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Yes, I know what you are thinking… But really; everyone can paint (in some way)! I am testing Dye-Na-Flow (free flowing liquid colour) and sharing my outcomes. Honestly, who doesn’t love Jean Jackets?! So Painting on Light Denim is Perrrfect!

The Perfect ‘Canvas’

Everywhere you turn there are Jean (denim) jackets of all kinds! I actual have quite the weakness for them, (so do NOT ask me how many I have) but for good reason as they are going to be my canvases. I have tried some opaque painting on them but I would rather paint the image in a more naturally artistic way. Opaque painting on denim means having to apply a solid coat of white paint first. It is laborious… and takes so many layers.

I have excitement for the Dye-Na-Flow (free flowing liquid colour for fabrics) to make the job easier, since I am starting with a very light canvas of light denim.

I am keeping this simple in the sense of colour. The base denim colour still has some ‘blueness’ to it so it would not show paint colours true to their hue. Why fight with the media?! It’s good to stay in harmony with the light denim and use only blue (814 Azure Blue), Black, White and a bit of opaque paint (Angelus)

Find your own Special Images:

It’s hard to find imagery that I will not tire of. I love nature and graphic shapes that are quite freeform… so roses seem to keep creeping in. ‘Love how they a symbol of strength and also beauty, not to mention they are so simple to draw/paint. You can’t really go wrong. For me, bigger is better but please suit yourself. (be original!)

Mixing the blue with a touch of black will make it match the denim colour a bit more. If you want to lighten the blue it is suggested to not water/dilute more than 20%. You can also use the white Dye-Na-Flow rather than adding water. The white is however not opaque; meant for mixing.

To plan it out you can collect images on the net as inspiration or draw from life. I like to draw on the jacket with an Erasable Pen. They are great since they will disappear if you apply some heat like a blowdryer or iron so you can draw like crazy. (just do not leave them in a hot car, sheesh)

Since this paint/dye sinks in I rather have the image cross over seams and details to be more interesting.

You can watch the video to see how the Dye-Na-Flow acts on the denim. Since it is a 100% cotton it just sucks up all the pigment. Do not load the brush too much or it will bleed quite far. It does give a nice ‘sketchy’ effect when you are slightly using a drier brush. That is what I love about this stuff so much!

If you find that the blue is too bright for your looking you can add some black. This dye/paint can also be diluted but is suggested o not over dilute it more than 20%. Ok, I may have stretched that limit a bit… But if it does slightly lighten then it will look even more worn, as denim usually does.

Ready, Set – Heat!

It does dry quite quickly so it can be pressed with an iron set as high as possible for the fibre. This makes the Dye-Na-Flow permanent.

What do you think? Is it too much? I imagine it could be worn in many ways, even over a bridesmaid dress! If you really like it… you can make it your own easily!

Again, trying not to be typical there’s a few massive roses on the back. In my illustrating career I have found that larger images allow more time to perfect that having way too many small images. ‘And it’s easier!

My Personal Challenge:

Maybe I have been missing some of my old figure drawing… My absolute favourite drawing method I remember was drawing on a mid-tone paper! It meant there wasn’t that huge daunting ‘white’ to fill and it also allowed some cool addition of lights later. Let me show you…

I found an image that inspired me and made a tracing. I needed to convert it to line so I can transfer it to the fabric (denim) Transferring onto denim can be a bit of a nuisance but is so important. The transfer papers I have tried do not always give a visible line if the fabric has some texture.

How to Enlarge an Image:

So for this method I used the ‘Grid Enlarging Method‘. It is a basic ‘tried & true’ method that has been around for centuries! ‘And it is simple.

Squares (there have to be the same amount) are mapped out on the chosen small image and also on the fabric. Then, square by square you look at where the lines are intersecting to draw the details. I draw out areas of shadow as well.

Then the fun part; Paint!

Please do not feel intimidated but it is really about a lot of observation. Looking at the original image and slowly adding the areas of light and dark. Stand back and assess or squint to see the major areas of Value (light and dark)

I was really loving this since it was taking on a very sketchy look. The brush is not fully loaded with the paint/dye so it’s really not bleeding. I have some extra fun by adding strokes to exemplify that it is indeed drawn by hand…

See the grid lines? No worry as they will be gone when ironed…

Once you are happy with the tones you have, you may want to even get some lighter areas called ‘highlights’. Since you can’t get opaque coverage with the Dye-Na-Flow you will need to use another opaque fabric paint.

I like my Angelus Acrylic paint for leather (it stays pretty flexible) or you could use one of the others I tested. Again, do not blob on too much, be subtle. It should not be that noticeable; just the odd lightening.

Michelangelo inspired…

As usual, more ideas in my ‘noggin’ and the The Creation of Adam touching hands fit the space perfectly. (notice the square grid on both)

Sketchy lines and some background brush strokes for interest. I think I could spend days painting like this…

Always trying to make statement; a famous quote hand-lettered on the sleeve.

There’s little unexpected hidden drawing of brushes & paint next to the pocket as well.

What do you think?! Would you wear something like this? I am willing to share, but there will be only one available (before I change my mind!)

And so how does it wash?! I have sent some test pieces through a pretty tough long cycle of hot-water wash and found that most of the lightening is due to all the agitation. The colours do not wash out but cotton has a way of changing due to surface rubbing. Gentle hand washing without agitation or dryer tumbling would be the most ideal. The way that the drawings are light and sketchy also allows that if they do lighten a bit it does not look obvious. The darker colours will show more surface rubbing effect…

More Dye-na-flow Exploration to come…

I'm an artist & I make things... all kinds of things.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. that’s very cool. An age ago, I took an old denim vest and drew native American (northwest) images on it with some of the very early fabric markers. It turned out surprisingly well.

    and it’s a great suggestion to use mid-tone paper. I hadn’t even been aware of its existence until I ended up working in a craft store and was stocking the fine art section.

    1. I remember having painted t-shirts in my teens! I loved them even though they were not the greatest. You will notice many artists start with a mid-tone layer of a colour so that they do not have that daunting expanse to fill. There was a paper called Ingres(?) which I loved. We also used to rub a sheet with charcoal and then erase out the lights and add the darks. Oh, nice memories…

  2. Hi Barb, Thank you for your continuing tutorial for this process. LONG time ago I used to paint on my denim with acrylics and as with anything it is a learning experience and process which I sometimes enjoy lol. I am one of those that likes to be perfect from the get go, so I have learned how to try and tame that impatience.. Just an aside, I am glad to see your example pictures have your brand on them. I have seen so many of YOUR pictures of your cement sculptures online under a companies name and it disgusts me. On some of them they change the look just enough to say they are not the same. SMH as with everything nowadays unless it is explicitly a free tute, people think they can copy and take credit for anything. I have seen it time and time again on other “maker” websites and I have called out a few because the theft makes me P.O.’d. OK enough of my ranting. Have a great day stay safe and have some fun 🙂

    1. Yes, I know how my images have been stolen… they even remove my watermark logo. If it think about that too much it almost makes me want to shut all this down. ‘Too many parasites these days! I really hope not everyone things bloggers are like that! How did your acrylic on jackets last?

  3. Your creative powers & skills at developing methods are astonishing. I’m a would-be crafter, but I very much enjoy your posts. They keep me dreaming.
    I’m sorry thieves are stealing your ideas & photos. Please keep at it, though. You are an inspiration!

  4. Barb, thank you for a great tutorial. I have been collecting jean jackets in thought of deconstructing them and adding fabrics, but I much prefer your method. I love your jackets. They’re fun and fresh. I totally get what you’re saying about copycats. I have had to deal with them nationally, and internationally, as well. I would love to have a video call with you someday! – deb

    1. I also have wanted to do some fabric swapping in panels. Sometimes I get so many ideas I get none done because I can’t decide! International unauthorized use is a growing problem. Thanks.

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