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How to paint thick, woolen fabrics in oil

How to paint thick, woolen fabrics in oil

Question from Farhad, Web Art Academy student

Hi Natalie,

I have been working on a painting for a few months now, as I spend only a few hours on weekends. It is actually my first painting in multi-layer technique. It is almost done, except that I need to put some fine details on the fabric the man is wearing. It is a thick, woolen fabric like the type used for men’s overcoats. His garment has many folds, which I have completed, but I need to know how to add these details.

There must be a way, a technique to do that, as I have seen ultra-realistic paintings that show these details, like wear-and-tear on a pair of jeans. I don’t want to go into that fine detail now, but having some details on the folds adds more to the painting. Please let me know if you have any suggestion.



I have attached a picture of part of the fabric I am trying to paint. I have created the folds but have not found a way to create those little details yet. Please advise me if you know a technique to paint or stamp them.


Dear Farhad,

Your approach is correct—to paint broad masses first, leaving details until the very end.

This is a difficult pattern to imitate realistically. Some alternatives to the photo-realistic depiction of the drapery are highly picturesque ways of depicting such coarse and heavy fabrics.

how-to-oil-paint-thick-woolen-fabric Vermeer 1

Let’s have a look at two ways of depicting thick, woolen cloth using examples of Vermeer and Veronese.

how-to-oil-paint-thick-woolen-fabric Vermeer 2

how-to-oil-paint-thick-woolen-fabric Vermeer 2ahow-to-oil-paint-thick-woolen-fabric Vermeer 2a

In both artists’ approaches, we see that they were painting fabrics in multiple stages. So, there should be a simple underpainting of folds painted and dried before the artist applies finishing layers of paint that create the illusion of heavy fabrics.

how-to-oil-paint-thick-woolen-fabric Vermeer 3

Vermeer was applying paint in dots that appear from the distance as a rough surface. These dabs of paint may contain added oil, most probably linseed oil, as the dots are smooth and flowy.

how-to-oil-paint-thick-woolen-fabric Veronese 1

how-to-oil-paint-thick-woolen-fabric Veronese 2
In the case of Veronese, we see a completely different approach – he used a so-called “dry brush” method for finishing such kinds of fabrics.

how-to-oil-paint-thick-woolen-fabric Veronese 3
For that, he rubbed the paint into the canvas with an almost dry brush (containing little paint on it) with no additional medium added – the paint shouldn’t flow. He rubbed the paint, leaving an under-paint showing through.

how-to-oil-paint-thick-woolen-fabric Veronese 4

Web Art AcademyTo Your Creative Success,
Natalie Richy
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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Gilberto Mello says:

    Right, the reduced medium application should do the trick for the illusion of woolly garment folding to stand out. I also think that putting careful attention rendering the transition (middle values) between dark and lights might help, too.

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