Sunday Mailbag

October 30th, 2011 | Posted in Mailbag

Q. You may have covered this already but when drawing clothes, do you look for real examples in perhaps magazines to see how a material would crease in certain positions. Or do you just imagine in your head how it would look? So basically my question is, Tom, how do you draw clothing so well!?

A: I’m not sure I would agree that I draw clothes all that well, but thanks for the kind words. I do think I have improved quite a bit in the last few years on how I draw clothes, particularly simplifying the folds and such so they don’t look overwrought and too “wrinkly”. I was guilty of that early on in my career, and have learned over the years that less-is-more, and that if the folds and wrinkles you draw describe what is going on well, you don’t need that many of them. To answer one of your specific questions, I mostly just imagine these things in my head when I draw them, as I do not have the time or need to get references for every position of every figure.

With regard to drawing clothes, I would first cite a piece of advice I received from longtime MAD artist and current art director Sam Viviano. Sam told me he often will sketch out a figure as if they were nude first, then draw the clothes over the figure. In this way he both avoided the tendency to miss the accurate drawing of the figure beneath because he would be so busy thinking about the dynamics of the clothing, and made sure the figure looked like they were really wearing the clothes rather than them being painted on (see most superhero comics). I do this sometimes, and it really does help when you are struggling with a figure.

Drawing clothes is like drawing anything, you need to make good observations and understand the basics of what you are drawing to do it convincingly. This is especially true in cartooning, where simplification demands an understanding not only how something works, but what the most important basics elements are. Things like seams, buttons, cuffs, collars… knowing how they basically work and developing a repertoire of how to draw them is essential. There are not that many different kinds of clothing… pants are pants with only superficial changes in look and design. Knowing how pants are generally constructed means you can draw any type of pants by just observing the details. Certain types of pants, like jeans, are almost universal in their sameness. Men’s suit jackets are almost all the same, and follow the same tendencies with movement. Ditto shirts, skirts, etc.

That said, when people ask about drawing clothes, mostly they are asking (as you have) about how to draw folds and wrinkles so they look convincing. That really isn’t all that complex when you think about it. Clothing tends to wrinkle, crease and fold the same way with the same actions, positions and movements, with only the type of cloth making a difference. A thicker and coarser cloth, like a wool sweater, will wrinkle and fold in a bigger and less complex manner than thinner cloth like silk, for example. The dynamics of the folds and wrinkles are the same, however. Learning the basics of how clothing wrinkles and folds will get you through 90% of all the drawings of clothing you do.

The more you have movement from a “neutral” position (i.e. the way clothes would hang from a hanger) the more wrinkles and folds are evident:

Understanding the dynamics of where cloth is pulled and where it gathers helps to figure out where the stresses and folds happen. Folds and creases always emanate from a stress point, usually a joint like the elbow, knee, shoulder, crotch, etc. In a bent elbow area, for example, the outer part of the elbow is “pulled”, and therefore stretched with little or no creases/wrinkles. However in the crook of the elbow, the cloth gathers and is compressed together, creating folds:

Even in a neutral position, the weight and clingy nature of clothes will cause some creases and folds:

There are lots of different kinds of folds that you see all the time. Here are a few to look for:

You are (usually) wearing the perfect reference for learning to draw folds… your own clothes. Take a look at how the cloth gathers across your chest, how your lower pants legs gather past the knee as they go down to the cuff at your ankles, what happens when you sit down with the folds at your knees and waist… observation and experimentation with drawing will build that repertoire of folds and how to draw them.

Finally, I’d recommend the following resources for learning how to draw clothes:

Drawing the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm– If you do not own this book, you are missing one of the essential learning tools for drawing of the past century. IMO it’s the best overall book on drawing the human figure ever published based on its simplicity, conciseness, ease of understanding and richness of content. There are many more comprehensive books on various specifics out there, but this one is a must have even if it is dated-looking. Short but brilliant chapter on drawing folds in clothes, especially useful on learning how men’s suits are drawn.

Dynamic Wrinkles and Drapery by Burne Hogarth– It is not often I recommend a Hogarth book, because I am no Hogarth fan. I think most of his books are overly complex, with impossible and convoluted figures in positions that defy physics, and ridiculously over-drawn and over-rendered illustrations. This one, however, is shorter and less pretentious than most, and breaks down the types of wrinkles into fairly easy-to-understand categories… just imagine his illustrations with about 1/10 of the wrinkles he overdraws on them and you will get the idea.

I’m sure there are others, but these are the two on my bookshelf.

Thanks to Rob Rollason for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Tielman says:

    Ha ha! You darn muscle-y guys. “This is how an average t-shirt typically creases.”

    Yeah. When it’s on a person who works out for an hour a day, every day. Show-off.


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