PAINTING REALISTIC FABRIC
Painting realistic fabric with many folds and twists is a matter of observation and patience. It is an exercise that starts by finding the darks and the lights and ends by bringing them together.
A solid color piece of fabric folded and twisted transforms into a palette of multiple colors when light hits it at different angles. The darkest and the lightest values can be found intermixed in an intricate puzzle that can easily discourage a painter; however, painting fabric is not different from painting any other object. It just requires a lot of observation and patience.
Step 1: To start, sketch the fabric following the dark areas of the folds. These first lines will be eventually smoothed but they will provide a necessary outline to start the painting.
Continue to work the lines of the sketch by adding more color paying attention to mid tones and the lightest areas. Through careful observation let the brush follow what your eyes see. Go back to the dark areas and emphasize them carefully connecting them to the middle tones. Think of this process as extending each line.
Step 2: Smooth all lines to insure a soft transition in each fold. Sharp edges are only seen where the fabric ends. In most other areas the folds will have a soft transition between “darks and lights”. The transition could be short or extended, but it must exist in order to give volume and elasticity to the fabric. While small details can be added in successive coats, it is important to spend time on a good sketch. A strong base will make the work easier later on.
Step 3: Subsequent steps follow the values established in the grisaille but adds small folds and creases not captured in previous steps. Dents and wrinkles can be made with small round brushes, but even these small details will have a transition in value. Light hits objects in different ways creating and reflecting other colors besides the actual color of the object. Fabric is not an exception and careful observation will show reflections of purples, oranges, blues, and greens which were used in this particular painting to form the folds of the yellow fabric. The grisaille color also shows through the final version which adds further interest. Be sensitive to the surrounding environment since it will also insert its reflection of colors into the fabric.
Very seldom a realistic fabric painting can be finished with only two coats. Several thin coats and glazes might be necessary according to the complexity. Each coat incorporates more details and since each application is thin, details from previous coats often remain visible.