Tuesday, 14 September 2010

My Oil Painting of Clothes Looks Like Plastic

Figure painting often entails painting clothes. But the idea of illustrating folds, textures and patterns on clothing may bewilder the artist to the point that it end up looking a confused mess. The folds and patterns contradict one another, leading to a flat representation of fabric suggesting plastic or sheet metal. What is the secret to painting clothes effectively?

Problems When Painting Clothes

Technique for Oil Painting Material
Rachel Shirley
Many problems can be avoided when oil painting figures in clothing. The following practices must be addressed before the artist can make improvements in rendering fabrics.
  • Illustrating the detail in the fabric at the outset of the painting session, causing the area to become muddled.
  • Using black to darken the colour of the fabric when painting shadows or creases.
  • Illustrating folds in a linear way where lines may not always be visible.
  • Assuming that the contours in the clothing are always darker on one side than the other.
  • Rendering clothes by what the brain knows about them rather than what the eye sees: For instance, all buttons are round, all jackets have two sleeves, all sleeves meet up at the shoulder and have tubular forms; the torso section is squarish in shape; trousers consist of two tubular sections and most clothes have stitching at the seams which appear as a dotted line.
  • Using poor photographic reference, causing the artist to guesswork sections of the clothing and to rely upon the aforementioned dictatorial part of the brain to fill the gaps.
How to Paint Clothes

To get to grips with painting clothes, it is vital that the artist dispels all presumptions about how clothes should look. For instance, a jacket hanging off the back of a chair or hook will appear as an abstract mass, where the sleeves may not be discernable. The stitching, buttons, zips and pleats may gradate from one form, shade and colour to another, and in places be invisible. The same applies to all other elements of clothing, including collars, pockets and the print on the material.
The following practices when painting clothes will help in rendering a more realistic impression of clothing:
  • An item of clothing that exhibits a complex mass of light, shade, folds and patterns can be simplified by viewing it through half-closed eyes. Start by painting the largest areas with a wide brush and then working down to the detail.
  • If the fabric continues to bewilder, stand back from the painting periodically to get an overall impression. This will help capture the essence of the clothing.
  • Beware of overdoing the detail, particularly with the pattern of the fabric, as this could rob the focus from the face or other aspects of the figure.
  • Not all folds have a linear aspect. Outlines have many different colours and tones, some dark, others pale.
  • Look out for reflected light on material. This is not from direct light, but from light bouncing back from neighbouring surfaces and will often light up dark areas such as folds and shadows. Reflected light can be different colours and shades.
Oil Painting Techniques for Painting Clothes

Different painting practices can be used to suggest different textures in fabrics.

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Shiny material such as silk or satin can be suggested by dry brushing neat paint for highlights over selected areas of the underpainting.

Glazing oil paint is another great technique for achieving smooth gradations to folds in material. This entails the application of thin washes over underlying layers. The paint can be applied via a soft sable or cloth.

Alla prima or impasto is a good technique for illustrating rustic material such as wool, camelhair or denim. Sgraffito can be incorporated to illustrate lines in fabrics, such as stitching, hems or button holes.
Stippling or scumbling is a useful technique for suggesting knitwear or fir.

Links Relating to Figure Painting

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