Tips for Painting Fabric

Age or antique painted fabric to create a unique craft or handmade memento that looks and feels like a piece of the past.

From pirate’s maps to family tree scrolls, painting and distressing fabric for an antique feel gives newly-crafted pieces a sense of history. The proper sense of “antique” isn’t limited solely to the look of the fabric, but also the touch: frayed edges, soft surfaces, worn spots through which fingers are poked.

Depending upon the desired effect, different applications can be made to antique fabric. Water damage, grimy stains, and faded inscriptions: these are just a few of the possibilities when altering fabric with ageing techniques. Along with tips on what to do come the guidelines for what not to do – from using ink to create text to dyeing freshly-painted objects.

Fabric Tips and Painting Suggestions

Item fabric is the first consideration in antiquing the item. While synthetic fabrics hold dyes well, the tendency to absorb stain quickly requires caution, since a little ageing goes a long ways. Moreover, the paint absorption by synthetics is often strong, resulting in bold images which do not fade quickly.

To choose fabric ideal for antiquing, use cotton muslin, preferably Osnaburg. Considered one of the best fabrics for craft use by folk and primitive artists, the soft, grainy off-white fabric is easy to paint and dye and frays readily along the edges with a little encouragement.

Osnaburg is especially good for projects like maps, scrolls, and other historical recreations. Ordinary muslin can be substituted, especially since white muslin tends to fade naturally into yellow shades over time.

Emphasize bold colors over pastels when painting the fabric. Detail the painted design with gold enamel craft paint (including outdoor varieties) to add gilt edges or gilding to antique-style maps or family trees. Even with antiquing solutions and fabric sanding, the remaining gilding will add a touch of authenticity to antiqued items.

Antiquing with Sepia Solutions

To dye craft-painted fabrics for quick results, use a traditional hot tea dye. A strong solution of dark tea (black or orange pekoe are excellent choices) is poured into a dyeing pan, bowl, or sink; the fabric is then soaked in the hot solution for several minutes. Remove the fabric after a long soak and wring out extra liquid before drying.

The tea will highlight flaws in the pattern or design, such as spots where the brush missed contact or the fabric didn’t absorb the color. This tendency will help enhance the antique feel of the project, as if the paint is wearing away, which is something to keep in mind while creating the initial design.

For an equally powerful (and somewhat darker) solution, mix two teaspoons of raw sienna paint, or a similar brown shade, with one-third cup of water and brush over the fabric surface. Like hot tea, the solution quickly dyes the fabric a dark shade and highlights flaws in the painted design.

Soft and Hard Fabrics and Real “Holes”

Soaking an item in tea typically softens the fabric; but the painted surface remains hard. To add a sense of wear to the painted surface, use fine-grain sandpaper to wear down the painted design. This can be done before or after the antiquing solution is applied, but sanding beforehand allows the tea to wash away any white marks or debris left behind.

To mimic the feel hard or water-stained fabrics, like sacking or tough leather, emphasize paint over water-based solutions like tea dye. Increasing the paint in the paint and water dyeing solution will stiffen the feel of fabric; a thick coat brushed over the fabric should dry with a stiff, rough surface. Add a grungy feel to the fabric by sprinkling with powdered cinnamon while still damp, brushing away the excess when dry.

Sand vigorously over a small section of fabric to create “holes” that look like natural wear in the material. The grains quickly pull apart the fabric with a worn look that exceeds any hole created deliberately with scissors or a thread puller.

Preserving Designs and other Troubleshooting Tips

Avoid writing in ink on the fabric before antiquing the project. Quality inks, especially calligraphy varieties, will run and blur beyond recognition in a tea bath or paint solution. While this certainly adds a faded dimension to the fabric, it can quickly ruin a project with dark lines running into painted surfaces.

Add calligraphy or written messages only after the antiquing solutions have been applied and the piece is completely dry. While the ink may have a slightly newer appearance than the rest of the fabric, the writing will be legible and the painted design unharmed.

Colored pencils, on the other hand, usually withstand the dyeing process with only minimal effects. Moreover, pencils can be used on the wet fabric surface as well, creating a rich, blended technique not unlike paint.


Facial Proportions

Facial proportions stay the same for every human face, though the basic size and shape of the features will vary to give unique appearances to every person. The most common facial proportions are well known, but the finer details are a secret that only the those who commonly practice their art are aware of.

Buy the book How to Draw Faces for the basic steps of drawing faces

Basic Lines:

You can outline the basic facial feature positions using a few simple steps:
Begin your face with a large oval. This will be the basic shape of your head, though the shape will change slightly as you work.

Once you have your oval, the first step to facial proportions is to divide the oval into four even sections by drawing one line down the middle of the oval and other across the center (creating a “t”).

Now, draw a horizontal line dividing the top half of the oval in half. Do the same thing for the bottom half of the oval. This divides the oval into the facial proportions outline (an oval with eight sections; three horizontal lines and one vertical).

Middle Lines:

Facial proportions start with the middle, horizontal line. This is the eye line, both eyes being placed here. This line will also be where the top edge of the ears will appear. The middle, vertical line will be the line of the nose. Noses can be different lengths depending on the face, but will commonly end halfway between the middle horizontal line (eye line) and the bottom horizontal line (lip line).

Bottom Line:

The next facial proportion is the mouth, which will be situated along the bottom horizontal line, with the middle of the mouth (the opening) directly on the line. The bottom of the ears will connect to this line as well.

Top Line:

The hairline should be located on the top horizontal line (this can change based on the age and gender of your subject), and the hair should show all the way to the top of the beginning oval.


For more detailed facial proportions, note that the width of the eye:

  • Should be the same width as the space between the eyes
  • Is the same width as the bottom of the nose (where the nostrils are located)
  • Is the same length as the area between the bottom of the lips to the bottom of the chin.

The book Ways of Drawing Eyes (Ways of Drawing) has some great advice on drawing eyes to express different emotions.
These are the facial proportions mainly used for a “mug shot,” or when looking at a face directly. Depending on the angle that the face is turned at, the facial proportions will elongate or shorten based on perspective. These facial proportions should also stay very similar when drawing a profile (the angle where the face is directly to the side, so only one side of the face is visible).

Noted Differences:

There are a few facial proportions that will change from face to face, giving humans their uniqueness. The jaw line will change, becoming rounder for women and children and more angular for adult men. The length of the nose will change, as well the basic shape of the eyes, mouth, nose, etc. However, these are the facial proportions that will stay consistent for every human face.


Scale and Proportion for Humans

Scale and Proportion for Humans, giving details on adults, adolescents, and infants.  Scale and Proportion for Humans changes based on sex and age, this page discusses these differences.

Scale and proportion for humans is one area of drawing that can be very complicated.  The dimensions of the body change depending on the age of the person being drawn as well as the sex of the person.

Scale and proportion for humans past adolescence:

Each figure is typically between 5-7 heads tall (depending on the person’s actual height).

  • The first head is the actual head of the figure.
  • The second head should end right at the breast bone or the middle point of the breasts for a woman.
  • The third head should set the waist point, marking the belly button of a tall person, and the top of the pants for a shorter person.
  • The end of the fourth head should mark either the upper thighs or the knees depending on the height of the figure.
  • The end of the fifth head may end the person or mark the lower legs.

According to measurement rules, adults should have longer limbs than children.

  • The female adult’s elbows should start at the waist (end of the third head for a taller person or the middle of the third head for a shorter person), while the male has longer arms than a female.
  • The male’s elbows should bend a little below the waist

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) wrote a book on scale and proportion for humans which you can purchase for more information.

The scale and proportion for humans in pre-adolescence:

A pre-adolescent figure should be between 3-5 heads tall (depending on age and height). Their facial features should be larger and the males jaw should be sharper than a female.

Males should have longer limbs (limbs proportioned for an adult, rather than the current body size). Remember, the marking stone for “teens” is their awkwardness.

They are growing into their adult bodies, and thus their dimensions are a strange combination of adult and child. Each person will have a slightly different dimension, but the scale and proportion for human pre-adolescent females should be shorter than males.

Tips on Infants:

Scale and proportion for human infants are even smaller.

Depending on the age, the infant should be three-four heads tall. The second head makes up the body, while the third head makes up the legs. The body and limbs should be fat and the head very round.

  • A good rule for infants is to draw them with circles, no lines.
  • The scale and proportion for humans’ infant faces are simple: large eyes, nose, and mouth. Most infants have the same mouths, very defined with a rounded upper lip for sucking.

You can also purchase Wooden Mannequins for both adults and infants to help your drawings.

This is just a brief outline of the scale and proportion for humans, for more detailed information see the page within this site that best describes what you are searching for.

Remember, the scale and proportion for humans change based on the figure. Only keep the dimensions the same if drawing the same character. Change things, make your characters interesting by changing the scale and proportion for humans.


How to Draw Clothing

Learn how to draw clothes for realistic or cartoon style art.  This page walks you through the process and notes how different fabrics/seams effect drawing.
Learning how to draw clothes is a difficult, but necessary step of learning how to draw.  Clothes are something that everyone, world wide, wears (obviously), though the style and colors can vary greatly.  There is one major consistency in clothing, no matter what style of clothing you are learning how to draw: wrinkles.

How to draw wrinkles

Look anywhere the body bends

  • At ankles
  • At the neck
  • At the waist
  • Below the butt
  • At the bend of the back
  • At the elbow
  • At the knees

Look anywhere bulges are found

  • Beneath the breasts
  • At the groin (for guys particularly, but wrinkles here on girls as well)
  • Where a shirt tucks in
  • Where sleeves are folded back

When learning how to draw clothes, it is recommended that you draw the figure first.  Draw the basic outline of the figures body in the correct body position.  Then draw the clothes on top of the initial sketch.  This will allow you judge the length of the limbs and thickness of limbs and body (something that is easily misjudged when starting with the clothes).

Depending on the position of the body, you may need to include other wrinkles than the standard ones.

  • When the weight is on one leg
    • Wrinkles appear on opposite hip
  • If the arms are above the head
    • Wrinkles appear upward across stomach


Inconsistancy 1:

When first learning how to draw clothes, you may want to experiment with different fabrics.  Every fabric forms wrinkles slightly differently.  Silks and satins tend to wrinkle more.  Cotton (which is used most often) wrinkles, but not to a large extent.  Leather does not form a vast number of wrinkles, but they are more pronounced than seen in silks or cottons. 

Inconsistency 2:

Another inconsistency is the location of seams.  Many female shirts contain seams under the breasts or across the belly.  These seams lesson the number and size of wrinkles, but there are small wrinkles shooting outward from the seams.

Inconsistency 3:

The last inconsistency with how clothes wrinkle (at least the last major one) is the size of the clothes the figure is wearing.  Are they loose or tight?  Loose clothes contain more wrinkles than tight ones because they drape across the body.  A good way to practice drawing the draping effect is with curtains or blankets hung on a line. 

Inconsistency the Final (common sense, so doesn’t count):

Obviously, gender differences affect how to draw wrinkles in clothes as well, but that should go without saying.

Also, never forget that gravity and wind are both major impacts on the overall appearance.  As stated, great practice techniques include sketching curtains, blankets, table clothes, etc.  Practice makes perfect when learning how to draw clothes!


How to Draw Disney Style

A step by step explination of how to draw disney style.  Remember, style changes based on characters, but the basic process stays the same. This page focuses on face, body, and limbs.

Learning how to draw Disney style is not difficult.  Just pick your favorite character and grab a pencil and paper.  When you are first starting out, you should have a reference to look at, but as you get better the reference will not be necessary.

The first rule to remember is:

Work with circles and ovals to do your basic layout.Sketch the picture first, with correctly sized ovals to represent head, body, and limbs.  This is the beginning steps for how to draw Disney style.  Once you have the basic size and position outlined with ovals, it is time to start putting in details (view our scale and proportions page for information on how to correctly proportion your characters).

Beginning Details (face & body):

The easiest rule for drawing is:

  • Start with the head and work your way down.

You have the basic oval for the face; now work on restructuring that oval for a more accurate shape. If your character is a human:

  • Bring in the oval for a slight indentation beside the eyes.
    • This will make the top and bottom of the head larger, with curves around the eyes.
  • Then bring the chin down into a rounded point.

How to draw Disney style facial features:

Again, start with basic circles in place, outlining the size and placement of the eyes, nose, and mouth (see Facial Proportions).  Once you have the sizes and placement correct, begin reshaping the features.  These features will change depending on the figure, but one constant with how to draw Disney style is that the eyes will be slightly oval (or almond) shaped.  Keep the features simplistic, too much detail will take away from the whole.

How to draw Disney style bodies:

There will obviously be differences for animals and humans, but there are some constants.  Bodies should be done with rounded lines, never straight.  Don’t worry so much about the shape (as it will soon be covered with clothing – see How to Draw Clothes), but get the basic size correct. 

  • With females, hips and upper chest is more round and large than the waist.
  • With males the shoulders are the largest section (creating almost a rounded upside-down triangle).

Check out your reference for ideas on how to draw Disney style clothing.  Some characters will have clothing that molds to the body, while others will have very ruffled clothing.  Keep the clothing rounded as well.

Finer Details (Limbs & Appendages):

How to draw Disney style arms and legs:

Again, make sure to look at your reference.

  • What position is the figure in?
  • Are their arms behind their back?
  • Are they sitting on their knees, making the bottom of the legs invisible?

Use elongated ovals to sketch the arms and legs.  Learning how to draw Disney style arms and legs can be done in a few basic steps.  Arms are made up of two ovals, and legs are drawn the same way, two ovals making up upper and lower arm/leg.  The difference (besides the thickness) is that the legs have a circle between the two ovals, forming the knees.  Connect these circles and ovals using gently rounded lines.

How to draw Disney style hands and feet:

When beginning, the feet should always be covered (shoes are much easier than feet).  When drawing the hands, draw a rounded square for the palm, and then three connected ovals at the top of this square to form each finger.  Two connected ovals on the side of the rounded square will form the thumb.  Bring it together by connected with rounded lines.

Finally, trace over the finished lines with a pen and erase the original circles.  Your first pictures won’t be perfect, but you’ve now learned the basics of how to draw Disney style!