Part of the fun of painting is finding out all of the places that you can put it. While the canvas is fine and traditional, it’s fun to step away from it for awhile to paint other things around the house. So, can you use oil paint on fabric? Absolutely! Fabric will need to be primed before you can put your oils on it and you definitely can’t machine wash it afterwards (or stretch the fabric too much!), but it’s not hard to do and the end-results can look truly amazing. Just keep in mind that it might take awhile to dry!
In this article I’ll tell you a little more about painting fabric with your oil paints just in case you’d like to customize some clothing for yourself or as a gift. Don’t worry – it’s not difficult – so let’s look at what you’ll need to know to do this!
Can I paint with oil paint on fabric?
While you can definitely paint on fabric with your oil paints, you can’t just slap the paint onto that cotton shirt or those denim pants without a little preparation first. By the way, you don’t have to stick to clothing – way ‘back in the day’ artists used to make their own fabric canvases all of the time, so you can experiment a little and make your own canvases on the cheap with old clothing is you like. Just a little food for thought!
The basic process, which I’ll detail for you in the next section, is pretty much the same thing that you would do with a standard canvas. You’re going to prime it first, so that the oil paints will properly stick, and once that primer is dry then you can paint it up how you like and you will then have to wait for it to dry. Once it’s dry, you’ll varnish it to protect your paints and keep it as far away from your washing machine as possible.
Oh, and I do recommend that you look for oil paints which are specifically intended for fabrics. You don’t have to if you are just making a fabric canvas to paint, but if you are painting clothing then it’s a good idea. Those paints are a much better fit for the normally ‘harsh’ oils that we use to paint scenery and such.
Without further ado, let’s look at how to prepare and what you’ll need to do next!
How do you prepare fabric for oil painting?
Traditionally this was done with rabbit-skin glue, but these days Gesso is going to be just fine. Acrylic Gesso, to be specific. You can apply the clear variety if you like, or make yourself a nice white background with white Gesso, and since it’s acrylic that will give it a little ‘stretch’ resistance that will be helpful to have in an artsy garment.
Once your primer dries, then you are ready to paint, but I should tell you now that garments which will bend a lot are going to have some cracking in the paint eventually. Oil isn’t exactly the best medium for painting these types of garments, though for things like the back of robes, portions of sashes, hats, and other items that are ‘stiff’ and won’t bend much normally your oils are just fine.
Once you’ve painted the garment, you’ll need to let it dry. Oil paints normally take 24 hours to dry to the touch but any layering that you’ve done is going to be on the thick side, and this can take longer to dry.
Once it’s 100% dry, you can seal it with a spray varnish and you can go with a shiny gloss or matte, depending on your personal preferences. Once the varnish is dry, then you are done!
Congratulations, you’ve just used your oil paints successfully on fabric, and now you have a new art-trick to add to your arsenal!
How can I permanently paint fabric?
If you want to paint fabric with a little more permanency then acrylic paints are really going to be the best choice. Acrylic paints dry into a semi-plastic that’s going to have more flexibility than oil paints will allow. You want to look specifically for ‘fabric paint’, which is basically an acrylic-based paint that is specifically designed for use with fabric.
It will stretch a bit so that your art isn’t destroyed if you decide you’d actually like to wear it and as an added bonus, you can throw it in the washing machine for cleaning – this stuff is designed to be tough. Just be sure to wash on cold only and your work should be just fine.
It’s good paint too, equivalent to the types of acrylics that artists use for portrait work, so you can put a lot of detail into your very own wearable masterpiece. Give it a try sometime – it’s kind of addictive and also a great way to advertise your own work and possibly snag a commission or two when someone notices and wants some of your art for themselves!
So, can you use oil paint on fabric? Yes, you can, although acrylic paint (specifically fabric paint) is going to be a better fit because it can stretch better with less chance of cracking. If you want to paint fabric with your oil, you’ll just need to gesso it first, then paint it, and then seal your work with a handy spray varnish. After that, be careful with it, because it can and will crack eventually!
Before I go, I have a 3rd party link for you that I think you are going to LOVE. It gives you a tutorial on painting the extra dimensions in clothing, so that you can simulate contours and folds in your compositions. It’s a lot of fun and you can read it here.
So, what are you waiting for? You’ve got fabric to paint! Have fun with it and I’ll see you again soon!