How to Draw Folds of Cloth

Today’s post is a step-by-step tutorial showing you how to draw folds of cloth.

The cloth in my demonstration is white and somewhat silky, but the basic principles I’m about to describe apply to any type of fabric that folds or drapes.

It also works with any color or method of draping or folding. Just break down the drawing process into these steps and you can’t go far wrong.

How to Draw Folds of Cloth

Tips for Drawing Cloth

Before we get into the tutorial, lets talk a little bit about basic tips on how to draw folds of cloth (or pretty much any subject.)

First of all, take time to look at the cloth you’re drawing. Really study it. What’s the surface texture? Is the cloth lightweight or heavy? Is it soft or silky, smooth or woolly?

If it’s a soft cloth like this t-shirt, the values are likely to fade softly one into another. The only exceptions to this rule are the cast shadows, where one fold of cloth casts a shadow on another part, and where something else casts a shadow on the cloth. Those shadows almost always have hard edges.

Knowing how to draw folds of cloth starts with taking a good look at your subject. What type of cloth is it? How does it reflect light?
Soft cloth, soft shadows and soft edges between values except for the cast shadows.
Photo by Carrie L. Lewis

Shiny cloth like catches and reflects light differently than soft cloth. The transitions between values can be much more dramatic and often have sharper edges.

It’s also more likely to show reflected light and color from the objects around it. This sample shows traces of blue since I photographed it outside on a clear, sunny day.

How to Draw Folds of Cloth: Shiny cloth reflects light differently than soft cloth.
Shiny cloth has sharper transitions between light and dark values, often with more dramatic shifts.
Photo by Carrie L. Lewis

Environmental light has more of an influence on shiny cloth than on soft cloth. Both of the garments shown above are white, but I photographed the silky cloth in the early evening so the white has more of a yellow tint.

Also notice that the middle values look bluer on the silky material than on the t-shirt because they’re reflecting more sky color than the t-shirt would in the same lighting conditions.

How to Draw Folds of Cloth

Project Details

My demo drawing is drawn on Stonehenge 98lb white paper. I used Prismacolor pencils, but you can successfully complete this tutorial with any brand of colored pencils and on any drawing paper.

I also drew it in grayscale, using one gray pencil and black. You can do the same tutorial with other colors if you wish, though drawing in grayscale is a great way to practice drawing values.

This is the reference photo. Feel free to use it for your own practice.

Photo by Carrie L. Lewis

Step 1: Sketch the Folds of Cloth

I started by lightly sketching the cloth with Cold Grey 70%. I didn’t outline many of the shadows, but you’ll notice I did lightly outline the main highlight on the most prominent fold on the left side of the drawing.

This sketch is drawn a little darker than I usually sketch so it shows up in a scan. You’ll want to keep your line drawing quite light so the lines disappear into the drawing as you layer. Sketching or transferring your line drawing with light pressure also avoids indenting the lines into the paper.

Step 2: Begin Shading

I used a combination of strokes and two or three layers of Cold Grey 70% to draw a light value in each of the more clearly defined cast shadows.

First, I blocked in each shadow with light pressure so they were all the same value. Then I went over some parts again to darken the values.

Cast shadows are shadows caused when one object throws (or casts) a shadow on another object. In this case, the cast shadows happen where one part of the cloth throws a shadow on another part.

Form shadows happen where each fold curves away from the light source.

Unlike cast shadows, they usually have softer edges and transition smoothly from light values into dark values. The shapes of form shadows can be indistinct, especially on cloth, but they give shape to the cloth.

I used a couple of different shading methods for the middle values. I started out on the left by shading the darker values first, then the lighter values.

That didn’t produce the softness of value I wanted, so I started shading a light value over each shape, working around the lighter values and highlights. Then I added more layers to draw the darker values.

Also, instead of using a sharp pencil, I worked with a slightly dull one and sharpened it only when it developed a flat wedge angle. A dull pencil covers more paper with each stroke and the marks have softer edges.

About half of the cloth shaded with light values. It’s already beginning to take shape. The contrast I draw, then more three-dimensional it will look.

Step 3: Blend with Paper Towel (optional)

At this point you can lightly blend with paper towel or bath tissue to smooth out the values a little more. A paper towel blend is ideal for softening color or value, but it works best with a little more pigment on the paper.

If you prefer not to blend with paper towel, skip to the next step.

I blended the right fold with paper towel, but left the other side unblended for comparison.

Step 4: Darken the Values

You can continue to darken values with Cold Grey 70% or switch to a darker pencil. It will take more layers with Cold Grey 70% than Cold Grey 90% or even black, and the resulting values will not be quite as dark.

But it is good practice to push values as much as you can with a single pencil.

Because time was of the essence for me, I switched to Prismacolor Black, and repeated the same process already described.

I used a sharp pencil and small, controlled strokes with medium pressure to draw the cast shadows along the hem of the fabric.

The goal was to begin defining the subtle variations in values in these shadows, so I worked slowly and carefully from one section of shadow to the next.

Then I continued layering Black with light pressure and a sharp pencil to add more definition and volume to the folds of cloth.

Darken the values in the cast shadow layer by layer. You may have to increase the pressure somewhat, but always use the lightest pressure possible.

Next, I continued using Black and light pressure to darken the values in the form shadows, especially around the darkest cast shadow near the center of the drawing. I followed the same process here: Starting with a single lightly applied layer to darken each form shadow, then adding more layers as needed to create more variations.

Form shadows generally have smoother transitions from one value to another. The more the object–in this case cloth–is curved, the sharper the edges are more likely to be. Notice the difference between the large fold on the right and the smaller folds on the left.

Finishing the Drawing

From this point on, finishing the drawing is mostly a matter of adjusting values, refining details, and bringing the drawing as close to the reference as you want.

At this stage, I continue to refer to my reference photo, but less and less. Instead, my focus is on balancing the values in the cast shadows and form shadows so they relate correctly to one another.

I’m also paying closer attention to the edges and transitions between values, especially around the highlights.

As mentioned above, I chose to do this using only two colors: Cold Grey 70% and Black. But it could easily have been turned into a color piece by glazing blues over the drawing. The fabric in the reference photo shows a lot of blue because it reflected that color from the sky.

Here’s the finished demo piece.

How to Draw Folds of Cloth - The Finished Drawing

That’s How to Draw Folds of Cloth

That’s how I drew this piece of smooth, silky cloth. As I mentioned above you can take the same steps to draw any type of cloth.

In fact, if you really want to learn how to draw folds of cloth, the best thing you can do is draw lots of it. Draw different types of cloth and different cloths of cloth either from life (if you can set up a still life in strong light) or from reference photos. Pixabay is a great place to find all sorts of fabrics and you can download images for free.

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