I taught a workshop yesterday on painting drapery folds and fabric. One of the exercises I had the students do was a painting of some jeans that I hung on a line in the studio. I chose the jeans as a model to illustrate the importance of capturing the gesture of the drape when painting fabric. These jeans are worn out, but hold onto the shape of the wearer even when they are hanging on the line. During my demo, I emphasized blocking in the gesture lines first with loose curves and dark shadows in the folds. I drag the brush with one continuous stroke in the direction of the movement of the drape. This ensures a fluid quality of line and connection between the darks. I look for geometric formations within the folds, typically triangles, and place them accordingly. I let the paint run in some areas, so as not to appear tightly controlled.
The palette I used to paint this was very simple: Prussian blue, ultramarine, burnt umber, raw sienna and alizarin. The whole thing took all of about 20 minutes to paint, the process being one of reacting to the paint as it was applied to the paper. I don’t do any drawing in pencil first, because I feel pencil lines are restrictive and that one should learn to draw with a brush whenever possible.
This is a good exercise for anyone who has difficulty with painting fabric. Hang an article of clothing on a line (or on a hanger or hook) and study the gesture. Draw it in the medium of your choice: charcoal, watercolor, pastel, any medium will work as long as it is one that you are comfortable using. Try to relax as you do the drawing and not worry about the outcome. You will find that not being concerned about the end result will allow you to focus on what you are doing, and hence allow you to react to the process in a logical and thought out manner. And remember, have fun with it!