How To Draw Clothes

Does the question of how to draw clothes leave you frustrated as you work to learn how to draw people? Clothes are a challenging subject because of their intrinsic properties. On this page, I will show you how I teach my students how to draw clothes.

Simplified Shapes First

First, think about how a wrinkled cloth is like a soft piece of paper that has both creases and rises and falls on the surface.

I often ask students to imagine folds or wrinkles as miniature mountains or hills rising up from the ground or valleys falling away from a plateau. Or I might simply ask the student to look at the creases or folds as a collection of cylinders, cones, or blocks (elongated rectangular tubes) scattered out on planes that rise and fall at various angles.

And these shapes can be rigid, semi-flexible, or very flexible depending on the texture of the clothes, which influences how they twist and turn.

If you can start out seeing folds this way, you will find how to draw clothes immediately less daunting.

Next, whatever simple shapes you see, draw them using cylinders, cones, or blocks (or whatever you observe). I often suggest that students first draw the outlines of the shapes they see, making sure that the proportions, angles, and perspective are correct. You can use various tools to help you size and position the shapes correctly.

Use Light and Shadow To Set The Tonal Foundation



The next step is to shade the shapes you have just outlined. To do this, locate the highlight on each shape, because it will tell you the angle of the light source. The shadow is usually on the opposite side from the highlighted region.

Once you identify the angle of the light, draw the darkest shadow and the brightest highlight. This lets you gauge the range of tones or values you are need to achieve. Then follow your eyes to shade the planes in shadow, the planes in transition light, and the planes in full light. Do not forget that sometimes there is a very dark tone underneath the shadows of a fold.

One way to help you learn how to draw clothes better is to draw a bottle on its side at various angles. Practice it a lot, and you will be amazed at how much easier drawing wrinkles or folds in clothes becomes. It is all about training your eyes to see the simple shapes that make up a complex scene.

Step By Step Demo

  1. When I look at the reference picture of the fishing man, I first think of the major individual parts as simple shapes. In this illustration, you see I have outlined his hat, head, and arms as cylinders; I outline his back as a block. This is an easy way for me to get an idea of the overall three dimensional form before I start with any details.

  2. Next, with the basic geometric shapes in mind, I sketch with correct proportions. This is a skill you will want to master before you venture to do shading. Then I delineate the shapes of shadows in folds in the fisherman's clothes. These lines divide the planes on his clothes into light regions and shadowy parts.

  3. Next, with the basic geometric shapes in mind, I sketch with correct proportions. This is a skill you will want to master before you venture to do shading. Then I delineate the shapes of shadows in folds in the fisherman's clothes. These lines divide the planes on his clothes into light regions and shadowy parts.

    This is a very important step if you are learning how to draw clothes with lots of folds and wrinkles. Watch the angles and directions of the folds and only keep what is obvious in your drawing. Squinting (looking at the scene with eyes half closed) will help you in this step. Finally I shade all the shadows with one flat tone.

  4. Once I get the three shadow tones, I can expand the value range in the light areas. Usually there are more values seen in the light than in the shadows. As such, it is a good rule of thumb to get more tones in the light zone than in the shadow.

  5. There are subtle transitional tones that show up between rising and descending planes that make the clothes. It is these tones that give cloth its distinct look. I ask myself the question: are they soft or hard edges? I start to soften up some of the edges between light and shadows.

    At this stage, there is just a lot of fine tuning. All the construction lines that I draw can be erased or softened up if I so choose. But I am happy with the progress so far, and decide to keep the style loose.




Learning how to draw clothes well takes some practice. I recommend you can use the aid to help you with your drawing along the way.

One exercise you may want to try is to practice drawing a crunched up cloth napkin on a flat surface, draped over an object, or even hung from a wall.


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