How to Draw Cloth Folds Step by Step Tutorial

This step by step tutorial shows how to draw cloth folds. It provides explanations of three different kinds of folds with line drawing and shading examples.

Cloth folds drawing step by step
Cloth folds drawing step by step

Cloth folds can be fairly challenging to draw due to their seemingly randomness. To help this tutorial provides an explanation of how folds are likely to form based on the compression and/or tension applied to the fabric. It also shows how you can break parts of them down into simpler shapes. It also demonstrates how you can shade the folds and explains how light and dark areas are likely to form based on lighting.

Please note that the appearance of folds can sometimes change based on the type of fabric. For example very rigid fabric can create sharper looking curves. However for the sake of this tutorial we will be using fairly common and soft fabric.

Also note that while these instructions focus on pencil shading most of the tips in this tutorial can still be applied even if you wish to draw in other mediums.

Part 1 – Cone Folds Drawing

In the case of hanging cloth the tension is usually created by the cloths own weight pulling down from where it’s attached to something.

Being attached to one small point a piece of cloth like the one in the examples below will tend to create folds with cone like shapes. Basically folds that get wider as they go down.

Step 1 – Cone Folds Line Drawing

Cloth folds line drawing
Cloth folds line drawing

To start the actually drawing process make a light line sketch of the cloth. You can either use your own piece of cloth reference or use the provided example.

Step 2 – Cone Folds Shading

Cloth cone comparison drawing
Cloth cone comparison drawing

Shading the various curves of the cloth will be somewhat similar to shading a cone (or a set of cones).

The main challenge in drawing the cloth instead of just drawing a single cone is that the cloth folds will also cast both shadows and light reflections on one another.

To better understand how the light and dark areas are created and how the shadows are cast we should analyze the lighting conditions that the cloth is hanging in.

In this case the light is coming from the right side of the drawing and slightly to the front of the cloth. This means that the lighter areas will be on the parts of the cloth that are facing in that direction and the darker areas will be on the parts that are facing away from it. Also keep in mind that as the curves are fairly smooth the transition between the light and dark areas should be fairly gradual as well (smooth gradients).

The drop shadows will be cast opposite of the light source (to the left in this case).

For more on drawing and shading simple shapes see:

How to Shade Basic 3D Shapes Tutorial

Cloth folds shading
Cloth folds shading

Shade the cloth as described above. For the actual process of applying the pencil strokes try and do it in a way that reinforces the shape of the cloth.

Make either slightly curved strokes or sets of fairly short straight strokes that wrap around the curves of the fabric. Afterwards apply another set of similar strokes but in a slightly different direction to create a light crosshatch.

For more on different stroke types see:

Shading Techniques and Stroke Types Drawing Tutorial

As was mentioned earlier the folds will cast shadows and reflections on the other folds. In this case the fold on the very right side of the drawing will have a slightly reflection on its far left side. This reflection will come from the light reflecting from the middle fold. In turn this middle fold will also have a shadow cast on it by the right side fold. The middle fold will then cast a shadow on the fold on the left and have a barely noticeable reflection from the same fold on its left.

Step 3 – Cone Folds Finished Drawing

Cloth folds drawing
Cloth folds drawing

To finish the drawing gradually apply more overlapping sets of strokes to darken the in shadow areas and to smooth out the overall surface of the cloth.

Try and avoid completely blending the strokes to the point of invisible. As mentioned earlier the direction of the strokes can help reinforce the shape of the curves.

Part 2 – Cylindrical Folds Drawing

Cloth that is evenly attached to one large area through it’s entire length and is squeezed together will tend to create cylinder/pipe like folds.

A good examples of this are window curtains.

Step 1 – Cylindrical Folds Line Drawing

Cloth folds line drawing cylindrical
Cloth folds line drawing cylindrical

The line drawing of cylindrical folds is fairly simple. Draw the main area of the folds with several sets of vertical lines. The appearance of the bottom of the folds will depend on the eye level of the viewer. Viewed from higher up the curves will appear rounder. If the bottom of the fabric is exactly at the level of the viewers eyes then it will appear flat with no curves. Finally if you look at the folds from below then the curves will go in the opposite direction.

For a more on how eye level effects drawing see:

Perspective Drawing Tutorial for Beginners

Step 2 – Cylindrical Folds Shading

Cloth cylinder comparison drawing
Cloth cylinder comparison drawing

These types of folds are probably the easiest to shade. The cylindrical folds as the name given to them in this tutorial implies can be broken down into cylinders. They will also be shaded accordingly.

For this example the lighting conditions are the same as the previous one with the light coming from the right side of the drawing area slightly in front of the cloth.

Also again keep in mind that the folds will cast shadows and reflections on one another. Both the shadows and reflections will be opposite the main light source.

Cloth folds shading cylindrical
Cloth folds shading cylindrical

Start the shading process by applying the strokes in curved or straight lines. Next follow up with another set of strokes at a slightly different angle to make a crosshatch.

You will notice that the fold on the very right of the drawing casts a shadow on the middle fold and also has a reflection from the safe fold on its far left.

As the middle fold is not as deep/round as the left side fold it will not cast as sharp of a shadow on the far left fold and will have no reflection from that fold.

Step 3 – Cylindrical Folds Finished Drawing

Cloth folds drawing cylindrical
Cloth folds drawing cylindrical

To finish the shading apply more sets of strokes darkening in the in shadow and drop shadow areas of the drawing. Again try to not fully blend the strokes as visible strokes will help add some texture to the cloth and can give a better sense of the shape of its curves.

Part 3 – Multiple Tension Point Folds Drawing

Cloth that hangs from multiple points will tend to create “U” like folds in between the those points and cone like folds similar to the first example on the sides.

Another way to look at the shape of this entire piece of cloth is as the letter “M”.

Step 1 – Multiple Tension Point Folds Line Drawing

Cloth folds line drawing double
Cloth folds line drawing double

You will notice that this line drawing has more details then the previous two examples. This is to be expected from this type of a setup of more complex folds.

There is not much instructions to be given for this step other than that you just have to pretty much draw what you see.

Step 2 – Multiple Tension Point Folds Shading

Cloth folds shading double
Cloth folds shading double

As in the previous two examples the light in this one will be coming from the right side of the drawing and again slightly to the front of the cloth.

You can once again use either curved on straight strokes for the shading process. Straight strokes are used for the examples but they are still applied in a way that somewhat wraps around the shape of the cloth.

You will also want to yet again create a crosshatch by applying one set of strokes followed by another set of overlapping strokes at a slightly different angle.

Remember to be aware of the cast shadows and reflections. Generally the larger the folds the bigger the shadow they will cast. More pronounced folds will cast sharper shadows while smoother folds will cast smoother shadows.

Reflections will mainly happen on the curved sides of folds that face towards another fold. More pronounced larger folds will cast brighter reflections.

Step 3 – Multiple Tension Point Folds Finished Drawing

Cloth folds drawing double tension points
Cloth folds drawing double tension points

Keep on applying more sets of strokes to darken the shadows and to smooth out the gradients but don’t fully blend them. As already mentioned keeping some strokes visible will give the cloth more of a fabric like texture and the direction of the strokes can help emphasize the shape of the curves.

Conclusion

Cloth folds are fairly complex and depend on a variety of factors such the tension/compression of the cloth or even the type of fabric. It’s difficult to cover too many examples in one tutorial but the tips provided here should give you a good basic understanding of how to draw some of the more common types of cloth folds.

For more shading tutorials see:

Egg Step by Step Basic Shading Tutorial