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7 kinds of fabric folds that are good for painting.

Well, there really no end to the types of folds fabric can knurl itself into but here I will distill it down to 7 that are the most common and narrow things down for use in drawing and painting.

When you’re using a photo and can’t change the fabric then you can use this list to dumb down the fabric folds and lessen the confusion. If you're with a model in a pose and using fabric then you have great control over your folds and can simplify things making it easier to paint.

Painting drapery is a bit like solving a jigsaw puzzle, you're finding places where shapes fit. Start with your largest shapes in mid-tone values. Look for and paint as big of shapes as you can. Remember you can’t paint the wormholes in the apple till you have painted the apple. All those little swirls, crinkles and wrinkles will come later. After you have your local value and your local colour in the mid-range move on to your darks. Add in your darkest shadows early in the process. The darkest shadows should be relatively transparent, which means you may need to “push” your value scale. Also, keep in mind that quite often if you have warm light you will have cool shadows and vice versa. Blend very little—just stack shapes to begin, wedging shapes of value next to one another.

Here are the 7 types of folds generally associated with drawing and painting.


#1 The Pipefold

Just as the name suggests this fold has the fabric rolling over and crating “pipe” like features or fabric tubes. The rolls produce some very fun and interesting shadows.

Painting of a dress shirt with many different folds

A painting of a woman looking down a well in a white dress.


#2 The Drop Fold

This little fold is very similar to the pipe fold we just spoke of but rather than rolling over, it has more of a flow feel to it. Imagine a scarf drifting from the head of a woman flowing down like a waterfall onto her shoulders then cascading off the shoulder and running down the arm.

A painting of a woman in a red dress looking to the left.


#3 The Diaper Fold

Just as this name doesn’t suggest… it has nothing to do with a diaper. I don’t make up these names I just follow along…. This fold has two pinch points and falls from each with a soft swayback tradition in the middle. Here I would suggest the sway in-between the two points of support is not placed in the middle (zzz) but off to one side. (Shazam!) This fold may contain a few "pipe folds (#1)" and a few "Drop folds (#2)" as it sifts its way down.

A painting of a child in a white dress as she pulls it away from her feet.

The two pinch points created by her hand create a diaper fold.


#4 The Zig Zag Fold

Like the diaper fold but without the pinch points. This fold is most common on the flatter surfaces, zig-zagging and almost snaking its way towards you.

A painting of a woman in a white dress looking down.

Painting zoomed in on a piece of blue fabric.


#5 The Spiral Fold

A spinny little fold that wraps itself all up. Twisting and spiralling around this fold can be tricky to paint. If you can, unwrap the fabric a bit and loosen up the twist. Tight wraps can be difficult to render.

Painting of a woman in a white dress looking down.

Painting zoomed in on a piece of fabric in the painting.


#6 The Half Lock Fold

This fold happens when the form under the material is bent or flattened out. This is difficult to paint and can be what it is in a photo. I try to take the half lock part and open it up to more of a zig-zag fold making it much simpler to paint

Painting of a woman with her back turned in a white dress.

painting zoomed into a section of fabric laying on the ground.


#7 The Inert Fold

Like this says, it's inert, it has no defiant feel to it. This is by far the hardest thing to paint. If you're able move the fabric into one of the above 5 folds to make things easier to paint. Inert folds always turn out to be an inert feel in a painting. Almost like you don’t know what you’re doing. I avoid this fold when I can.

Painting of a woman on the street with a white dress


Here are a few more fabric pics to lust after:

I hope you keep those Fabrics flowing.

Your friend in art.


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