If you’re hoping to become a concept artist or illustrator then you’ll need to study realistic rendering. Most artists struggle with realism at first but the skillset can always be improved through practice.
One tricky area of realism is fabric, specifically different types of clothing.
But you can find tons of great art books that teach how to render fabrics properly. And in this guide I’ve curated the top 10 best fabric artbooks for artists of any skill level.
Drawing the Clothed Figure
Drawing the Clothed Figure is easily one of the best books to study rendering. The author Michael Massen writes about the subject in a clear tone using many scientific references for fabric draping, folding, and reflecting in a natural environment.
You’ll learn all about the different types of fabric and how they should be rendered. I like how these exercises break up into categories like loose fabric, tight clothing, and more complex wave patterns with twisting/flowing fabrics.
I also like how the author includes many pages of finished drawings with rendered fabrics. You can study these works and compare them to your own to see how much progress you’ve made.
Michael includes plenty of work samples with some of his work along with artwork from the masters like Raphael and da Vinci.
This isn’t the most practical book but it can get you started on the right path. And it works well as a desk reference while studying from life and working to improve your rendering skills.
Drawing Realistic Clothing and People
Drawing Realistic Clothing and People takes a look at life drawing through the lens of technical rendering. The author Lee Hammond focuses on clothing and how fabrics look while being worn.
I’ve had mixed results with Lee Hammond’s books, but this one does its job well. Unfortunately it is fairly short with only 144 pages. But the exercises go into great detail to help you understand how fabrics fold and interact with the human figure.
Early chapters cover the human form and how to render different areas(proportions, shading, etc). But as you get further into the book you’ll learn about materials for shoes, pants, shirts, and common accessories.
This isn’t a very guided book so beginners will feel lost. I’d recommend this book for self-taught artists who already feel comfortable drawing from life on their own. These exercises will further your knowledge of life drawing and rendering if you put in the time to practice.
Clothing on Figures
Since the majority of folded fabric is worn by people it makes sense to focus on drawing from the figure. That’s why Clothing on Figures by Giovanni Civardi is such a fantastic book.
Each chapter moves pretty fast covering a different fundamental skill related to fabrics. This includes rendering light, shadow, perspective, and specific techniques like chiaroscuro.
I am pretty disappointed with the length since it only has 60 pages. Unfortunately it’s really not a comprehensive guide on drawing fabric in any way.
But this does work well as a beginner’s guide for artists who need some direction. And the author has written many other great art books so his writing skills are tops.
This book is exceptionally short with only 48 pages. However despite it’s length it still overflows with practical information about rendering fabrics for pants/jeans, sweaters, coats, hats, gloves, and other related attire.
You’ll learn how certain fabrics drape over the body and how they move when a limb moves. Different fabrics contort in different ways so this book offers some key signs to look for on the figure.
The author uses lots of pictures to explain how fabrics bunch and stretch based on movement. He also explains how to render these features and how to see them for yourself in the real world.
Note this book was originally published in the 1940s and was republished by Dover without any major updates. So the examples of attire may feel old-fashioned but the basic rules of fabric & physics have not changed.
Dynamic Wrinkles and Drapery
Renowned artist Burne Hogarth shares a variety of tips & tricks in his book Dynamic Wrinkles and Drapery. It’s not a super dated book but it has been around for a couple decades(for good reason).
The writing style is verbose and rather technical. This can read like a fabric manual at times where you’ll feel like you’re studying which movement patterns cause which fabrics to bunch up.
But a deep understanding of this knowledge can directly translate into your artwork. You’ll find a ton of hand-drawn illustrations made specifically for this book to demonstrate different fabrics in action.
I do recommend this title for beginners with the caveat that you’re willing to push through the wordy writing style.
Drawing the Draped Figure
Every artist should know about Brigdman’s many art books covering anatomy and figure drawing. He’s one of the best artist+writer combos to produce some of the most relevant teaching materials in decades.
And his short book Drawing the Draped Figure is just as valuable on the topic of rendering fabric. It’s only 64 pages long but I still think this is a must-read for any artist, beginner or professional.
Bridgman’s writing style is terse but informational. He shares advice on rendering fabric along with tips to recognize how fabric folds on the human body when moved into certain positions. This book also includes some passerby knowledge of anatomy as it pertains to fabric.
He not only explains how fabric drapes in certain positions, but he also explains how to render fabrics by thinking three dimensionally.
This is a true drawing book made for anyone studying fabric from life. And if you want a nice combo I’d recommend pairing this title with Bridgman’s Constructive Anatomy.
In this book Liron breaks down seven basic folds and demonstrates techniques you can use to master the rendering process. Each chapter works like a tutorial where you study a different “style” of fabric and how it folds.
You do need to have some comfort with drawing and rendering before you pick up this book. If you don’t already have basic knowledge of rendering light(or shadow) then check out our list of art books on that topic.
You can learn as you go but it helps to have some foundational knowledge first. Liron does not hold your hand through these exercises so you’ll need to have some initiative.
But the knowledge in this book is fresh, modern, and high quality. I do recommend it to all artists studying fabric.
How to Draw Drapery
If you are a complete beginner who prefers a step-by-step learning process then grab a copy of How to Draw Drapery.
It’s a digital-only ebook that spans the gamut of every different type of fabric, how it falls, stretches/scrunches, and how it should be rendered. The author Michael Britton covers eight different types of drapery shapes & styles.
Each exercise aims to teach you about that style of drapery and how to render it. But even if you don’t remember each drapery style you can still pick up the fundamental knowledge of how to render drapery.
Each exercise teaches in a step-by-step fashion so it’s super easy to follow. You really should have prior experience but it’s also possible to learn as you go.
And this book is very affordable so it’s one of the better books for artists on a budget.
Fabric of Vision
Fabric of Vision is a lengthy 200+ page look into drapery & fabric in art. The author Anne Hollander has written many books about figure drawing and rendering the human figure.
This book is her first deep look into fabrics on the human body, and I have to say it’s a magnificent resource. You’ll study from dozens of artists across many different eras to see how fabric has historically been rendered in paintings(and drawings) around the world.
You will not find many exercises in this book so it’s not a practice guide. But you can study from fabrics over hundreds of centuries and learn the techniques of skilled artists that departed long ago.
Chapters focus on men, women, materials, and affluence with fabrics broken down into classes.
I don’t think this book is a necessity for all artists. But it is a fantastic reference guide to learn how fabrics have been rendered in past artwork.
Fashion Illustration: Inspiration and Technique is a guide book made specifically for fashion illustrators and clothing designers. But over this 144-page title you can learn a lot about rendering fabrics in a realistic way with a slant towards illustration.
The author Anna Kiper is a skilled NYC fashion designer with years of experience. The lessons in this book cross boundaries far outside the fashion industry. It’s not really a complete guide but it does have lots of tips interspersed with illustrations.
You’ll find plenty of inspiration for sketches and stylized illustrations working directly with fabric.
This book is a perfect fit for cartoonists, illustrators, comic artists, or animators who want to exaggerate fabric. You’ll learn about different poses, anatomical structures of clothing, and how to render a huge variety of fabric.
Note this is the only book that’s not made for realism so it won’t help much when rendering from life. But the examples inside are brilliant for anyone studying illustration of any kind.
So these are the 10 best art books covering fabric and rendering, and they all approach the subject from a different angle.