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Katherine Gerdes | Design Journal and Portfolio

How To #2 “Drawing the Clothes”

Okay, so now that you’ve put together some croquis figures… you gotta draw some clothes on them (well, you do if you want to be a fashion designer)! In order to give you some help on this topic (hopefully!), I’ve put together a tutorial on the basics of drawing clothing on the human form. If you’re interested, I’ve listed some books at the end that go MUCH more in depth.

Step 1: Design!
The first step to drawing clothes on a figure is to have a design in mind. When you’re just practicing, feel free to try and draw the clothes you already own or things you like in catalogs or on the internet. After you get the hang of it, it’s time to sketch out your own ideas! I like to keep a working notebook/sketchbook where I can jot down ideas quickly so I don’t loose them. As I explained in the last tutorial, these sketches aren’t the best, just a good way to get ideas out of my head. Also, if I’m working on a collection or fashion show, I like to sketch out each design on a separate page and then use that as a working page for that garment. Usually the page will have everything from front & back sketches, notes on construction details, fabric swatches, the order in the show and even info about which model will be wearing it (measurements, photo, contact info, shoe size, etc…). That way, everything relating to that garment is in one place and easily accessible to my scatter-brained mind.

Notebook page

Step 2: The World is Round
The next step is to realize that humans are full of curves (yes, even the boys) and that clothing wraps around the body. I had an art teacher in high school that once said “there isn’t a single straight line I the human form.” When you take a close look, you’ll realize that this is true and that we’re actually made up of a bunch of curving lines. Keep this in mind when you’re sketching. Even though your drawing is flat, you want it too look like it’s three-dimensional. If you draw straight lines for your clothes, they’ll look something like this:

How to draw the clothes

Even garments that have hard, straight edges (like a pleated skirt) will still have some form around the body (see how the skirt still “wraps” around the legs):

Pleated skirt sketch

Step 3: Work Those Curves
Below I’ve shown a progression of sketches starting with a basic figure showing how lines curve around the body. Keep this in mind when you make croquis in various poses. If an arm or a leg is coming forward, the perspective will be different and the curves might change. Remember that this is just a tool to get started on the sketch, you’re sketches and designs might not always follow these curves. The next sketch is showing the basic outfit drawn above, but this time I’ve followed the curved lines:

How to draw the clothes

Step 4: Add Movement & Life
After you’ve got the basic garment down, now the time is to add some movement, life and details to the drawing. The first sketch shows how you can do this by making the edges start to curve back around the body (for example at the sleeves or neck) and by adding curves to the hem so it’s not a hard edge. I like to try and follow the leg “movement” and almost pretend that her knee is kicking up the front of the skirt in places. This is a good time to add movement lines where you think the fabric would drape (in this example on the skirt). Usually a quick stoke is good for this, don’t try to put too much thought into it or it will look forced.

The second sketch shows the same basic outfit, but on a different croquis and with a bunch of details. When I sketch, my figures are aprox 8-9” high so putting too many details can actually make it look worse and messy. The key is to add details without getting to bogged down in them. In order to add very small details (like topstitching) you might need to sketch them much larger than they would actually show up in real life. Also notice how the perspective has changed slightly in this croquis (she’s twisted to the right), so it’s something to keep in mind when drawing the clothes (see how the right shoulder of her top is “smaller” than the left due to the perspective?).


Extra Credit:
Since we’re talking about details, I figured this is a good spot to talk about croquis details such as face, hands and feet! As I said above, the key to drawing this small is to keep it simple and don’t be overly concerned with all the details. There are tons of ways to draw these details, so keep in mind that this is just my style. You should practice a lot and develop your own style as well!

Hands & Feet:
I try to keep hands and feet as simple as possible. I definitely don’t want to have to worry about drawing fingers and toes, so I try to get a basic shape down instead. Hands tend to look a bit like lobster claws and feet almost end up more like a flat-bottom diamond. On their own they don’t look like much, but in the full figure sketch when it’s finished and colored they work out pretty well:

Hand and Feet sketches

I might sound like a broken record, but try to keep the face fairly simple too. Faces are REALLY hard to draw and you’re focus is to be a fashion designer right? The key to getting the face placement right is to draw a basic circle for the head and then to draw some cross lines indicating where the features should go. The first line is the vertical (Longitude on a map). This line should show the direction the head is turned (think about it as where your nose is pointing). The next lines are criss-crossing to show the placement of the eyes (think about where they cross as the point between your eyebrows). Now you should have a good indicator of where your facial features should be drawn (hopefully the sketches below will help make more sense!):

Face Sketches

Now that you’re drawing the features, remember to keep them simple. My faces are just a bunch of easy shapes such as “L” shaped corners for the eyes, a squiggle for the mouth and just a tiny “U” line for a nose.

Here’s my favorite trick, make it sketchy! When in doubt about your drawing skills, just sketch A LOT over and over! I think that most things look better when you keep your sketching loose and a bit messy (see example below). That’s my trick for hair as well; I just sketch a bunch of squiggles until I get the shape I like.

katy rocks!

Sketch Museum
And as a final note… remember that your style of sketching will probably change a lot over the years. I found these while cleaning out my studio and thought you’d like to see examples of how my sketches have changed:

My early sketches were very long and skinny with spindly legs and arms:
Freshman Sketches

Next I tried to move to a more realistic body shape:
History of sketches

Then I got on my badass “Tank Girl” spree:
sophmore sketches

Coming off of the “tough girl” thing, I started moving into a softer, cuter look:
Junior sketches

And last but not least… my current style (and some preliminary sketches for my spring 2008 collection!)
Voltage '08 sketches

Some fashion illustration books I like (more to come):
Illustrating Fashion: Concept To Creation
9 Heads: A Guide to Drawing Fashion


Join the discussion.

Great little tutorial Katy, you underestimate your mad skillz! I love the look of the piece in the center sketch of your Spring 2008 collection. Can’t wait to see it fully realized.

  • #1 Kendra
    18 November, 09:55

This is really helpful. I’ve been using the book, “Fashion Illustration” something, but this is much easier to follow.

I hope you make more.


  • #2 William
    26 November, 15:52

I love your designs. Thanks for the tutorial this will definatly help my drawings and hopfully I can eventully make it into a career!

  • #3 chelsie
    16 December, 20:58

man, this is a life saver!!! thanks i hope you make more!! This is a great site to come to for help.

  • #4 hannah
    15 February, 19:35

Katy, you have no idea how much this tutorial has benefitted me..i thought i couldn’t draw for nuts although i love fashion…but your site proved otherwise! THANKS SO MUCH!

OMG! Thank you so much. You are a great artist in my opinion! I cannot draw and I had just printed off body silhouettes from the internet and placed my drawing paper over it and traced. It worked but I wanted to draw my own dress forms and bodies. And you helped a ton! I have an entire book of sketches but all the body shapes are the exact same pose, face, hair, etc. etc. I think I can draw my own now. Once again, thanks a TON!

  • #6 Rianna
    26 February, 17:43

Thank you.
I have an assignment in Drama at school due soon about sketching clothing.
This has really helped me.

  • #7 Khloe
    22 March, 00:26

This is so beautifull…! ;O
Go on whit that.

  • #8 Laura
    18 April, 03:53

i love your work i think is is amazing

  • #9 Ellis
    18 April, 12:44

I luv ur designs they r cute and filled with such details good work

  • #10 RvE
    25 May, 11:51

I love your designs, thanks it´s just I want —-..—..

  • #11 gwa
    6 June, 11:23

Thank you very much for this helpful article! I plan on becoming a fashion designer when I get older. I love your designs; they are beautiful and very flattering to the woman’s body!

  • #12 Holley
    16 July, 12:41

awesome, thanks for sharing. i really wish i could afford some of your stuff.. drop us a line if you’re ever in London, we’ll go shopping ;)

Thanks a lot!
My dream is to make a comic book…I can draw faces, but I just can’t clothes!
So thank you!

i loved fashion so much but i wasn’t very good at it so i quit but when i found this tutorial i started drawing angain thank u so much . . )

  • #15 maryam
    13 December, 19:28

omg! your chlothes is so cool, i been trying to draw some but
is just to hard but with this help i think ill be able to draw some

thank u SO MUCH


  • #16 ana z
    30 December, 21:50

how do you do this send me some pictures plz

  • #17 pat
    15 January, 09:29

thanks katy you’re the best

  • #18 rina
    29 March, 07:45

Hi Katherine, thanks for this great tutorial. I own a company which makes sketchpads to help designers of all skill levels realize their dreams. I’d love to hear what you think,

Very cool sketches. I wish I had that talent!


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