Painting Lace

Painting lace looks like a daunting task… all that detail ! It would be easy to never attempt it … but it is really very simple when you know what you are looking for and then how to go about it.

This little article will help you get underway. Make yourself a good strong coffee… and let’s get started…

Stage 1

Draw the lace as big simple geometric shapes. You will find that you are looking at many odd shaped triangles and four-sided shapes.

Do not include any details at this stage.

Next, draw in the ares where the patterns occur carefully following the contour of the cloth as the pattern travels around the form.

Draw in contours

Next, draw in the lace detail design into your bigger plan of the overall design, but again, do not fuss with the detail, just give yourself a rough map of where the holes occur in the design.

In pastel, when the drawing is as you want it, spray it with fixative to set the drawing so that you can always find it again if you get lost.

In oils, draw the lace with charcoal, then draw over it with a thinned mix of a neutral mid-tone oil paint (perhaps a mix of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna thinned with turps). Use a rigger or a similar drawing brush.

 Stage 2

Now begin with the darks. Find a neutral dark for the holes in the lace where they are hanging in front of dark empty space. Find a grey-blue dark, or a lighter neutral colour for where the holes are overlapping other areas of cloth.

Without too much fuss and worry, roughly and thinly paint the areas where the darks occur. I doesn’t matter if you cover areas that will eventually become lace patterns, because you will paint this on top of the darks. It is SO MUCH EASIER this way. So paint what’s underneath and behind… then paint what’s on top.

Thinly underpaint with neutral dark
Pattern with tonal greys

Stage 3

Now, in your pastel set find a handful of various greys that match the warmer and cooler greys, and especially their tones (the degree of lightness and darkness) that you see in the subject.

In oils mix up puddles of the various greys that you can see.

Block in the large areas of the lace shapes in the shadows trying to match the darkness or lightness and the warmth or coolness of the area. Keep the application of the pastel or paint very light and transparent. Thick pastel or paint will not look like a shadowy area. Do not get caught in the detail yet!

Very simply and lightly put in the little cross members where the lace spans the little holes. Don’t be too careful… the irregularity of your lines will look more natural. Use the same grey for these as is used in the surrounding tonal area. Pastel pencils or conte crayons help with these areas as they are easier to control. Notice how the lines are always irregular (especially if you hate ironing). Paint them this way!

Stage 4.

Colours in lights

Next, find a set of colours for the light areas of the lace. Hint: do not get too light too soon. If you can see even a hint of colour in the white lace, find a pastel or mix a puddle that slightly exaggerates this colour.

Do not pick up a white pastel to paint white lace. (NB. White is the most reflective of all colours and will be picking up lovely colourful influences from everything around it… the colour of the light, the colour of nearby objects, the reflected lights from elsewhere. You will rarely need a pure white pastel). You will put the lightest tones on last. It is easier to get lighter than it is to go back the other way and to try to get a wrong tone darker. It will also look fresher and more lively with light.

Paint the big simple areas of colourful lights that you see where the lace moves into the light. Then in the same way as in the darks, paint in the little cross members in the lace. This time press harder and apply more pastel, or in oils apply thicker paint in the lights.

Your lace should be eginning to look very realistic now.

All that is left is for you to refine the details.


Stage 5.


Go back into the holes and clean them up a little. Put in any little cast shadows that are hiding in the holes.

Go back to the lights and select areas that can be cleaned up, crisper edges, sharper contrasts, little points of light here and there as the form turns away from the light and towards the shadows.


Stage 6.

NEXT… Hold a party to celebrate your successful completion of lace in a painting.

Done! You have fantastic lace. As easy as that!

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