The Nature of Drapery

Throughout Art History, the use of drapery has been a fundamental expressive tool of the artist. Many periods can clearly be delineated by how the artists handled drapery, or the clothed figure. This series of lessons is designed to give you the basic knowledge and skills needed to use drapery in an authoritative and convincing way, either working from imagination or from life.

First we will discuss the basic elements that affect how drapery looks and hangs. Second, we will make a detailed study of the seven basic folds. The final part of this series will deal with the use of folds for expression and defining the action.

Before we get started discussing drapery, I would like to make a few general remarks. If you have not studied the basic drawing lessons in my book, the Vilppu Drawing Manual, it would be a good idea to do so. Many of the elements discussed in the lessons are taken for granted, especially those lessons that deal with the rendering of form.

I would like to repeat again some of the basic concepts I have discussed so often. First: there are no rules just tools! Folds have patterns that are created by fundamental elements that have a cause and effect relationship. As such, they are not rules, but the laws of nature itself. In categorizing the folds and giving them names we acquire recognition and control. There are three distinctly different elements in using drapery. The first is understanding how drapery naturally appears and is affected by the real physical world, i.e. gravity, the type of material and the forms it is in contact with. The second is the way we use the drapery to further our artistic intentions. The third element is the basic technique used to render the drapery. I will discuss these elements separately, but in practice they all come into play simultaneously. In studying, it is important to see these elements separately so that you will have a greater flexibility in how you use them. The careful building of one element upon another is the surest way of achieving a mastery and true freedom of expression.

Drawing Drapery
Drawing Drapery

Gravity is the first basic element that you need to take into consideration in drawing drapery. Without gravity drapery would have no real form. Gravity, in conjunction with the type of material being used, is what creates a large portion of the folds we see. In the drawing above, notice how the folds start at the points that the fabric leaves the underlying supporting form. These points are the points of origin of the fold and define the form that is underneath. This brings us to the next major element affecting the shape of the drapery and the use of drapery, the underlying form, which will be the subject of the next lesson.

By Glenn Vilppu

This article is an excerpt from the Drawing Drapery Manual.