Section 11. The Study of Drapery

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Section 11. The Study of Drapery

The Hub

The advisability of studying drapery is obvious. The student will spend much more time drawing the costumed figure when he is out of school than he will drawing the nude, yet I have found that most students leave school with little or no conception of how to draw clothes. Aside from this obvious practical reason, the precise study of a piece of drapery makes all other forms more clear. There is only one important principle to remember. Wherever the drapery is held, either against the wall with a thumbtack or on the figure as it is at the knee and the elbow, that point becomes a hub from which the folds radiate.

As a simple demonstration of this, pick up a piece of cloth from the floor with your right hand and hold it at arm’s length. The folds all radiate from the particular place where the cloth is held. Now pick up another point with your left hand and hold it somewhat away from the right hand. You will immediately see that you have two hubs and that some of the folds move from one hand to the other. The other folds also radiate from those hubs, attempting to drop to the floor. The same thing happens in the folds of the trousers when a man bends his knee. The top part of the knee, the under side of the knee, and the place where the cuff makes contact with the ankle all act as hubs. Wherever the figure holds the drapery by pressing against it, those points become hubs.


One Hour Ex. 27: Quick Studies of Drapery (five to ten) Ex. 27: Quick Studies of Drapery (five to ten) Ex. 27: Quick Studies of Drapery (five to ten) Ex. 27: Quick Studies of Drapery (five to ten) Ex. 27: Quick Studies of Drapery (five to ten)
Two Hour Ex. 28: Long Study of Drapery (one four-hour drawing) Ex. 28: Long Study of Drapery (one six-hour drawing)

No model is to be used in this Schedule.

Remember the Daily Composition (Ex. 14) every day.

Chapel of the Arena, Padua
Vision of San Giovacchino (Detail) by Giotto
Wherever the drapery is held, as at the knee and the elbow,
that point becomes a hub from which the folds radiate


Materials: Use a piece of cloth something like bed sheeting, about three by five feet in size. It should be white or of a solid light color, of medium weight, and without sheen.

Tack the drapery flat against the wall with a tack in each of the upper corners. In the following paragraphs I will describe five different arrangements, which include the main principles affecting drapery (except when it is pleated). In each case, first read the description and attempt to make a gesture drawing of it from imagination. Then arrange the drapery according to the directions and make another drawing which will enable you to check up on your erroneous ideas. In other words, you are to make use of what we have already described as ‘structural imagination.’ The attempt to draw should always precede the act of draping the material.

Arrangement 1

Remove the tack in the upper left-hand corner, which we will call Tack A, and pin the top of the cloth to the wall one foot from the corner. Remove Tack B in the upper right-hand corner and do likewise, keeping the cloth taut between the two tacks. You will notice that the drapery cascades at either end. The section which was released dropped lower than the original bottom line of the drapery and its length is the diagonal from the place where the tack is to the lower comer.

Arrangement 2

Pin the drapery back to its original flat position on the wall. Remove Tack A from the cloth and move it six inches to the right, where it is placed in the drapery but not pinned to the wall. Then move Tack A with the drapery one foot more to the right and fasten it in the wall. Move Tack B similarly to the left, thus leaving the cloth between the two tacks slack. You will notice that the two sides cascade as before though naturally they do not drop quite as much. There are also folds running from one tack to the other. These folds are affected also by the pull of gravity for, as they move across, they are also dropping down.

Arrangement 3

Leaving the drapery as it was pinned in Arrangement 2, take the point at the middle of the top of the drapery and pull it up to a point halfway between A and B, fastening it with a third tack which we will call C. You will notice that there are now three hubs.

Arrangement 4

Release Tack C. Pick up the drapery at a point one foot below the center of the slack section, carry it up to the point halfway between A and B, and tack it to the wall with Tack C.

Arrangement 5

Remove Tack C. Reach behind the drapery to a point one foot below the center of the slack section. That point is then pulled up and tacked between A and B. The fourth and fifth arrangements are the same except that the drapery is picked up from the front in the fourth and from behind in the fifth.

In subsequent quick studies, arrange the drapery as you choose, always planning the arrangement and making a drawing from imagination before actually draping the material. The following suggestions will help you to vary the arrangement:

Start at first with the drapery tacked flat against the wall. Place a pin at any point on the cloth, such as one foot below the top on the left side or two feet below the top on the right side or in the center. Then say to yourself, ‘I am going to pick up the cloth at the point where the pin is and tack it to the wall at a point one foot higher.’ Or you may choose to tack it two feet higher or a certain distance to the right or left and somewhat higher. First draw what you think will happen and then tack the drapery according to your plan and draw what actually happens. Later place two pins in the cloth instead of one and tack the cloth in two new places at the same time. Instead of starting with the drapery flat, you may start with the drapery held by only one tack or by two tacks placed at any two points along the top edge with the section between them either taut or slack.


Materials: You will need a second piece of cloth for this exercise, similar to the first, since the folds must remain undisturbed for several days. Use a 2B drawing pencil for the lighter parts of the drawing (sides), a 4B pencil for the darker parts (base), and a kneaded eraser.

Starting with the drapery flat against the wall, tack it in two places, causing folds to radiate from two hubs. First make a gesture drawing of this on a large piece of manila paper. Then settle down to study the folds in detail. Use a temporary rule that every fold has three surfaces — a top, a right side, and a left side. The top is naturally that part of the surface which is closest to your eye. The sides move back from the top of the fold to the base of the drapery, the base being that part which touches the wall and from which the folds rise. Where a side is turned under so that it is not visible, there is an undercut under the edge of the fold. This is a term borrowed from sculpture. These surfaces are to be treated arbitrarily in the following manner:

The top is to be left white. The sides are to be made a medium gray, both the same shade. The base is to be made a much darker gray but not black. The undercut is to be indicated by a black line which graduates as it moves away from the edge of the fold, giving the impression that the pencil has reached under where the fold turned under and has then come out again with lessening pressure. Similarly, the sculptor would lessen the pressure of his tool as he came out from under an undercut. Under no condition are you to feel that you are putting a black line under the edge of the fold as it turns under. You are following the fold as it goes under and comes out again.


The part of the side which is seen is treated as a side, being made gray. As it turns under the undercut treatment is used. You will notice that the undercut treatment overlaps somewhat the side treatment because the undercut begins while part of the side can still be seen. You must always account in your drawing for the three surfaces that a fold must have. When one of the sides turns under and disappears from view, that side is nevertheless accounted for by the use of the undercut.

Quite often two folds will start bravely as separate identities but will merge into one, thus forming a Y-shaped fold. There should be no gradations in shading except where you come out from the undercut, so that with that exception only four tones will appear — white, light gray, dark gray, and black. The drawing should be so clear that there can be no possible doubt as to what you have considered to be top, side, or base, and exactly where each begins and ends. It should be so clear that a woodcarver could carve a piece of wood from it without any other explanation. In fact, he could carve a piece of wood more easily from the right sort of drawing than from the original drapery.

Draw for six hours as directed in Schedule 11 A and 11 B.

The Insect Trail

Cluny Museum, Paris
Saint Madeleine, 16th Century Wood Carving
A drapery study should be so clear that a woodcarver could carve a piece of wood from it without any other explanation

To test the clearness of your finished drapery study, imagine that a small insect (preferably a pleasant one) starts at one side and crawls horizontally across the drapery. Imagine that his feet have been dipped in ink so that he leaves a trail behind him. This trail would move up the side of a fold, flat across the top, down the other side, flat across the base. Coming to an undercut, the insect would disappear and then come out again higher or lower according to your eye-level. Take your pencil and mark such a trail across your drawing.

Student Drawing of Drapery
Always account for the three surfaces that a fold must have

This trail is comparable to a cross-contour line on the figure. It is like walking over a landscape, up over hills, down into valleys. The piece of cloth, like the contour of the figure or the surface of the earth, is one continuous thing even though part of it may be hidden from view. There must be no unexplained gaps or holes in it.

Draw for six hours as directed in Schedule 11 C and 11 D.

Future Drapery Study

These particular drapery exercises will not be scheduled again in this text, but this is a type of study to which you will wish to return. Therefore, I will make several suggestions that may help you in future when you have varied needs for draperies in painting. The student who has no nude model at his disposal, or who wishes to supplement study from the model with other subjects, will find it extremely useful to carry forward some type of drapery study continuously. In future long studies you may leave either the left or the right side of the folds white, making the other side dark gray and the top and the base light gray. Your drawing will thus show the effect of a drapery with the light falling from either the left or the right side. For both quick and long studies the drapery material may be varied as follows:

(1) Pleat the drapery along the top with three-inch pleats, using thumb tacks, before draping it. Draping a material that has first been either pleated or gathered affords an excellent study of the folds you encounter when drawing clothes.

(2) Use a piece of material with strong horizontal stripes and, subsequently, with checks or striking designs.

(3) Use materials that present a variety of texture, as cheese cloth, canvas, and taffeta. A large piece of wrapping paper, thinner than the kind you draw on, may be draped very successfully with a few thumb tacks. It will be rather angular, somewhat like taffeta, but is excellent for practice.

Dip a piece of light muslin or cheese cloth about four feet square in a weak, fairly watery solution of plaster of paris or in a strong starch solution. While it is still wet, give it a twist. When it sets, the folds will hold their shape, and it can be moved about for study from different angles in various lights.

Draw for three hours as directed in Schedule 11E.

You will find it helpful to repeat Schedule 11.

Collection Vicomte Bernard d’Hendecourt, London
The Magdalen Kneeling by Fra Bartolomeo
The drapery follows the form and the gesture