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How to Draw Folds and Drapery

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How to Draw Folds and Drapery

By Alexander Ryzhkin

In this video lesson, you will discover How to Draw Folds and Drapery.

How to Draw Folds and Drapery

We can begin with a flat surface, let's say a table. Imagine that a tablecloth is placed on that surface and wrinkled slightly. For example, that piece of fabric can form a couple of waves on the table's smooth surface. Geometrically, we have two different surfaces here—a flat plane of the table that is interrupted by a curved surface of the tablecloth. To explain those folds in drawing, we don't have to draw their outlines. Wavy surfaces can be described by gradations of tonal values. Using shadows, mid-tones, and lights, we can create an illusion of reality, rendering values of wrinkled fabric. Depending on the texture of the fabric, tonal values may have sharper of softer contrasts. For example, silky materials will have greater contrasts between lights and shadows, denser gradations of tonal values, and brighter highlights than velvety fabrics. We can also mark casted shadows under waves of cloth to make this sketch more three-dimensional.

The next step is to fold the tablecloth so it forms the figure "eight" in the cross-section. Such a loop of fabric has sharper bends and greater contrast of tonal values. There is also a casted shadow under such a fold. Gradations of tonal values depend on the curvature of a fold. Casted shadows create an illusion that there is space beneath the cloth. Depicting such small details as the tones of every wrinkle gives more realistic appearance to draperies in drawing. These were "passive" wrinkles of lying fabric.

A piece of cloth that is free-hanging (like a flag) can have waves and wrinkles formed by wind. Such waves are unpredictable in shape and depend on air flow direction and force. When fabric is draping some three-dimensional objects, the geometry of wrinkles is different from folds of fabric lying on a flat surface.

Let's check the folds of a tablecloth that hangs down from the corner of a table or a piece of fabric that is placed on top of a cube. On the top plane as well as on both vertical sides of the cube the drapery is flat, but in the corner there is excess material that folds inward and outward, creating geometrical shapes resembling cones. The corner of such conical folds is pointing to the anchor point, which is the corner of the cube. This is the tension point where the fabric is stressed. The geometry of such folds can be revealed by tonal values in drawing. Shadows, mid-tones, and lights together with highlights describe the roundness of that fold that originates from one anchor point. There is also difference in tones of different planes of fabric—the top plane is lighter and the side is darker when light is coming from above. Light areas of the fold will be darker than the light tone of the top plane. The three-dimensional curvature of the wrinkle requires a lot of attention when rendering tonal values, so drawing draperies is never very fast. Cross-contours of wrinkles are good guides for direction of strokes of tonal rendering. The border between the top and side planes can be sharp or smooth depending on thickness and firmness of fabric. Even though the cube is hidden beneath the drapery here, you need to keep in mind its shape and expose it by using the wrinkles of fabric. Values change from the lights of the top plane to the highlight along the cube's edge, to the darker tones of the side plane.

Now, let's examine what wrinkles would exist if fabric covered some cylindrical object. Excess material forms a round shape across the cylinder, resembling half of a donut, which is joined by other "donuts" in an accordion zigzag pattern. Such a pattern is formed because fabric is very flexible, but not so stretchable. You can see such wrinkles on any cylindrical objects, like sleeves or boots, for example. Nevertheless, the overall shape of such draped objects will remain cylindrical. There are cases when wrinkles are not wrapped around an object, holding its shape. For example, a piece of paper can be smashed into a paper ball, creating creases with hard-edged, angular wrinkles. The geometry of such creases would depend on the forces applied to the paper. In the case of fabric, the actions applied to it also have implication, although the edges would be much softer depending on the limpness of the fabric.

Depicting and rendering such wrinkles requires a lot of patience and attention to detail. There are no shortcuts here, just long, hard work. The amount of wrinkles will depend on the material. For example, creased baking foil would be a challenging piece to portray.

The Old Masters used to develop drawing skills by drawing draperies for long hours. Such draperies were soaked in gesso, and when dried, they held the shapes of wrinkles forever. If you want to elevate your drawing skills to the next level, dedicate some time to draperies drawing. Every fine artist who has adequate art education spent hundreds of hours drawing still-lives, including still-lives with draperies, before advancing to drawing clothed human figures. You can cover some geometrical objects like cones, cubes, and spheres with fabric and draw folds, studying their geometry and tonal values. The main objective of such practice is to learn how to reveal covered objects under draperies rather than how to portray some specific fold. The mastery of drawing draperies is when a viewer can easily understand what shape is concealed by the fabric. The great sculptor of the 17th century, Bernini achieved such poetry of draperies that folds became artistic objects on their own in his monumental masterpieces.

Here are some other useful exercises you can do. For example, you can draw a piece of fabric hanging on two nails. Such drapery has bold folds with aesthetic geometry. You need to keep in mind, though, that depicting outlines and major shadows is not enough. Every fold has its cross-contours, explaining hills and valleys on the fabric's surface, and the task is to portray those contours, including the depth of each valley and the height of each hill. This takes many hours. If an artist thinks that he or she can draw a human figure, and therefore it is easy to draw a draped one, it is not so. Drawing draped models comes after drawing nudes in leading art academies of the world.

Drawing draperies has its own rules and philosophy. It is not about folds and wrinkles. It is about the objects concealed by those draperies. Drawing what you know is especially important here. If an artist draws what one sees—folds on a model, for example—and this model moves or take a break, the wrinkles will change, and such an artist will face major difficulties without proper understanding of constructive drawing principles and rules of formation of folds. Models will move, and folds will change. This should not influence the quality of your work. There is a way of keeping folds in place. Some artists, especially in the past, used to dress mannequins in the costumes of a sitter and draw or paint the clothes for as long as required to complete the job. This way, all folds would remain unchanged, and every small detail could be meticulously studied.

The Old Masters used to employ such an approach when models were not available for a long time of posing. An intermediate artist often understands quite well how to draw a nude model, but may have major difficulties when it comes to portraying clothed models. Why does this happen? This is because drawing draperies requires not only depiction of wrinkles and folds, but above all, by means of drawing folds, portraying the human body volumes that support the fabric. When done well, a drawing of a draped figure only suggests rather than fully describes human flesh. Such an artwork might look even more attractive because a viewer would have some freedom to imagine what forms those draperies cover. This makes a viewer a co-author in the process of understanding an artwork. That is why artworks executed in a photo-realistic manner often look boring and uncreative. A true work of genius may have only a few lines, but an artist's mastery can make it great in the eyes of a viewer who also takes part in the process of creation when looking at such a masterpiece. So, sometimes suggestions in drawing are more important than photo-realistic rendering.

The Old Masters knew this very well and used this principle to full advantage. That is why you can see so many draperies with complicated folds in their artworks. Sometimes draperies were used as objects in their own right in masterpieces by the Old Masters. This was not only for decoration, but also for creating a mood, portraying the wealth and sophistication of the sitters.

You may know the old story about two ancient Greek artists who had an argument about which was the better artist. They decided to resolve the argument by making the best works they could possibly produce. One artist portrayed a youth who was holding a cluster of grapes. This work was so beautiful that a bird landed on it, trying to eat the grapes. The other artist brought a painting covered by a drapery. The first artist asked him to unveil the work. "This is the work," replied the author. The drapery painter was nominated as the winner, because he could deceive an experienced artist while the first one could deceive only a bird. So, a well-rendered drapery can expose a high level of mastery in art...

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