How to Draw Thin Fabric with Colored Pencil

Today’s topic is how to draw thin fabric, but the process I’m about to describe applies to drawing anything that’s transparent or translucent.

To begin, here’s the reader’s question.

I need to know how to make a hazy overlay with a white, like a mist or a thin fabric.

This is a good question, but not because of the specifics. Some time ago, I wrote a post describing one way to draw a foggy morning. That works for mist, too.

I’ve also written about How to Draw Folds of Cloth. The method I described in that post works for any kind of fabric; even sheer fabric.

Now for today’s post.

How to Draw Thin Fabric or Mist

I want to begin with drawing mist because that’s the easiest to draw.

Mist

The first thing to remember when drawing transparent or translucent subjects with colored pencils is that you can’t add the mist or veil after drawing whatever is behind it.

With oils or acrylics, you can paint a landscape, then glaze mist or fog over it. A thin layer of transparent color makes whatever is behind it look dimmer, just like mist or fog does in real life.

Colored pencils don’t work that way. In a lot of situations, you have to draw the mist first, then draw whatever is behind it.

Yes, sometimes you can draw the landscape, then lift enough color to create the look of mist. That’s what I did in this short demonstration.

But most of the time, it’s better to fade the landscape colors into lighter values from the start. If you still need to lift color, the results are likely to be more pleasing.

Thin Fabric

Thin fabric or other similarly see-through things usually can’t be drawn by lifting color. It’s far better to focus on the shapes, values, and colors (in that order) as they appear in the reference photo. Here’s an example.

How to Draw Thin Fabric

Preparing to Draw

The first step is to make an accurate line drawing. Whether you make your line drawing simple or complex is up to you, but include all of the main shapes. The shadows, the gold-colored drape on the left, the window frames visible through the sheer, and even the things you can see through the window if you want to include those details.

In short, your line drawing should contain enough details to provide a good road map for drawing the shapes, adding the values, and shading color. It shouldn’t be so complex that you get lost as you draw.

The next step is drawing the values. It may help you to convert your reference photo to black-and-white so you can see how light and dark things really are when compared to other parts of the image. I used GIMP to convert this photo to black-and-white, but most photo editors can be used this way.

Drawing Thin Fabric

Next, begin adding values layer by layer. You can either work with a single color or with all your colors. I personally prefer using one color at this stage, but use whatever method works best for you. How ever you start, use light pressure and draw what you see.

For example, the drape is clearly visible to the left of the sheer, so you should draw it that way.

But the part that appears through the sheer is visible only as a blotch of color where the light hits it. So don’t draw the same folds you see on the left. Draw the blotch of color.

The creases and wrinkles in the sheer also appear over that blotch of color. That looks complicated to draw, but it can be simplified very easily.

Focus on one small area at a time, and pretend you’re drawing an abstract. It works for water, and it works for sheer curtains, mist and anything else that’s translucent.

Put the shadows where the shadows should be, and put the highlights where the highlights should be. Also put the color where it appears.

When you finish an area as much as you want to, move to the next area and do the same thing.

When you’ve covered the entire composition that way, then work on the piece as a whole, and make whatever adjustments are needed.

How to Draw Thin Fabric

Drawing thin fabric—or any see-through subject—doesn’t have to be complicated. Just study your reference photo and draw what you see. If it helps, pretend you’re drawing an abstract collection of shapes, values, and colors.

Take it one step at a time, and don’t rush.

And before you know it, you’ll have a finished piece you can be pleased with!

Today’s topic is how to draw thin fabric, but the process I’m about to describe applies to drawing anything that’s transparent or translucent.

To begin, here’s the reader’s question.

I need to know how to make a hazy overlay with a white, like a mist or a thin fabric.

This is a good question, but not because of the specifics. Some time ago, I wrote a post describing one way to draw a foggy morning. That works for mist, too.

I’ve also written about How to Draw Folds of Cloth. The method I described in that post works for any kind of fabric; even sheer fabric.

Now for today’s post.

How to Draw Thin Fabric or Mist

I want to begin with drawing mist because that’s the easiest to draw.

Mist

The first thing to remember when drawing transparent or translucent subjects with colored pencils is that you can’t add the mist or veil after drawing whatever is behind it.

With oils or acrylics, you can paint a landscape, then glaze mist or fog over it. A thin layer of transparent color makes whatever is behind it look dimmer, just like mist or fog does in real life.

Colored pencils don’t work that way. In a lot of situations, you have to draw the mist first, then draw whatever is behind it.

Yes, sometimes you can draw the landscape, then lift enough color to create the look of mist. That’s what I did in this short demonstration.

But most of the time, it’s better to fade the landscape colors into lighter values from the start. If you still need to lift color, the results are likely to be more pleasing.

Thin Fabric

Thin fabric or other similarly see-through things usually can’t be drawn by lifting color. It’s far better to focus on the shapes, values, and colors (in that order) as they appear in the reference photo. Here’s an example.

How to Draw Thin Fabric

Preparing to Draw

The first step is to make an accurate line drawing. Whether you make your line drawing simple or complex is up to you, but include all of the main shapes. The shadows, the gold-colored drape on the left, the window frames visible through the sheer, and even the things you can see through the window if you want to include those details.

In short, your line drawing should contain enough details to provide a good road map for drawing the shapes, adding the values, and shading color. It shouldn’t be so complex that you get lost as you draw.

The next step is drawing the values. It may help you to convert your reference photo to black-and-white so you can see how light and dark things really are when compared to other parts of the image. I used GIMP to convert this photo to black-and-white, but most photo editors can be used this way.

Drawing Thin Fabric

Next, begin adding values layer by layer. You can either work with a single color or with all your colors. I personally prefer using one color at this stage, but use whatever method works best for you. How ever you start, use light pressure and draw what you see.

For example, the drape is clearly visible to the left of the sheer, so you should draw it that way.

But the part that appears through the sheer is visible only as a blotch of color where the light hits it. So don’t draw the same folds you see on the left. Draw the blotch of color.

The creases and wrinkles in the sheer also appear over that blotch of color. That looks complicated to draw, but it can be simplified very easily.

Focus on one small area at a time, and pretend you’re drawing an abstract. It works for water, and it works for sheer curtains, mist and anything else that’s translucent.

Put the shadows where the shadows should be, and put the highlights where the highlights should be. Also put the color where it appears.

When you finish an area as much as you want to, move to the next area and do the same thing.

When you’ve covered the entire composition that way, then work on the piece as a whole, and make whatever adjustments are needed.

How to Draw Thin Fabric

Drawing thin fabric—or any see-through subject—doesn’t have to be complicated. Just study your reference photo and draw what you see. If it helps, pretend you’re drawing an abstract collection of shapes, values, and colors.

Take it one step at a time, and don’t rush.

And before you know it, you’ll have a finished piece you can be pleased with!

2 Replies to “How to Draw Thin Fabric with Colored Pencil”

  1. This drawing is amazing. Looks like real curtains. Boy, wish I could draw like that. Thanks for sharing that with us and how to do it.

    1. Patricia,

      Thank you for the compliment, but all the illustrations in this post are photographs!

      I’m always glad to share knowledge with the hope that you’ll improve faster than I did!

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