How to Draw Clothing & Improve your Charcoal Technique

Clothing can be one of the most challenging parts of a drawing. There are many different types of folds and executing them to look realistic can be difficult. There are pipe folds, zigzag folds, spiral folds, diaper folds, drop folds, half-lock folds and inert folds. Learning each of these isn’t as overwhelming as it may seem. It’s fairly simple to learn them once each is applied to how the clothing hangs on the human body.

I own dozens of art books and I found the most beneficial is Barbara Bradley’s “Drawing People: How to Portray the Clothed Figure.” One of the most helpful tips I found in Ms. Bradley’s book is how to hold the charcoal baton. She recommends holding the medium overhand so you can apply strokes in any direction.

“With your palm upward, place the drawing medium perpendicular, not parallel, to the line of your fingers. As you draw, make sure it continues to lie across your fingers. If your medium is parallel to your fingers, it will get ‘stuck’ and you won’t be able to stroke in as many directions or change from line to tone.”

I found this method a bit awkward at first, but with a little practice it was really easier. As Ms. Bradley points out, you don’t get “stuck” when holding the palm upward.


The book provides detailed illustrations of each fold as well as an example of two different types of fold in one drawing as shown on the right. Drawing folds can be more complex if the clothing has a striped or other pattern. When the clothing bends, the stripes or pattern will bend as well, taking a little more patience and concentration. It’s also important to place folds that are common with the type of fabric the subject is wearing. Loose clothing will have many more folds than clothing that fits tight to the body.

And don’t forget those seams! The seams must also “move” with the garment. Drawing the folds in clothing can take practice but it’s well worth it if the goal is to have a more realistic drawing.

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