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513), Saint Jerome in his Study (1514) and Melencolia I (1514), which has been the subject of extensive analysis and interpretation. His watercolours mark him as one of the first European landscape artists, while his ambitious woodcuts revolutionized the potential of that medium.”

His works are incredibly detailed and overwhelmingly full of action.It is in his woodcuts for prints that the cross- hatching is used so masterfully. It only becomes apparent when you take a very close look at the details, like in the example of the study of pillows above.


Melencholia (1514) is one of Albrecht Duerers most famous prints, now at the MET. If enlarging the image, the folds of the cloth for example, is a good place to see the very intricate patterns of cross-hatching with many many thin lines that create the different tones and therefore the sense of depth.

DP820348 copy

Here I will take a look at Rembrandt’s etchings, where he used the cross-hatching technique:’s_etchings.htm:

Rembrandt Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (Leiden 1606 – Amsterdam 1669)

“Many people are surprised to learn that Rembrandt’s etchings, not his paintings, were responsible for the international reputation he enjoyed during his lifetime.

In etching, the plate is covered with a protective coat of resin. The artist then scratches his design through the resin with a needle and immerses the plate in a bath of acid, which “bites” the metal wherever the resin has been removed. The action of the acid produces lines of a slightly irregular, vibrating quality; Rembrandt did not regard this as a drawback, however, but as a challenge.”

“A copper plate lends itself fairly readily to change and correction. Lines may be removed by pounding and burnishing, and added at will; the etcher simply re-covers his plate with a fresh coat of resin and makes new scratches through it. Rembrandt sometimes took several years to finish a plate to his satisfaction, and he sold prints from the various states of his work.(…)”


“(..) a network of very fine lines that capture the play of light, shadow and air with a skill far exceeding that of Callot or of any Dutch etcher. The refinement of his technique appears to even greater advantage in a later portrait of his mother, in 1631, in which countless scurrying, hair-thin strokes are used to build up his chiaroscuro and texture.”

The etchings seem more spontaneous , less controlled and have less detail than Duerers and the crosshatching is much easier to see.


Looking at Rembrandt’s drawings- the cross-hatching is less apparent. It seems like he uses charcoal fully filling different densities to create different tones. But here i found some drawings where cross-hatching was visible:


Gustave Doré (1832-1883)

“Gustave Dore was a prolific engraver, artist, illustrator, and sculptor, working primarily as a wood and steel engraver. He produced over 100,000 sketches in his lifetime, and lived to be 50 years old, averaging 6 sketches per day for each day he lived. ” (…)

“Dore created engravings for the books of Balzac, Rabelais, Milton, Dante, Edgar Allen Poe, and Lord Byron. He was commissioned to illustrate a version of the English Bible, which was extremely popular, allowing for the foundation of his own gallery, the Dore Gallery. For his work on Dante’s Inferno, he was decorated with the Cross of the Legion of Honor.”

Gustave Doré was a world famous 19th century illustrator. Although he illustrated over 200 books, some with more than 400 plates, he is primarily known for his illustrations to The Divine Comedy, particularly The Inferno, his illustrations to Don Quixote, and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.


Illustration to Dante’s Divine Comedy, Inferno by Gustave Doré. Plate 1: Dante in the Dusky Woods


Dore, Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto 34 : Lucifer, King of Hell

Bible illustrations:


When looking up a little more closely than is possible here, the use of cross- hatching following the shapes of the subjects becomes clear. The etchings of Dore show less contrast and outline than the detailed action filled etchings of Albrecht Duerer. The amazing atmosphere created by the differences in light are more in the center of these works.

I am excited to continue exploring cross- hatching now, in color and with a simple natural object. It is beautiful to have seen the extent of possibility of this technique , creating tone, depth and atmosphere.


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