Painting of folding fabric

Exploration into the drawing and painting of FOLDS

The ability to express the beauty of a folding fabric seems to me to be an essential skill whether one is painting a still life or a moving figure or an interior. So I took a little time to study this to try to understand how to do it in paint. I looked at the work of Willem Claesz.Heda and Willem de Poorter….awesome treatment of fabric!

But then I also remembered the wonderful drawings in an exhibition at the British Museum last year ‘Fra Angelico To Leonardo – Italian Renaissance Drawings’.

-Michelangelo’s ‘An Old Man Wearing a Hat’

Ghirlandaio’s ‘Study of Drapery’

…and many others…all carefully observed drawings of folds coming from a suspension point and the careful follow through of the folding fabric. As always, accurate and careful observation seems to be the key!

I particularly wanted to take some time on this subject because I have always been fascinated by rhythm in drawing, in natural objects, in picture composition to name just a few.  I love the flow of line and the sense of infinity which can emerge from a simple shape.  I remember seeing a section of a thin tendril which was reaching out from a climbing Jacaranda shrub and I was struck by the simplicity of the beauty of the rhythmic curving of the branch…I have never forgotten it!  Since then this love of the rhythm in natural things has stayed with me.


I did a couple of studies of a jacket hanging on a peg – one on a light background using washes of various tones and then the same study done on a dark ground using opaque tones of blue. I found these quite easy to do and wondered why I had had such trouble with the cloth in the still life study of books and easel.  The difference was that the folds of the jacket were all coming from a fixed point and so it was easy to follow through with the tones to create the folding effect.  However, the random shapes of a tossed cloth were very different.

It was fun to play around with some knitting to get a textural effect of a folding fabric…love the random shapes and the effect of shadows. When it came to drawing the folding fabric, I threw a piece of white fabric on the table and let the light drift across it. I drew the shapes with a thick pencil and loved the movement and the energy which came from the rhythmic flow of folds – beautiful! Painting it was a different matter.  The variety of tones on the white cloth was amazing. I attempted a tonal study of this and decided that with my present limited knowledge, it was probably as good as I could produce at this time.  I knew I was becoming obsessive about folds and that I had to leave it…in order to move on!


About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
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