How to Paint Drapery With Oil Paints

Updated on March 27, 2018
Example of Drapery in Painting: Andrea Mantegna's "Dead Christ"
Example of Drapery in Painting: Andrea Mantegna's "Dead Christ"

Creating Emotion Through Objects

For centuries, artists have been painting drapery and fabric to express emotion, create drama, and convey tension. Works by old masters such as Caravaggio, Mantegna, Tintoretto, and El Greco utilize fabric in billowing swirls or wet drapery to add context to the stories. The fabric in their paintings takes on a life of its own.

Some artists believe that if you can master drapery, you can paint anything. I don't know if this is accurate, but I do believe that it is similar to painting fabric, paper, and flesh. Every painting technique is a building block—the more you know, the easier it becomes to accomplish effective artwork. Use the painting exercise below to develop your technique!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Student using Grayscale - In ProcessStudent Painting using a Raw Sienna ScaleStudent Painting using GrayscaleIntermediate Student Painting using Complimentary colors (Blue and Orange)Student's Grayscale Painting Complete
Student using Grayscale - In Process
Student using Grayscale - In Process | Source
Student Painting using a Raw Sienna Scale
Student Painting using a Raw Sienna Scale | Source
Student Painting using Grayscale
Student Painting using Grayscale | Source
Intermediate Student Painting using Complimentary colors (Blue and Orange)
Intermediate Student Painting using Complimentary colors (Blue and Orange) | Source
Student's Grayscale Painting Complete
Student's Grayscale Painting Complete | Source

What You'll Need

  • White Fabric: The fabric should be solid (no patterns) and not be able to be seen through.
  • Something to Drape: This can be a ladder, stacked chairs, tall furniture, an ironing board, or anything that can hold the fabric up.
  • Clamp Light
  • Canvas
  • Oil or Acrylic Paint: I recommend having raw sienna, white, burnt umber, and ultramarine blue.
  • Brushes
  • Turpentine: Try to use an odorless turpentine if possible.
  • Brush Cleaner
  • Charcoal

Try This Painting Exercise

  1. Start by setting up your fabric. Hang it so it flows down naturally. If you want to experiment with swagging to create "u" shapes, try folding a section of it like a fan. Use pins if needed, but make sure it does not appear to be pulling unnaturally at any point. Step back 6' or so to observe the bigger picture. Setting up your still life is actually part of the art: be patient and take your time. It is common for students to spend an entire class just setting up!
  2. Use a clamp light on one angle of your fabric to create a sharp contrast that shows a variety of value scales. Try to achieve very dark areas and bright highlights.
  3. Stand back and take 5-10 minutes to just look at the fabric. Count the folds and creases. Look at the values that you can find.
  4. Draw some thumbnail sketches determining what portion of the still life you will draw. Do not attempt to paint the entire still life for the first painting. Just take a small section and enlarge it on your canvas.
  5. Place colors on your palette. Use white, raw sienna, and black. The last color can be made by mixing ultramarine blue and burnt umber.
  6. Lightly draw your composition onto the canvas. Do not fill in any values at this time—only light outlines. Blow off any excess charcoal dust.
  7. Mix turpentine into oils and water into acrylics. Start with very thin layers of paint.
  8. Painting drapery is a bit like solving a jigsaw puzzle, where you find the places shapes fit together. Start with your largest shapes in mid-tone values. Add in your darkest shadows early in the process. The darkest shadows should go to black for this exercise, which means you may need to "push" your value scale. If you literally do not see black, make your darkest area black and work from that point, keeping your lightest areas white. Blend very little—just stack shapes to begin, wedging shapes of value next to one another.
  9. The longer you observe your still life, the more shapes will appear. Work toward smaller and smaller details.
  • Acrylic painters will need to blend a bit as they go because the paint dries quickly. However, if you over-blend, go back and paint sharper lines where needed.
  • Oil painters should consider scumbling to blend colors: use a dry clean brush and "scrub" the paint colors into one another or scrub wet paint over dry paint to help with shading.

This is a process. The more you work on it, the better it will look. If you are using oil paint and your painting becomes muddy and unworkable, allow it to dry. Good luck!

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • carol7777 profile image

        carol stanley 

        7 years ago from Arizona

        This is super for those of us having trouble with folds. I am going to pin this and bookmark when I get the paints out to some folds.

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        This is a great blog. I am pretty much impressed with your good work. You put really very helpful information. Nice Painting own your Site Keep it up.


      • profile image


        8 years ago

        amazing way of tutuiring

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        u guide me in oil paint plzzzzzzzz


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)