Understanding Fabric & Drapery Folds


drapery study, oil on canvas alla prima, 16x20 in.

I could do these all day, I love painting drapery. This was my demo from last night’s oil class, painted alla prima on unstretched canvas (canvas pad). Began with underpainting in burnt sienna and turpenoid. I start by blocking in the major shapes of the fabric, I look for geometric forms and simply place them where I see them starting with the largest ones first and working through the smaller ones to the level of detail needed to create the illusion of hanging fabric. Next, I begin adding in the values from dark to light, these are what will give the fabric a 3-dimensional quality. Fabric is no different than any other subject, it is just more complex. Don’t feel the need to recreate every wrinkle and other detail, get the big shapes established and place the values. The details are done at the end when you have an established solid form to work on.

Next, I added color beginning with the darks in alizarin + cobalt, tiny bit of turpenoid. When painting alla prima, it is important to let colors sit next to one another and just blend ever so gently at the edges. Overblending will kill the freshness of an alla prima very quickly. Putting paint on top of paint can result in mud, the key to keeping colors fresh is to place them adjacent with a slight overlap rather than layering. Once all the dark and medium value colors are in place, you can put the brightest brights and highlights on top, but you have to keep the paint very opaque and very thick in order to make it sit on top of what is already there. Quick, light brush strokes with a soft (not birstle) brush work best at this stage. Go for the most important details only, it will help to keep the bold, spontaneous alla prima look alive in the painting.

Note: I will be having a workshop on Drawing & Painting Fabric and Drapery at the NJ Visual Arts Center on March 6, 2010. All levels welcome, students may work in charcoal, acrylic, oil or pastel.

2 Responses to Understanding Fabric & Drapery Folds

  1. JAMES TOMASSI says:

    couldnt find how to paint drapes can you send to some where so i can learn

  2. kullaf says:

    Hi James, I will post some drapery studies in a day or so, there are some others on here if you search the archives for drapery. Basically though, painting drapery is the same as painting anything else–get the forms and values correct and you have the basis of a successful painting. Capture the gesture of the way the fabric hangs, use the dark and light values to define the form, forget you are painting drapery and just concentrate on form and value. You’ll get the results you want.

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